data patterns, given varying levels of student competence. In less formal classroom assessment, the interpretation is often made by the teacher using an intuitive or qualitative rather than formal statistical model.

Three foundational elements, comprising what is referred to in this report as the “assessment triangle,” underlie all assessments. These three elements—cognition, observation, and interpretation—must be explicitly connected and designed as a coordinated whole. If not, the meaningfulness of inferences drawn from the assessment will be compromised.

The central problem addressed by this report is that most widely used assessments of academic achievement are based on highly restrictive beliefs about learning and competence not fully in keeping with current knowledge about human cognition and learning. Likewise, the observation and interpretation elements underlying most current assessments were created to fit prior conceptions of learning and need enhancement to support the kinds of inferences people now want to draw about student achievement. A cognitive model of learning should serve as the cornerstone of the assessment design process. This model should be based on the best available understanding of how students represent knowledge and develop competence in the domain.

The model of learning can serve as a unifying element—a nucleus that brings cohesion to curriculum, instruction, and assessment. This cohesive function is a crucial one because educational assessment does not exist in isolation, but must be aligned with curriculum and instruction if it is to support learning.

Finally, aspects of learning that are assessed and emphasized in the classroom should ideally be consistent with (though not necessarily the same as) the aspects of learning targeted by large-scale assessments. In reality, however, these two forms of assessment are often out of alignment. The result can be conflict and frustration for both teachers and learners. Thus there is a need for better alignment among assessments used for different purposes and in different contexts.

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