and deeper content knowledge reflected in new expectations for learning. They must accurately measure higher levels of achievement while also providing meaningful information about students who still perform below expectations. All of these trends are being played out on a large scale in the drive to set challenging standards for student learning.

An Era of Higher Standards and High-Stakes Tests

Assessment has been greatly influenced by the movement during the past two decades aimed at raising educational quality by setting challenging academic standards. At the national level, professional associations of subject matter specialists have developed widely disseminated standards outlining the content knowledge, skills, and procedures schools should teach in mathematics, science, and other areas. These efforts include, among others, the mathematics standards developed by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (2000), the science standards developed by the NRC (1996), and the standards in several subjects developed by New Standards (e.g., New Standards™, 1997), a privately funded organization.

In addition, virtually every state and many large school districts have standards in place outlining what all students should know and be able to do in core subjects. These standards are intended to guide both practice and policy at the state and district levels, including the development of largescale assessments of student performance. The process of developing and implementing standards at the national and local levels has advanced public dialogue and furthered professional consensus about the kinds of knowledge and skills that are important for students to learn at various stages of their education. Many of the standards developed by states, school districts, and professional groups emphasize that it is important for students not only to attain a deep understanding of the content of various subjects, but also to develop the sophisticated thinking skills necessary to perform competently in these disciplines.

By emphasizing problem solving and inquiry, many of the mathematics and science standards underscore the idea that students learn best when they are actively engaged in learning. Several of the standards also stress the need for students to build coherent structures of knowledge and be able to apply that knowledge in much the same manner as people who work in a particular discipline. For instance, the national science standards (NRC, 1996) state:

Learning science is something students do, not something that is done to them. In learning science, students describe objects and events, ask questions, organize knowledge, construct explanations of natural phenomena, test those explanations in many different ways, and communicate their ideas to others…. Students establish connections between their current



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