Assessment and Technology-Allies in Educational Reform: An Overview of Issues for Counselors and Educators

By Wall, Janet E. | Measurement and Evaluation in Counseling and Development, July 2004 | Go to article overview
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Assessment and Technology-Allies in Educational Reform: An Overview of Issues for Counselors and Educators


Wall, Janet E., Measurement and Evaluation in Counseling and Development


Because technology is more prevalent and accessible for use in assessment, this article highlights what counselors and educators need to know when considering the use of computers and the Internet for that purpose. The article concludes with some predictions on how technology might influence assessment and accountability in the future.

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We, as educators, are living in an age of data-based educational reform. Data are driving decisions about the degree to which state and district standards are being achieved, what is taught in the classroom, the performance of school personnel and students, and which educational and counseling programs seem to have been effective. Decisions on who passes a class, who graduates, who is promoted, what school a student attends, whether principals are retained, whether the superintendent has been effective, and what schools are rewarded with additional resources are increasingly based on data, especially test scores.

The use of test data to determine the quality of education offered in U.S. schools was given significant attention and visibility with the passage of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act of 2001. This law mandates annual testing in reading, language arts, and mathematics in Grades 3 through 8 and at least once in Grades 10-12 by school year 2005-2006, followed later by science assessments. Key provisions of the law include (a) the need to specify state education standards and align the assessments to those standards; (b) the inclusion of all students, even special needs students and those with limited English proficiency along with reasonable accommodations for those students, in the state assessments; (c) reporting at the individual student level and summary results by school, district, and state, as well as results disaggregated by gender, major racial and ethnic groups, English proficiency, migrant status, disability, and economic status; (d) the timely delivery of test results so that they can be used for educational improvement at all levels; and (e) the demonstration of adequate yearly progress followed by the designation of schools and districts in need of improvement (Achieve, 2002; American Education Research Association [AERA], 2003; Education Commission of the States, 2003; U.S. Department of Education, Office of Elementary and Secondary Education, 2002).

Although school administrators are increasingly concerned with the use of test data for decision making, the vast majority, about 9 in 10, believe that accountability, testing, and standards are here to stay. Their major concerns include an overemphasis on tests for accountability, the perception that the federal government is too intrusive in local education, and the belief that the consequences are unfair. On the whole, school superintendents and principals, particularly those in large school districts, believe that the legislative requirements are generally useful, although there may be too much reliance on standardized tests (Farkas, Johnson, & Duffett, 2003).

In that survey (Farkas et al., 2003) of more than 1,000 school superintendents and more than 900 principals, fiscal concerns offered the most challenge to school administrators, with 70% of school superintendents and 58% of principals indicating that insufficient funding was their major concern. Compounding this concern was the intrusion of mandates that prompted this complaint by school administrators:

     But just beneath the surface of their money concerns is one aspect
     that they find especially galling: the cost of obeying state and
     federal laws that require them to put very specific services or
     policies in place. According to school leaders there are far too
     many of these mandates. They come in regularly from federal, state,
     and local governments. Most don't come with sufficient funding.
     (Farkas et al., 2003, p. 11)

With insufficient funding constraining the resources available for education, states and districts are eager for mechanisms by which assessments can be more easily and cheaply created, administered, scored, interpreted, and analyzed for the purpose of improving instructional programs, meeting accountability expectations, and fulfilling the mandates of NCLB.

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Assessment and Technology-Allies in Educational Reform: An Overview of Issues for Counselors and Educators
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