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Knowing What Students Know: The Science and Design of Eduacational Assessment
mation as relevant. This evaluation should include how a person organizes acquired information, encompassing both strategies for problem solving and ways of chunking relevant information into manageable units.
The importance of evaluating knowledge structures comes from research on expertise. Studies of expert-novice differences in subject domains illuminate critical features of proficiency that should be the targets for assessment. Experts in a subject domain typically organize factual and procedural knowledge into schemas that support pattern recognition and the rapid retrieval and application of knowledge.
One of the most important aspects of cognition is metacognition—the process of reflecting on and directing one’s own thinking. Metacognition is crucial to effective thinking and problem solving and is one of the hallmarks of expertise in specific areas of knowledge and skill. Experts use metacognitive strategies for monitoring understanding during problem solving and for performing self-correction. Assessment should therefore attempt to determine whether an individual has good metacognitive skills.
Not all children learn in the same way and follow the same paths to competence. Children’s problem-solving strategies become more effective over time and with practice, but the growth process is not a simple, uniform progression, nor is there movement directly from erroneous to optimal solution strategies. Assessments should focus on identifying the specific strategies children are using for problem solving, giving particular consideration to where those strategies fall on a developmental continuum of efficiency and appropriateness for a particular domain of knowledge and skill.
Children have rich intuitive knowledge of their world that undergoes significant change as they mature. Learning entails the transformation of naive understanding into more complete and accurate comprehension, and assessment can be used as a tool to facilitate this process. To this end, assessments, especially those conducted in the context of classroom instruction, should focus on making students’ thinking visible to both their teachers and themselves so that instructional strategies can be selected to support an appropriate course for future learning.
Practice and feedback are critical aspects of the development of skill and expertise. One of the most important roles for assessment is the provision of timely and informative feedback to students during instruction and learning so that their practice of a skill and its subsequent acquisition will be effective and efficient.
As a function of context, knowledge frequently develops in a highly contextualized and inflexible form, and often does not transfer very effectively. Transfer depends on the development of an explicit understanding of when to apply what has been learned. Assessments of academic achievement need to consider carefully the knowledge and skills required to understand and answer a question or solve a problem, including the context in