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Schools Urged To Develop Wider Set of Assessments

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Schools must use a range of assessment tools, not standardized tests alone, to measure students' "authentic" achievement levels, a new report by the National Association of Secondary School Principals concludes.

It calls on schools to adopt new assessment methods, including problem-solving tests, portfolios, and exhibitions.

While standardized tests provide an effective means of holding schools more accountable for achievement levels, the report says, they "usually do not provide information useful for improving individual or school performance."

In fact, it warns, schools' over-reliance on such tests suggests that "many accountability trains are on the wrong track or heading in the wrong direction."

To improve assessment, the report recommends that each school develop a comprehensive plan that could encompass new types of tests within existing courses, departmental assessments of curricula, an annual "achievement fair," and a school-wide exhibition.

"These proposals alone, of course, will not persuade resistant staff members of the need for improved assessment," the report says, "nor will they address a number of logistical obstacles that may be raised even by sympathetic readers."

But it suggests that the ideas raised in the document "could begin a dialogue" on dealing with policymakers' increasing demands for school accountability in ways that also improve teaching and learning.

The 65-page report, "Beyond Standardized Testing,"--written by Fred M. Newmann, director of the National Center for Effective Secondary Schools at the Universi2p4ty of Wisconsin at Madison, and Doug A. Archbald, assistant researcher for the university's Center for Policy Research in Education--joins a growing chorus of criticism of the influence of standardized tests on curricula and teaching.

Traditional forms of assessment, the report argues, tell little about the quality of a student's accomplishments and tend to measure "trivial and meaningless" types of learning.

By contrast, it states, a valid assessment system "also presents tasks that are worthwhile, significant, and meaningful--in short, authentic."

Such assessments, it proposes, should measure tasks according to three criteria: "disciplined inquiry," which depends on prior knowledge and in-depth understanding; "integration of knowledge," which taps students' grasp of relationships; and "value beyond evaluation," which involves production, rather than reproduction, of knowledge.

The report cites a number of schools that have used what the authors see as more valid forms of assessment of student and school progress. But, it notes, each school must implement such ideas on its own, based on what parents, teachers, and administrators perceive as the school's educational goals.

"Ultimately," it concludes, "improved assessment should bring about clarity and consensus on educational purpose, help for teachers to be more effective, and increased student commitment to academic learning."

Copies of the study can be ordered from nassp Publications Sales, 1904 Association Drive, Reston, Va. 22091; order number 2108808. Individual copies are $7, prepaid; discounts are available for multiple orders.--rr

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