As the United States moves resolutely towards standards-based education, we must learn anew how to measure quality — of students' learning, of teachers' performance, of school and district accomplishment. Assessment demonstrates the real meaning of "standards." We can see in the tasks children are expected to perform just what they must learn to meet our national goals.
It is all too clear that current tests used for assessment of educational performance fail to measure adequately progress toward national standards. This is especially true in mathematics, where curriculum and teaching standards recommended by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics have earned nationwide consensus. Yet commonly used tests continue to stress routine, repetitive, rote tasks instead of offering children opportunities to demonstrate the full range of their mathematical power, including such important facets as communication, problem solving, inventiveness, persistence, and curiosity. In Measuring Up, the National Research Council seeks to demonstrate in one specific instance — fourth grade mathematics — one approach to standards-based assessment.
The prototypes in this volume are intended to bring the ethos of the standards to life in concrete assessment tasks. A superficial glance at the tasks will convince any reader that the new mathematics standards call for a significantly different type of education. But these prototypes do more than illustrate standards. They contribute to a public debate on significant redirection of U.S. traditions concerning the role of assessment in education, including these key issues: