that the concepts and skills that signal progress toward mastery of a subject be understood and specified. In various areas of the curriculum, such as early reading, early mathematics, and high school physics, substantial work has already been done in this regard. In some cases researchers have capitalized on such knowledge to develop the elements of an assessment strategy, although that work has generally concentrated on the development of materials for formative assessment.1 In contrast, research and theory have not been used to develop similarly valid assessment tools for many other areas of mathematics, for reading comprehension, or for numerous aspects of elementary and middle school science. These design and development activities constitute part of the prospective R&D agendas we have outlined for each separate content domain.

Assessment of the overall outcomes of instruction—summative assessment—is important to the R&D agenda because it allows testing of program effectiveness. But it is important more broadly because the content of those assessments can drive instructional practice. The Force Concept Inventory in physics (see Chapter 4) illustrates the potential for a summative assessment tool based on cognitive and instructional research to have a powerful, positive impact on the redesign of instruction. It has served simultaneously as an evaluation tool to determine the effectiveness of a new instructional approach. In most instructional areas, however, little progress has been made in developing assessment tools that support instruction in this way.

Assessment of the impact of long-term programs of R&D, such as those that would be supported by SERP, is also important. For decision-making purposes, the public policy makers need information to determine the return on investing in an enterprise such as SERP.2


This work includes assessment of components of early reading (see Chapter 2), development of the Number Knowledge Test and integration into the Number Worlds instructional program (see Chapter 3), and work on conceptual understanding in physics, which is incorporated into the Diagnoser software tool (see Chapter 4).


Although we focus in this report on learning outcomes, for public policy purposes data are also needed on the costs of achieving those outcomes. The point of bringing together work on teaching, learning, organization, and policy in the SERP context is to ensure that knowledge is available in all these domains to support decision making.

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