Connections Between Cognition and Observation. A cognitive theory of how people develop competence in a domain provides clues about the types of situations that will elicit evidence about that competence. Conversely, a well-developed knowledge base about the properties and affordances of tasks—what does and does not work to reveal what students know and can do—helps the assessment designer anticipate the types of knowledge and skills likely to be elicited by tasks with certain features. When the knowledge derived from both perspectives is combined, relevant information about student performance is more likely to be collected through assessment tasks.

Connections Between Cognition and Interpretation. A cognitive theory of how people develop competence in a domain also provides clues about the types of interpretation methods that are appropriate for transforming the data about student performance into assessment results. The cognitive theory suggests aspects of knowledge and skills by which we want to characterize students. Conversely, a familiarity with available measurement models provides a set of experience-tested methods for handling thorny and often subtle issues of evidence.

Connections Between Observation and Interpretation. Knowing the possibilities and limitations of various interpretation models helps in designing a set of observations that is at once effective and efficient for the task at hand. The interpretation model expresses how the observations from a given task constitute evidence about the performance being assessed as it bears on the targeted knowledge. It is only sensible to look for evidence one knows how to reason from or interpret.

Thus to have an effective assessment, all three vertices of the triangle must work together in synchrony. It will almost certainly be necessary for developers to go around the assessment triangle several times, looking for mismatches and refining the elements to achieve consistency. The interdependent relationships among cognition, observation, and interpretation in the assessment design process are further elaborated and illustrated throughout this report.


Assessment is not an isolated part of the education system. What is measured and how the information is used depend to a great extent on the curriculum that is taught and the instructional methods used. Viewed from the other perspective, assessment has a strong effect on both curriculum and instruction.

Curriculum consists of the knowledge and skills in subject areas that teachers teach and students learn. The curriculum generally encompasses a

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine
500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001

Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement