peting for federal dollars from the U.S. Department of Education’s Race to the Top initiative.1 Both of these activities 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: for example, 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 the two workshops documented in this report was to collect information and perspectives on assessment to help state officials and others as they review current assessment practices and consider improvements. In organizing the workshops, the Committee on Best Practices for State Assessment Systems identified four sets of 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), the ACT (formerly, American College Testing), and the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA)—compare with each other and with the existing state tests and 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 [accessed March 2010]).