The 1994 reauthorization of Title I was intended to change all that. The goal of the law was to harness the power of assessment to positive ends, using assessments to drive challenging instruction for all students. The mechanism for doing so was the requirement that assessments be “aligned” to the challenging standards for student performance. Teaching students to do well on the tests would mean that students would be learning what they needed to achieve the standards. Moreover, the assessment data would inform students, parents, teachers, and members of the public how well students were performing against the standards, rather than in comparison to other students.
In its effort to use assessment to promote instructional change, the Title I law was also tapping in to a reform movement in assessment. Like the critics of Title I testing, assessment critics contended that the traditional tests used in most schools and school districts—typically, norm-referenced, multiple-choice tests—narrowed the curriculum to the low-level knowledge and skills tested and provided inadequate and sometimes misleading information about student performance. In part, these critics drew on data showing the effects of the tests on instruction. But they also drew on a strain of research on student learning that emphasized the importance of students' abilities to use their knowledge to solve problems that reflect the world they encounter outside the classroom. To assess such abilities—and to promote instruction that fosters the development of such abilities in children—reformers called for new assessments that would measure student abilities to understand, analyze, and organize knowledge to solve complex problems.
These assessments, for example, might ask students to gather data and determine the mathematical procedures necessary to design a solution involving architecture or flying. Or they might ask students to read historical documents and analyze what they've read, together with what they know from other sources, to interpret a key event in history. Or they might ask students to conduct a science experiment in order to come up with a reasoned argument on an environmental issue.
In addition to tapping student knowledge in new ways, these types of assessments are also aimed at reporting results differently from traditional tests. Most significantly, the results would indicate whether students had attained challenging standards that demanded that they demonstrate such abilities.
Alignment. The ability of tests to reach all the ambitious goals set out by reformers depends, first of all, on the alignment between tests and standards. Alignment is a necessary condition of the theory of action of standards-based reform; indeed, the Title I statute requires state assessments to “be aligned with the State's challenging content and performance standards.” Alignment ensures that the tests match the learning goals embodied in the standards. At the same