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Knowing What Students Know: The Science and Design of Eduacational Assessment
scope or breadth of content in a given subject area and a sequence for learning. The standards discussed in Chapter 1 outline the goals of learning, whereas curriculum sets forth the more specific means to be used to achieve those ends. Instruction refers to methods of teaching and the learning activities used to help students master the content and objectives specified by a curriculum. Instruction encompasses the activities of both teachers and students. It can be carried out by a variety of methods, sequences of activities, and topic orders. Assessment is the means used to measure the outcomes of education and the achievement of students with regard to important competencies. As discussed earlier, assessment may include both formal methods, such as large-scale state assessments, or less formal classroom-based procedures, such as quizzes, class projects, and teacher questioning.
A precept of educational practice is the need for alignment among curriculum, instruction, and assessment (e.g., NCTM, 1995; Webb, 1997). Alignment, in this sense, means that the three functions are directed toward the same ends and reinforce each other rather than working at cross-purposes. Ideally, an assessment should measure what students are actually being taught, and what is actually being taught should parallel the curriculum one wants students to learn. If any of the functions is not well synchronized, it will disrupt the balance and skew the educational process. Assessment results will be misleading, or instruction will be ineffective. Alignment is difficult to achieve, however. Often what is lacking is a central theory around which the three functions can be coordinated.
Decisions about assessment, curriculum, and instruction are further complicated by actions taken at different levels of the educational system, including the classroom, the school or district, and the state. Each of these levels has different needs, and each uses assessment data in varied ways for somewhat different purposes. Each also plays a role in making decisions and setting policies for assessment, curriculum, and instruction, although the locus of power shifts depending on the type of decision involved. Some of these actions emanate from the top down, while others arise from the bottom up. States generally exert considerable influence over curriculum, while classroom teachers have more latitude in instruction. States tend to determine policies on assessment for program evaluation, while teachers have greater control over assessment for learning. This situation means that adjustments must continually be made among assessment, curriculum, and instruction not only horizontally, within the same level (such as within school districts), but also vertically across levels. For example, a change in state curriculum policy will require adjustments in assessment and instruction at all levels.
Realizing the new approach to assessment set forth in this report will depend on making compatible changes in curriculum and instruction. As with assessment, most current approaches to curriculum and instruction are based on theories that have not kept pace with modern knowledge of how people learn (NRC, 1999b; Shepard, 2000). The committee believes that align-