Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Risking Frankness in Educational Assessment

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Risking Frankness in Educational Assessment

Article excerpt

Ms. Moss and Mr. Schutz focus on practices designed to reliably identify accomplished teachers and consider the implications of these practices for leveraging change.

The more we learn, and the franker we are with ourselves and our clientele, the more valid the use of tests will become.1

OVER THE PAST few decades, educational administrators, policy makers, and the public they serve have come to rely increasingly on tests and other forms of standardized assessments as primary indicators of the quality of education. The rapidly growing use of standards-based assessment in which educational standards are developed through a process of dialogue among representative members of a community, widely circulated for review and comment, revised in light of such comment, and then used to guide the development of standardized assessments intended to reflect the status of an individual or group with respect to those standards is one indicator of the public's faith in the meaningfulness of such assessments. While most measurement theorists acknowledge the social and value-laden nature of educational constructs, as well as the inevitability of error in test scores, much of the public rhetoric about tests appears to assume a degree of accuracy, objectivity, and "truth" that exceeds the capabilities of measurement technology. And, in the interests of communicating clearly, succinctly, and persuasively about the meaning of scores, those responsible for testing programs may be unintentionally complicit in promoting this conception.

Lee Cronbach has argued that those who develop and evaluate assessments "meet [their] responsibility through activities that clarify for a relevant community what a measurement means and the limitations of each interpretation."2 In this article, we trace the process through which one standards-based assessment is developed, from the creation of the guiding content standards to the moment when a final score can be given and a decision made about whether or not a person "meets the standards." Following Cronbach, we examine the extent to which the developers of the assessment illuminate its meaning and limitations. Outside the measurement profession, the process of test development and evaluation is often perceived as primarily a technical endeavor. We highlight the social aspects of that process the shaping of a variety of human judgments into a single coherent interpretation or decision.

Responsibility for the development of most large-scale assessments is shared by professionals representing at least two communities: the discipline of measurement and the discipline(s) that the assessment is designed to assess. In the case of standards-based assessment in the field of education, the responsibility is typically shared by teachers, teacher educators, measurement specialists, and experts from relevant supporting disciplines. The quality of any assessment rests, in part, on the nature, substance, and quality of the collaboration among the responsible parties. As we trace the process of developing and evaluating an assessment, we consider the varying roles that members of the teaching and measurement communities play in the process.

We focus on one highly respected assessment development effort: that undertaken by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (the "National Board") for the purpose of certifying accomplished teachers. The National Board is an independent organization "governed by a 63-member board of directors, most [of whom] are classroom teachers."3 The organization has both immediate and long-range goals. Its most immediate goals are to "establish high and rigorous standards for what accomplished teachers should know and be able to do" by forging "a national professional consensus," to "reliably identify teachers who meet [these] standards," and to "communicate what accomplished teaching looks like." Through assessment and related activities the National Board hopes to "leverage change" in the contexts and culture of teaching, with the specific goals of "making it possible for teachers to advance in responsibility, status, and compensation without having to leave the classroom" and "encouraging among teachers the search for new knowledge and better practice through a study regimen of collaboration and reflection with peers and others. …

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