American students today are largely evaluated based on their factual knowledge. A recent study by Robert C. Pianta and his colleagues at the University of Virginia’s Center for Advanced Study of Teaching and Learning found that the average 5th grader received five times as much instruction in basic skills as instruction focused on problem-solving or reasoning. Our existing assessment system tends to reinforce rote instructional practices emphasizing the drilling of facts likely to be on a test, rather than problem-solving and reasoning strategies difficult to capture in multiple-choice test items.
The new assessments will have to do the following:
• Be largely performance-based. We need to know how students apply content knowledge to critical-thinking, problem-solving, and analytical tasks throughout their education, so that we can help them hone this ability and come to understand that successful learning is as much about the process as it is about facts and figures.
• Make students’ thinking visible. The assessments should reveal the kinds of conceptual strategies a student uses to solve a problem.
• Generate data that can be acted upon. Teachers need to be able to understand what the assessment reveals about students’ thinking. And school administrators, policymakers, and teachers need to be able to use this assessment information to determine how to create better opportunities for students.
• Build capacity in both teachers and students. Assessments should provide frequent opportunity for feedback and revision, so that both teachers and students learn from the process.
• Be part of a comprehensive and well-aligned continuum. Assessment should be an ongoing process that is well-aligned to the target concepts, or core ideas, reflected in the standards.
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