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This ECS Issue Site on assessment is designed to help state education leaders understand how assessment can improve education and make sound policy choices about related issues. Assessment involves many policy options, and the information on this site will help policymakers understand some of the technical issues and trade-offs of the different choices.

During the last decade, nearly every state set high academic standards for all students to achieve. Various types of assessments are used to measure the progress students make against these standards and play a pivotal role in standards-based reform by:

  • Communicating the goals that school systems, schools, teachers, and students are expected to achieve
  • Providing targets for teaching and learning
  • Shaping the performance of educators and students.

Assessments, when coupled with other key indicators (graduation rates, attendance, etc.) form the basis of state accountability systems. Applying consequences for results such as incentives, rewards, and/or sanctions also are included as part of an accountability system. With such a system, students can be motivated to learn better, teachers to teach better, and schools to be more effective.

Assessments can take many forms, from norm-referenced tests that compare each student's performance to that of others to standards-based assessments that compare each student's performance to academic standards. Assessments can range from mostly multiple-choice items to short-answer questions or longer performance tasks engaging students in real-world problems. Sound assessments meet technical criteria of validity, the degree to which particular uses and interpretations of assessment results can be justified, and reliability, the degree to which scores are free of measurement error.

Policymakers try to maximize assessment quality and utility while creating an efficient and cost-effective assessment system. This site addresses many of these issues. Check this site and the related sites regularly to see updates on issues affecting policy choices on standards, assessment, and accountability.


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