Assessment Literacy for the 21st Century

By Stiggins, Richard J. | Phi Delta Kappan, November 1995 | Go to article overview

Assessment Literacy for the 21st Century


Stiggins, Richard J., Phi Delta Kappan


Without a clear vision of the meaning of academic success and without the ability to effectively assess student attainment of those achievement targets at the classroom, building, and district levels, we will remain unable to help students attain higher levels of academic achievement, regardless of the instructional methods we use or, how we organize our schools, Mr. Stiggins warns.

Several years ago, in an article titled "Assessment Literacy," I expressed the view that the school improvement efforts under way at that time would not be productive unless and until educators became masters of the basic principles of sound class@ room assessment.(1) Without a crystal clear vision of the meaning of academic success and without the ability to translate that vision into high-quality assessments at the classroom, building, and district levels, I contended, we would remain unable to assist students in attaining higher level of academic achievement.

Since then, several important assessment-related developments have unfolded that bear on the evolution of our collective assessment literacy. For this reason, I believe it is time to review and evaluate our progress.

To begin with, we can identify positive trends that promise to increase our under@ standing and use of high-quality assessment. For example, the business community and other major segments of our society have recognized that schools must do more than rank students from the highest to the lowest achievers. Rather, a growing demand for highly competent citizens has triggered the realization that schools must help a larger proportion of our students meet high standards of academic excellence. Evidence of this revised mission of schools can be seen in the highly visible lists of national, state, and local education goals. This demand for excellence fuels an intense need for high-quality classroom and large-scale assessments.

The desire for higher achievement for ever more students has forced us to define the meaning of academic success in ever clearer terms. Specialists in the academic disciplines continue working to define academic success in reading, writing, math, science, and foreign language, among others. These sharper definitions provide a far stronger focus for high-quality educational programs and assessments than we have ever had before.

Yet another important positive development has seen performance assessment become an essential ingredient in a complete school assessment program. We have begun to understand how many of our most important achievement targets take the form of skills and capabilities that require assessment by means of observation and the exercise of judgment. For this reason, we have begun to conduct the research and development efforts required to learn how to use performance assessment effectively.

In addition, some major assessment programs have acknowlegded the importance of involving teachers in their assessment projects. For instance, Vermont, Kentucky, and California, among others, have relied heavily on teachers as assessors. And a few states, such as Michigan, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Washington, and some school districts have begun to recognize the critical role that classroom assessment will play in the future of school development. Many have begun to allocate significant resources to professional development, for teachers and administrators.

Finally, the National Council on Measurement in education (NCME) has joined the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association to identify and endorse a complete set of classroom room assessment competencies for teachers.(2) Similar standards have been spelled out for principals (3) and are currently being developed for administrators in general through the collaboration of NCME and the American Association of School Administrators.

All of these positive developments suggest that progress has been significant. However, the path of progress has not always been smooth. …

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