Similar imprecision is evident in the possible interpretations of some of the top reform goals of the present moment, Shepard suggested, including:

  • reforming assessments using conceptually rich tasks,

  • integrating 21st-century skills and academic content,

  • creating coherence between large-scale and classroom assessments, and

  • using data to improve classroom instruction.

For example, treating the first two bullets as distinct enterprises makes little sense, given that the research on the developmental nature of learning seems to suggest the importance of weaving content and higher-order thinking skills together (see Chapter 2).

Shepard said she believes that policy makers do not completely understand that effective teaching relies on a model for how learning proceeds, in which cognitive skills and the knowledge of when and how to use them develop together with content knowledge and understanding of how to generalize from it. She suggested that, without this theory of learning, policy makers are likely to accept current modes of assessment. They may believe, for example, that narrowing the curriculum is necessary because basic reading and mathematics skills are so important. They may not be aware that excessive drill on worksheets that resemble summative tests does not give students the opportunity to understand the context and purpose for what they are learning—which would enhance their skill development (see Elmore, 2003; Blanc et al., 2010; Bulkley et al., 2010; Olah et al., 2010). Similarly, although policy makers are in favor of data-driven decision making, Shepard said, she believes that many educators lack the substantive expertise to interpret the available data and use it to make meaningful changes in their practice.

During the workshop discussions, many presenters drew attention to the churning that affects education policy because of shifts in political goals and personnel at the state level. Given that reality, coherence will have to come at a lower level, Shepard argued. The United States does not have a common curriculum, she suggested, because it has no tradition of relying on subject matter experts in many decisions about education. Psychometricians and policy makers have typically taken the lead in the development of assessments, for example: subject matter experts have generally been involved in some way, but they are not usually asked to oversee the development of frameworks, item development, and the interpretation of results.

Now, however, the interests of subject-matter experts and cognitive researchers who have been developing models of student learning within particular disciplines have converged, and this convergence offers the possibility of a coherence that could withstand the inevitable fluctuations in political interests. However, the practical application of this way of thinking about

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