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Designing a High-Quality System of Assessments

By Kim Marshall, TIE columnist

The article: "10 Principles for Building a High-Quality System of Assessments" by Kathryn Young, Lexi Barrett, and Rebecca E. Wolfe in a Jobs for the Future publication, February 2018,; the authors can be reached at,, and
"No single assessment or piece of student work can provide educators, students, parents, and the public with information about what students know and can do," say a group of 19 education organizations and assessment experts in this paper, crafted by Kathryn Young (Education Counsel) and Lexi Barrett and Rebecca E. Wolfe (Jobs for the Future). The monograph synthesizes research from numerous sources into ten qualities that a system of assessments should ideally contain:
o Comprehensiveness - Taken together, assessments should measure the full array of knowledge, skills, and behaviors needed for college, career, and civic readiness. This includes core academic content, critical thinking, problem solving, collaboration skills, metacognition, and academic mindsets. Measures should include performance assessments and projects as well as conventional tests.
o Balance - The system should include assessments of learning and real-time assessments for learning, with timely information that improves teaching and students' learning strategies, continuously fine-tunes the assessments themselves, and provides public accountability.
o Equity and inclusiveness - The system of assessments should include accommodations for English language learners and students with disabilities and make good use of Universal Design for Learning. It should also include information on college and career readiness that is comparable, valid, and reliable statewide so stakeholders have a sense of student learning across schools and districts and across groups of students. "Additionally," say the authors, "knowledge, skills, and behaviors assessed should be those that can be taught and mastered in the classroom so that assessments do not presuppose students coming to school with prior knowledge from particular contexts."
o Capacity - Teachers and administrators must have the tools, knowledge, and skills to administer the full range of assessments and use the results to support students and improve pedagogy. Many students will need to be brought up to speed on assessments of deeper learning so they are engaged and increasingly comfortable with them.
o Efficiency - Too much testing has been a frequent complaint among educators. However, say the authors, "The goal should not be to minimize time on testing solely for the sake of time - which could lead to eliminating some of the most important indicators of student learning, such as performance assessments." Rather, all assessments should be designed for high-quality measurement of the most important objectives, while eliminating any possible duplication.
o Coherence - Assessments should be designed to ensure horizontal alignment (with what students are being taught) and vertical alignment (with grade-to-grade expectations and summative tests). Teachers, students, administrators, and parents should have a clear picture of student learning in real time and over time, all geared to standards that lead to college and career success.
o Engagement - There should be ongoing input from and collaboration with key stakeholders (teachers, administrators, students, parents, employers, postsecondary institutions, and community leaders) so people understand the various assessments and how they are being used, can contribute to continuously improving them when necessary, and can inform the design of the assessment system.
o Fine-tuning - There should be cycles of piloting, review, calibration, and continuous improvement to ensure that assessments are accurate, up-to-date, and serve their fundamental purpose of improving teaching and learning.
o Quality - Assessments, individually and collectively, should meet high standards of validity, reliability, and fairness. Following the Standards for Educational and Psychological Testing, test scores should never be the sole determinant of consequential decisions; multiple measures are far more reliable.
o Privacy - Data on students' work and achievement must be transparent and as meaningful as possible, and must also be protected and secure. The authors endorse the Student Data Principles promulgated by the Data Quality Campaign and 33 other organizations.

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