asked to devise a generalized method of comparison using set formulas and to create a pamphlet for gas company customers explaining this tool. Some of the questions that are part of this assessment are shown in Box 7-1.

This sort of task, Darling-Hammond explained, is engaging for students in part because it elicits complex knowledge and skills. It also reveals to teachers the sorts of thinking and reasoning of which each student is capable. It does so in part because it was developed based on an understanding of the learning progressions characteristic of this area of study and of students’ cognitive development. Because of these characteristics of the assessment, scoring and analyzing the results are valuable learning opportunities for teachers.1 Darling-Hammond stressed that in several other places (e.g., Finland, Sweden, and the Canadian province Alberta) teachers are actively engaged in the development of assessment tasks, as well as scoring and analysis, which makes it easier for them to see and forge the links between what is assessed and what they teach. In general, she suggested, “the conversation about curriculum and instruction in this country is deeply impoverished in comparison to the conversation that is going on in other countries.” For example, the idea that comparing test scores obtained at two different points in time is sufficient to identify student growth is simplistic, in her view. Much more useful would be a system that identifies numerous benchmarks along a vertical scale—a learning continuum—and incorporates thoughtful means of using it to measure students’ progress. This sort of data could then to be combined with other data about students and teachers to provide a richer picture of instruction and learning.

Darling-Hammond noted that technology greatly expands the opportunities for this sort of assessment. In addition to delivering the assessments and providing rapid feedback, it can be used to provide links to instructional materials and other resources linked to the standards being assessed. It can be used to track data about students’ problem-solving strategies or other details of their responses and make it easy to aggregate results in different ways for different purposes. It can also facilitate human scoring, in part be making it possible for teachers to participate without meeting in a central location. Technology can also make it possible for students to compile digital records of their performance on complex tasks that could be used to demonstrate their progress or readiness for further study in a particular area or in a postsecondary institution. Such an assessment system could also make it easier for policy makers to understand student performance: for example, they could see not just abstract scores, but exemplars of student work, at the classroom, school, or district level.


For detailed descriptions of learning progressions in English/language arts, mathematics, and other subjects, Darling-Hammond pointed participants to the website of England’s Qualifications and Curriculum Authority ( [accessed June 2010]). Assessment tasks are developed from theses descriptions and teachers use them both to identify how far students have progressed on various dimensions and also to report their progress to others and for instruction planning purposes.

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