large-scale examinations today. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, new tests developed at the state or national level and administered to every student are used to rank public elementary and secondary schools, make decisions about their financial allocation from the state, decide if they will continue to be certified, and, in many places, directly determine teachers' salaries.
Depending on the grade level and the end use of the results, student examinations for these purposes, which usually take from 2 hours to 2 or 3 days, are used primarily for selection and accountability—selection of students for specialized instructional programs and accountability to parents and other taxpayers regarding the effective use of public funds. Only indirectly are they administered to improve learning. When teachers and the public become aware of the test subject matter, classroom instruction begins to emphasize that content. Student scores rise as teachers teach to the test. Such examinations usually are given at the end of the school year, too late for the teacher to take remedial action with individual students. Often the teacher receives no information about the specific items that each student missed. Finally, the tests, which are typically designed to be machine-scored, do not cover the range of learning promoted in the Standards.
This document focuses on the importance and the improvement of the classroom-based element of a balanced system of assessment that includes both external tests and teachers' knowledge of the student's abilities. The Standards feature a range of objectives, including the ability of students to pursue a well-planned scientific investigation that may extend over several days, weeks, or even months. In this type of activity, the teacher makes judgments continually about the student's level of understanding by assisting the student during the course of the project and observing carefully the student's work, asking key questions along the way, and responding to the student's questions. The teacher continually probes the student to ensure how well the student understands the concept, to determine how they approach a problem, and to find out the assumptions that underlie a student's response. During this process, the teacher has unique opportunities to make considered judgments, based on the concrete evidence collected about the quality of student accomplishment. With knowledge of the nature of a student 's understanding, the teacher can act immediately on the basis of that information and does not have to rely solely on brief and often decontextualized responses or small samples of student work. A balanced and integrated system of assessment makes use of what the teacher knows.