opposition to their plans. Conveying the rationale for an assessment approach to policy makers and the public, as well as the expected benefits and costs, may require careful planning and concerted effort.
It is often at the district level that the critical communications take place, and too often, McDonnell said, district leaders have not been involved in or prepared for this important aspect of the process. The benefit of clear and thorough communication is that stakeholders are more likely to continue to support a program through technical difficulties if they have a clear understanding of the overall goals.
Finally, McDonnell stressed, people need to remember that the implementation of innovative assessments takes time. It is very important to build in an adequate development cycle that allows for gradual implementation and for adaptation to potential problems. In several of the experiences discussed at the workshop, rushed implementation led to technical problems, undue stress on teachers and students, and a focus on testing formats at the expense of clear connections to curriculum. In several states, testing experts acquiesced to political pressure to move quickly in a direction that the testing technology could not sustain. Programs that have implemented innovative features gradually, without dismantling the existing system, have had more flexibility to adapt and learn from experience.
These policy lessons, as well as a growing base of technical advances, can be very valuable for today’s “missionaries,” McDonnell said. However, although past experience provides lessons, it may also have left a legacy of skepticism among those who had to deal with what were in some cases very disruptive experiences. Fiscal constraints are also likely to be a problem for some time to come, and it is not clear that states will be able to sustain new forms of assessment that may be more expensive than their predecessors after initial seed funding is exhausted. She also noted that the common standards movement and the Race to the Top Initiative have not yet become the focus of significant public attention, and there is no way to predict whether they will become the objects of ideological controversies, as have past education reforms. None of these are reasons not to experiment with new forms of assessment, McDonnell concluded, but “they are reasons for going about the enterprise in a technically more sophisticated way than was done in the past and to do it with greater political sensitivity and skill.”