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MEANINGFUL MEASUREMENT: Collection of Essays Published by the Alliance for Excellent Education Examines the Role of Assessments in Improving High School Education

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“At all levels of the education system, assessments serve as a way to establish meaningful goals and signal to all stakeholders the progress in reaching them."

Federal policy must support a radically different system of assessments if the United States is to succeed in preparing all students for college and career. So says Meaningful Measurement: The Role of Assessments in Improving High School Education in the Twenty-First Century, a new collection of essays written by leading education experts and published by the Alliance for Excellent Education.

“At all levels of the education system, assessments serve as a way to establish meaningful goals and signal to all stakeholders the progress in reaching them,” said Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education and former governor of West Virginia. “Unfortunately, there is a general consensus that current assessment policies and practices do not establish the goal of college and career readiness for all students, nor do they support improved teaching and learning.”

Meaningful Measurement contains nine essays with themes that include the need for assessments that measure students’ college and career readiness, the interest in performance assessments, and the role of benchmark assessments. Some of the essays also examine promising assessment practices from across the globe and offer recommendations on how the federal government can support an assessment agenda for the twenty-first century. (A complete list of the essays and their authors appear in the box below).

“In today’s economy, there aren’t many well-paying jobs for individuals without some form of postsecondary education,” Wise said. “But rather than measuring whether students are ready for college or career, the assessments used in many states are pegged to tenth-grade levels or lower. If the nation is to truly prepare its students to compete on a global scale, it must move beyond multiple-choice questions and rudimentary assessments to twenty-first-century measurements that effectively measure whether students are meeting higher expectations.”

Meaningful Measurement argues that federal policy should support states in their efforts to develop common standards and assessments that are aligned to college and career readiness as well as lessons learned from the world’s highest-performing nations. The report notes that federal policy should also help build educators’ capacity to use assessments and other data to improve teaching and learning and to ensure that assessment data is communicated quickly to educators and the public. Additionally, it calls on federal policymakers to invest in research and development to improve knowledge at all education levels about using higher-quality assessments in ways that improve teaching, learning, and student outcomes.

“Secretary Duncan’s announcement, combined with the upcoming congressional reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, provide excellent opportunities to rethink the federal role in standards and assessments and how to improve current assessments and educators’ capacity to use them,” said Wise. “When developed and used properly, assessments not only make the expectations we set through our standards real, they can also play an important role in holding the system accountable for the education of poor and minority students while providing critical information that assists classroom instruction and school improvement efforts.”

A Complete List of Essays Included in Meaningful Measurement 

“College and Work Readiness as a Goal of High Schools: The Role of Standards, Assessments, and Accountability,” by John Tanner of the Center for Innovative Measures at the Council of Chief State School Officers: This essay establishes why, in the twenty-first century, the nation needs standards, assessments, and accountability systems aligned to college and career readiness, and offers recommendations for federal policymakers to support such efforts.

“Reframing Accountability: Using Performance Assessments to Focus Learning on Higher-Order Skills,” by Linda Darling-Hammond and Ray Pecheone of the School Redesign Network at Stanford University: This essay discusses how performance assessments can help evaluate students’ ability to apply their knowledge and encourage teaching and learning of higher-order skills.

“Formative Assessment and Assessment for Learning,” by Jan Chappuis, Stephen Chappuis, and Richard Stiggins of the ETS Assessment Training Institute: The authors describe the characteristics of formative assessment, with a particular focus on those formative assessment practices that engage and empower students in their own learning, or assessments for learning.

“The Role of Interim Assessments in a Comprehensive Assessment System,” by Judy Wurtzel, formerly of the Aspen Institute, and Marianne Perie, Scott Marion, and Brian Gong of the National Center for the Improvement of Education Assessment: The authors differentiate between true classroom formative assessment and the interim assessments currently in the marketplace. They then provide a framework for considering the appropriate role of interim assessments.

“International Assessments of Student Learning Outcomes,” by Andreas Schleicher of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development: This essay provides a brief introduction of the history of international assessments and describes the potential benefits of international assessments for educational policy and practice. It also includes some of the methodological challenges faced in providing valid, comparable, and reliable evidence, and offers recommendations to U.S. policymakers.

“Measuring Student Achievement Growth at the High School Level,” by Joseph Martineau of the Michigan Department of Education: This essay explains the technical underpinnings of growth models, describes the various types of growth models, articulates challenges inherent to measuring growth at the high school level, and explores implications for policymakers interested in moving toward the widespread use of growth models.

“Assessing High School English Language Learners,” by Jamal Abedi of the University of California at Davis: Abedi describes the challenges inherent in assessing the English proficiency and content knowledge of the diverse high school English language learner (ELL) population and offers recommendations to federal policymakers for creating reliable, valid, and accessible assessments for ELL students.

“Students with Disabilities: Expectations, Academic Achievement, and the Critical Role of Inclusive Standards-Based Assessments in Improving Outcomes,” by Rachel Quenemoen of the National Center on Educational Outcomes: Quenemoen describes issues concerning the assessment of high school students with disabilities in a standards-based accountability system, ways to evaluate assessments that are inclusive of all students in the accountability system, and recommendations for policymakers.

“Assessments and Technology: A Powerful Combination for Improving Teaching and Learning,” by Erin Martin Gohl, Daniel Gohl, and Mary Ann Wolf of the State Educational Technology Directors Association: The authors describe how the use of technology to assess students and to record and analyze performance can result in timely, appropriate, and individualized instruction for all students.

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