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Alliance for Excellent Education Report Examines How Better Assessments Can Improve Outcomes For High School Students

Press Release:

Alliance for Excellent Education Report Examines How Better Assessments Can Improve Outcomes For High School Students

Washington, DC–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, according to a new publication from the Alliance for Excellent Education.

“With forty-six states currently developing common state standards, immediate and significant support must be forthcoming quickly for assessments that are aligned to these standards,” said Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education and former governor of West Virginia. “Secretary Duncan’s announcement last week that the U.S. Department of Education will commit up to $350 million to assist states with developing these twenty-first-century assessments is a positive step, but more may be needed.”

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. “Unfortunately,” Wise said, “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: 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, discusses these issues, examines promising assessment practices from across the globe, and offers recommendations on how the federal government can support an assessment agenda for the twenty-first century.

“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.”

During his June 14 speech at the 2009 Governors Education Symposium, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan addressed many of the themes present in Meaningful Measurement, including the need for assessments that measure students’ college and career readiness, the interest in performance assessments, and the role of benchmark assessments.

The essays in Meaningful Measurement discuss these and other issues, such as how assessments should be designed to evaluate high school students who are English language learners and students with disabilities, the benefits of international assessments, the role of technology in improving assessments and their use, and how assessment design affects the implementation of a growth model at the high school level.

“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.”

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, federal policymakers should 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.

The report’s essays and their authors are as follows:

  • “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;
  • “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;
  • “Formative Assessment and Assessment for Learning,” by Jan Chappuis, Stephen Chappuis, and Richard Stiggins of the ETS Assessment Training Institute;
  • “The Role of Interim Assessments in a Comprehensive Assessment System,” by Judy Wurtzel, formerly of the Aspen Institute, and Scott Marion, Marianne Perie, and Brian Gong of the National Center for the Improvement of Education Assessment;
  • “International Assessments of Student Learning Outcomes,” by Andreas Schleicher of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development;
  • “Measuring Student Achievement Growth at the High School Level,” by Joseph Martineau of the Michigan Department of Education;
  • “Assessing High School English Language Learners,” by Jamal Abedi of the University of California at Davis;
  • “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 at the University of Minnesota; and
  • “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.


Meaningful Measurement: The Role of Assessments in Improving High School Education in the Twenty-First Century is available for download at here.

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The Alliance for Excellent Education is a Washington, DC-based policy, research, and advocacy organization that works to make every child a graduate, prepared for postsecondary education and success in life.

For more information about the Alliance for Excellent Education, please visit

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