that assessments used for policy purposes have had effects on educational practice, not all of them positive (e.g., Herman, 1992; NRC, 1999a; Koretz and Barron, 1998).

Research on the integration of cognition and measurement can affect practice through policy in several ways. Most directly, the research can enhance the assessments used for policy decisions. Furthermore, the decisions of policy makers could be better informed than is the case today by assessments that provide a broader picture of student learning. Since test developers respond to the marketplace, a demand from policy makers for new assessments would likely spur their development.

A range of assessment approaches should be used to provide a variety of evidence to support educational decision making. There is a need for comprehensive systems of assessment consisting of multiple measures, including those that rely on the professional judgments of teachers and that together meet high standards of validity and reliability. Single measures, while useful, are unlikely to tap all the dimensions of competence identified by learning goals. Multiple measures are essential in any system in which high-stakes decisions are made about individuals on the basis of assessment results (NRC, 1999a).

Currently, assessments at the classroom and large-scale levels often convey conflicting goals for learning. As argued in Chapter 6, coherence is needed in the assessment system. A coherent assessment system supports learning for all students. If a state assessment were not designed from the same conceptual base as classroom assessments, the mismatch could undermine the potential for improved learning offered by a system of assessment based on the cognitive and measurement sciences.

To be sure, coherence in an educational system is easier to wish for than to achieve—particularly in an education system with widely dispersed authority such as that of the United States. In many ways, standards-based reform is a step toward achieving some of this coherence. But current content standards are not as useful as they could be. Cognitive research can contribute to the development of next-generation standards that are more effective for guiding curriculum, instruction, and assessment—standards that define not only the content to be learned, but also the ways in which subject matter understanding is acquired and develops. Classroom and large-scale assessments within a coherent system should grow from a shared knowledge base about how students think and learn in a domain of the curriculum. This kind of coherence could help all assessments support common learning goals.

Assessments should be aimed at improving learning by providing information needed by those at all levels of the education system on the aspects of schooling for which they are responsible. If properly conducted, assessments can also serve accountability purposes by providing valuable infor-



The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement