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Educators Urged To Integrate Assessments Into Math Instruction

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WASHINGTON--Effective mathematics assessment should be seen as an integral part of any instructional program, rather than as "the end of learning'' as is often the case, a report from the National Academy of Sciences concludes.

"Assessment can be the engine that propels reform forward,'' it says, "but only if we make education, rather than measurement, the driving force in the development of new assessments.''

The report, "Measuring What Counts: A Conceptual Guide for Mathematics Assessment,'' was scheduled for release this week by the National Research Council's Mathematical Sciences Education Board.

A policy brief highlighting concepts contained in the report is expected to be discussed at a conference on math and science assessment that the Education Department is holding here next week.

Effective assessments should not only measure what students know, the report states, but also "provide concrete illustrations of the important goals to which students and teachers can aspire.''

By contrast, most math assessments used today tend to test "discrete procedural skills'' that often "distort mathematical reality by presenting math as a set of isolated, disconnected fragments, facts, and procedures.''

Portfolio assessments, in which students compile their work and have it evaluated over time, are one example of an effective method of incorporating testing into the instructional program, the report suggests.

The document also describes the issues of content, learning, and equity as three "fundamental educational principles'' of assessment that support effective education.

Exemplary examinations, the report continues, should:

  • Reflect the math that is most important for all students to learn;
  • Enhance learning and support good instructional practice; and
  • Support every student's opportunity to learn good math.

"Despite their benign appearance, these principles contain the seeds of a revolution,'' the report says, because few tests used today "reflect any of these vital principles.''

A 'Conceptual' Framework

The 226-page report is a companion to "Measuring Up: Prototypes for Mathematics Assessment,'' a document released by the math board last December.

The earlier report contained specific examples of the type of questions the board believes exemplify effective testing. (See Education Week, Dec. 9, 1992.)

The new report should be viewed more as a blueprint for developing effective assessments that could used as a guide by practicing educators interested in advancing reform, said Nancy S. Cole, the executive vice president of the Educational Testing Service, who chairs the board's committee on assessment and testing.

"It's a much more of a conceptual document,'' she said. "But any teacher worried about testing and its impact on teaching would see a lot of value in this report.''

Most importantly, Ms. Cole said, the new document points out that effective assessment often is divorced from the political mandates for accountability and other noninstructional factors that have driven testing in recent years.

"I think we've had a lot of testing in this country driven by needs at least partially removed from the teaching and learning process,'' she said.

She added that "the most important thing this document says is that, even when there are these external purposes for testing, the teaching and learning implications for testing should come first.''

Linda Rosen, the math board's associate executive director, noted that the fundamental issues of equity and content appropriateness stressed in the document have wide application across the curriculum.

"We are writing about mathematics,'' she said. "But I would hazard a guess that almost any discipline would echo these guiding principles.''

Copies of the full report are available for $14.95 each. Copies of the policy brief cost $3.95 each.

Either may be ordered by calling the National Academy Press at (800) 624-6242.

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