Testing What Has Been Taught

Helpful, High-Quality Assessments Start with a Strong Curriculum

Published in: American Educator, v. 34 no. 4, Winter 2010-2011, p. 47-52

Posted on RAND.org on January 01, 2010

by Laura S. Hamilton

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In recent years, standardized, large-scale tests of student achievement have been given a central role in federal, state, and local efforts to improve K-12 education. Despite the widespread enthusiasm for assessment-based reforms, many of the current and proposed uses of large-scale assessments are based on unverified assumptions about the extent to which they will actually lead to improved teaching and learning, and insufficient attention has been paid to the characteristics of assessment programs that are likely to promote desired outcomes. In light of the recently developed Common Core State Standards and the ongoing work to develop assessments aligned to those standards, now is a good time to pause and consider the state and federal assessment policies. If one is to actually improve schools, researchers and policymakers must address a few essential questions: How many purposes can one assessment serve? Can assessments meaningfully be aligned to standards, or is something more detailed, like a curriculum, necessary to guide both teachers and assessment developers? What would the key features of an assessment system designed to increase student learning and improve instruction be? While current assessment knowledge is not sufficient to fully answer these questions, in this article the author offers an overview of what is known and several suggestions for improving one's approach to assessment.

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