Part III sets forth the foundations for educational assessment in terms of contemporary scientific understanding of the nature of human cognition and methods of measurement. These two bodies of knowledge jointly provide a set of principles and methods for assessment design and use. As in any design activity, the scientific foundations provide direction and constrain the set of choices and possibilities, but they do not prescribe the exact nature of the design, nor do they preclude ingenuity to achieve a final product. Design is always a complex process that, while guided by theory and research, involves optimatization under a series of practical constraints outside the realm of science. Thus the design is influenced in important ways by the purpose of the assessment (e.g., to assist learning, measure individual attainment, or evaluate a program), the context in which it will be used (classroom or large-scale), and practical constraints (e.g., resources and time). The following chapters explore issues of how the foundations play out in the design of real assessment situations. A variety of existing assessments are described to illustrate the points.
Chapter 5 presents features of a new approach to assessment design that capitalizes on the scientific advances described in Part II. Using the assessment triangle defined in Chapter 2 as a framework, we discuss various aspects of design—including identification of the targets for assessment, item and test design, validation, reporting, and fairness—always focusing on how a cognitive approach to design would differ from current approaches.
Chapter 6 broadens the discussion beyond assessment to explore the interactions of assessment with curriculum and instruction; how assessments could best be used to support learning, first in classroom contexts and second in large-scale contexts; and the need for systems of multiple assessments that would work together to help achieve a common set of learning goals.
Chapter 7 considers the role current and future information technologies could play in realizing the full potential of the new kinds of assessment the committee envisions. Technology is enabling the assessment of a wider array of performances and simultaneously changing the nature of learning environments and the potential targets of assessment. The opportunities as well as the challenges are considered.
Two kinds of suggestions are presented in these chapters. Some relate to how scientific developments in the foundational areas of cognition and measurement could improve assessment. Others involve changes that could be made to the educational system to accommodate effective use of these assessments. Many of the suggestions in this latter area are consistent with the scientific developments, but those developments themselves are not sufficient to determine how educational systems should function. Political and societal decisions come into play with regard to organizational changes, resource implications, and investment priorities, and the committee recognizes that these are issues on which knowledgeable people may disagree.
Five key features of a new approach to assessment design serve as the organizing themes for this chapter: