In the preceding discussion we have addressed issues of practice related to classroom and large-scale assessment separately. We now return to the matter of how such assessments can work together conceptually and operationally.
As argued throughout this chapter, one form of assessment does not serve all purposes. Given that reality, it is inevitable that multiple assessments (or assessments consisting of multiple components) are required to serve the varying educational assessment needs of different audiences. A multitude of different assessments are already being conducted in schools. It is not surprising that users are often frustrated when such assessments have conflicting achievement goals and results. Sometimes such discrepancies can be meaningful and useful, such as when assessments are explicitly aimed at measuring different school outcomes. More often, however, conflicting assessment goals and feedback cause much confusion for educators, students, and parents. In this section we describe a vision for coordinated systems of multiple assessments that work together, along with curriculum and instruction, to promote learning. Before describing specific properties of such systems, we consider issues of balance and allocation of resources across classroom and large-scale assessment.
The current educational assessment environment in the United States clearly reflects the considerable value and credibility accorded external, large-scale assessments of individuals and programs relative to classroom assessments designed to assist learning. The resources invested in producing and using large-scale testing in terms of money, instructional time, research, and development far outweigh the investment in the design and use of effective classroom assessments. It is the committee’s position that to better serve the goals of learning, the research, development, and training investment must be shifted toward the classroom, where teaching and learning occurs.
Not only does large-scale assessment dominate over classroom assessment, but there is also ample evidence of accountability measures negatively impacting classroom instruction and assessment. For instance, as discussed earlier, teachers feel pressure to teach to the test, which results in a narrowing of instruction. They also model their own classroom tests after less-than-ideal standardized tests (Gifford and O’Connor, 1992; Linn, 2000; Shepard, 2000). These kinds of problems suggest that beyond striking a better balance between classroom and large-scale assessment, what is needed are coordinated assessment systems that collectively support a common set of learning goals, rather than working at cross-purposes.