Tuesday, January 31, 2012

A Coherent Network of Assessments is a Key to Learning for All

With the emphasis on accountability demanded by Race to the Top (RTT) current assessment systems need to change.  This change will need to begin with annual testing.  Thereafter, classroom assessment will need to follow. 

In an Assessment and Accountability Comprehensive Center (AACC) report, Herman (2010) detailed how a better assessment network needs to begin with the conception of assessment not as a single test but as a coherent system of measures. Coherent systems must be composed of valid measures of learning and be horizontally, developmentally, and vertically aligned to serve classroom, school, and district improvement (p. 1)

A sole multiple choice test, administered in an hour or two, cannot cover the full range of year-long standards representing what students should know and be able to do.  In contrast, a system composed of multiple assessments can illuminate a broader, deeper perspective of student knowledge and skills. A second assessment for example, cannot only assess more content knowledge, but, if designed to measure applied knowledge, can evaluate different types of skills (p.2).

An assessment system comprised of multiple types of measures can provide a more thorough picture of student learning. Such systems also can be more responsive to the diverse decision-making needs for those who need data to support improvement—teachers, administrators parents, students. A solitary, end-of-year test simply cannot provide sufficient formative information to guide teaching and learning throughout the year (pp. 2-3).

Coherent assessment systems are comprised of component measures that each reflect significant learning goals and provide accurate information for intended purposes.  Drawing from the KnowingWhat Students Know National Research Council conception (National Research Council [NRC], 2001), coherence starts with a clear specification of the goal(s) to be measured.  Next, assessment tasks are specially designed or selected to reflect the learning goal(s).  Finally, an appropriate interpretation framework is applied to student responses to reach valid conclusions about student learning—for example, a score of “proficient” on a state test or an inference about the source of a student’s misunderstandings in teachers’ formative practice (Herman, 2010, p. 3).

Furthermore, Herman (2010) notes this creates “a more fragile base for classroom teaching and learning, the emphasis on a system of assessments by the addition of through-course exams to complement end-of-year assessments is very promising” (p.6).  How does this promote coherence?  Herman (2010) notes that using “through-course exams—more extended, performance-oriented assessments conducted during the course of instruction—provide rich opportunities to assess students’ thinking and reasoning as well as their ability to apply and communicate their knowledge and skills in solving complex problems.  Performance assessments also provide useful models of effective teaching while supporting authentic instruction and student learning" (p. 6).  Coherence in assessment networks could create data-based accountability systems that “support educational improvement, better education for all students, so that every student is prepared for college and success in life” (p.7).  Learning for all must be the goal.  A coherent, data-based accountability system is a correlate of Effective Schools.  Therefore, it becomes inherent upon true educators to embrace this concept. 


Herman, J. L. (2010). Coherence: Key to Next Generation Assessment Success (AACC Report).

            Los Angeles, CA: University of California.

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