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Best Practices for State Assessment Systems, Part I: Summary of a Workshop
Top initiative.1 Both of these efforts are intended to help make educational standards clearer and more concise and to set higher standards for students. As standards come under new scrutiny, so, too, do the assessments that measure their results—to be eligible for Race to the Top funds, a state must adopt internationally benchmarked standards and also “demonstrate a commitment to improving the quality of its assessments” (U.S. Department of Education, 2009).
The goal for this workshop, the first of two, was to collect information and perspectives on assessment that could be of use to state officials and others as they review current assessment practices and consider improvements, as Diana Pullin indicated in her opening remarks. In organizing the workshop, the Committee on Best Practices for State Assessment Systems identified four questions for consideration:
How do the different existing tests that have been or could be used to make comparisons across states—such as the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), the advanced placement (AP) tests, the SAT Reasoning Test (SAT, formerly, the Scholastic Aptitude Test and the Scholastic Assessment Test), ACT (formerly, American College Testing), and the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA)—compare to each other and to the existing state tests with their associated content and performance standards? What implications do the similarities and differences across these tests have for the state comparisons that they can be used to make?
How could current procedures for developing content and performance standards be changed to allow benchmarking to measures and predictions of college and career readiness and also promote the development of a small set of clear standards? What options are there for constructing tests that measure readiness with respect to academic skills? Are there options for assessing “21st century” or “soft” skills that could provide a more robust assessment of readiness than a focus on academic skills alone?
What does research suggest about best practices in running a state assessment system and using the assessment results from that system to improve instruction? How does this compare to current state capacity and practices? How might assessment in the context of revised standards be designed to move state practices to more closely resemble best practices?
The Race to the Top initiative is a pool of federal money set aside for discretionary grants. States are competing to receive the grants on the basis of their success in four areas: standards and assessments, data systems, improving the teacher work force, and improving the lowest-achieving schools (see http://www2.ed.gov/programs/racetothetop/index.html [March 2010]).