Testing in the United States has been shaped by pressures to test frequently and inexpensively; as a result, studies have found that most current state tests focus almost exclusively on multiple-choice questions that measure low-level skills. Educators and policymakers know that assessments need to evolve to support college and career readiness. To meet the demands of a knowledge-based economy and the expectations represented in new Common Core State Standards, assessments must better represent more complex competencies.
In this report, Linda Darling-Hammond and Frank Adamson argue that the resources that are currently spent on student testing could support much higher quality assessments, including performance tasks that include critical thinking and problem solving skills. To do this, states and districts will need to implement a combination of:
• Cost savings, such as the economies of scale enabled by state consortia, online delivery, and efficient scoring of open-ended tasks by teachers and computers.
• Strategic reallocation of resources that are currently used for state and local testing in fragmented ways and that are not focused on improved assessment quality.
• Use of professional learning time and incentives to support teacher engagement in assessment scoring, development, and use, which provides the double benefit of improved instruction and more efficient use of resources.
The question for policymakers has shifted from, “Can we afford high-quality assessments of deeper learning?” to, “Can the United States afford not to have high-quality assessments?” The authors state that the answer is that assessments of deeper learning are needed to provide the impetus for students to develop skills for the knowledge economy, as a prerequisite for global competitiveness, and for the long-term well-being of the nation.
A new book, Global Education Reform: How Privatization and Public Investment Influence Education Outcomes, provides a powerful analysis of these different ends of an ideological spectrum – from market-based experiments to strong state investments in public education.