The scientific basis for rethinking the foundations of assessment comes from two disciplines: cognitive science and educational measurement. The following two chapters review developments in these disciplines over the last several decades that have important implications for the design and use of educational assessments. The committee presents these developments side by side because they form the necessary and complementary foundations of the science and design of educational assessment. Modern knowledge, theories, models, and methods from these two fields provide the underpinnings of a scientifically credible and principled approach to assessment.
Chapter 3 summarizes findings from cognitive science about how people think and learn. With reference to the assessment triangle introduced in Chapter 2, cognitive research provides the scientific basis for the central model of cognition and learning that informs the assessment design, or the cognition vertex of the triangle. Cognitive research suggests the important aspects of learning about which one would want to draw inferences when measuring student achievement. It also helps determine the design of the observation corner of the triangle by suggesting the types of situations or tasks that will elicit evidence from students to support the desired inferences. Four decades of theory and research on human cognition, learning, and development has provided powerful insights into how students represent knowledge and develop competence in specific domains, as well as how tasks and situations can be designed to provide evidence for inferences about what students know and can do.
Chapter 4 summarizes the contributions that the discipline of educational measurement (psychometrics) can make to a new approach to assessment. Measurement models are statistical examples of the interpretation corner of the assessment triangle. They provide the statistical tools that make it possible to integrate the myriad of information obtained from the tasks of an assessment to formulate assessment results (inferences about student competencies). In most current forms of assessment, the measurement models are relatively simple, enabling inferences about students’ general proficiency levels and relative rankings. But just as there have been advances in the sciences of cognition and learning, there have been significant developments in methods of measurement over the last several decades. A wide array of newer models and methods are available that can better capture the complexities of learning as it is now understood.
Taken together, developments from the sciences of cognition and measurement should serve as the scientific foundations of assessment. The knowledge accumulated in these fields can guide the determination of what observations it is sensible to undertake and what sense can be made of those observations when measuring student achievement.
Five themes are the focus for the discussion of advances in the sciences of thinking and learning in this chapter: