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Education, Civil-Rights Coalition Backs Task-Based Assessments

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At a time of some backlash against using hands-on tasks to assess student learning, a coalition of education and civil-rights groups last week endorsed just that kind of measurement.

The 85-member National Forum on Assessment issued a set of seven principles that it says should guide the design of student assessments. Central to those principles is the extensive use of performance assessments.

Multiple-choice and short-answer types of test questions, if used at all, the group said, should play only a limited role in student-assessment systems.

"History shows that their use, if too prominent, can skew instruction away from methods of teaching that support important learning," says the group's document, "Principles and Indicators for Student Assessment Systems."

Monty Neill, the co-chairman of the forum, said that those who read the report should come away thinking "that shifting to performance assessment, building up from the classroom, is both necessary and doable."

The organizations that endorsed the principles include the American Association of Colleges of Teacher Education, the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, the National Association of Elementary School Principals, the National Association of Secondary School Principals, the National Education Association, the National PTA, and the National Urban League.

Timed to Standards

The document is an attempt to change past assessment practices and influence future assessment decisions by educators and policymakers, said Mr. Neill, who is also the associate director of the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, or FairTest, a testing watchdog organization in Cambridge, Mass.

The forum's recommendations follow a set of criteria for evaluating assessment systems that the coalition released four years ago. (See Education Week, June 12, 1991.)

"We hope that this would spur and guide thinking about what it really takes to do assessment well and to do that in the broader context of school reform," Mr. Neill said.

Now is a particularly important time for such guidelines, according to Mr. Neill, because most of the groups putting together voluntary national content standards in the academic subject areas have completed their work.

Those groups have said there will need to be new assessments to complement the new content standards. (See related story.)

Among its principles, the forum recommends that significant decisions about students--such as program placement, grade promotion, or graduation--should not be made on the basis of any single assessment.

Rather, reports about achievement should be made on the basis of ongoing schoolwork and assessments.

The principles also say that assessments should be free of bias, ongoing professional development should be used to help educators become better at assessment, the school community should help develop assessments, and assessment systems should be regularly reviewed and improved.

For More Information:

Copies of "Principles and Indicators for Student Assessment Systems" are available for $10 each from the National Forum, c/o FairTest, 342 Broadway, Cambridge, Mass. 02139.

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