programs of on-demand external assessment might not be necessary. It might be possible to extract the information needed for summative and program evaluation purposes from data about student performance continuously available both in and out of the school context.
Extensive technology-based systems that link curriculum, instruction, and assessment at the classroom level might enable a shift from today’s assessment systems that use different kinds of assessments for different purposes to a balanced design in which the features of comprehensiveness, coherence, and continuity would be assured (see Chapter 6). One can imagine a future in which the audit function of external assessments would be significantly reduced or even unnecessary because the information needed to assess students at the levels of description appropriate for various external assessment purposes could be derived from the data streams generated by students in and out of their classrooms. Technology could offer ways of creating over time a complex stream of data about how students think and reason while engaged in important learning activities. Information for assessment purposes could be extracted from this stream and used to serve both classroom and external assessment needs, including providing individual feedback to students for reflection about their metacognitive habits. To realize this vision, research on the data representations and analysis methods best suited for different audiences and different assessment objectives would clearly be needed.
A metaphor for this shift exists in the world of retail outlets, ranging from small businesses to supermarkets to department stores. No longer do these businesses have to close down once or twice a year to take inventory of their stock. Rather, with the advent of automated checkout and barcodes for all items, these businesses have access to a continuous stream of information that can be used to monitor inventory and the flow of items. Not only can business continue without interruption, but the information obtained is far richer, enabling stores to monitor trends and aggregate the data into various kinds of summaries. Similarly, with new assessment technologies, schools no longer have to interrupt the normal instructional process at various times during the year to administer external tests to students.
While the committee is divided as to the practicality and advisability of pursuing the scenario just described, we offer it as food for thought about future states that might be imagined or invented. Regardless of how far one wishes to carry such a vision, it is clear that technological advances will allow for the attainment of many of the goals for assessment envisioned in this report. When powerful technology-based systems are implemented in multiple classrooms, rich sources of information about student learning will be continuously available across wide segments of the curriculum and for individual learners over extended periods of time. The major issue is not whether this type of data collection and information analysis is feasible in