Testing Column

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Arizona may replace its embattled student-testing program with a new set of assessments that would measure both academic and workplace skills.

The Arizona Student Achievement Program, known as ASAP, has been under fire since winter, when officials suspended the statewide version of the test because it was not tapping the skills it was presumed to measure. (See Education Week, 3/22/95.)

"While I was unhappy to find that our previous testing program was a problem," said Lisa Graham, the state superintendent of public instruction, "the discussion of the past few months has resulted in very strong revisions."

Under a proposal she will present to the state school board later this month, Arizona would replace its existing statewide assessments in grades 3, 8, and 12 with a new set of exams in grades 4, 8, and 10.

Starting with the class of 2002, students would be required to pass the 10th-grade assessment to graduate. They also would have to pass college-placement or occupationally specific tests in grade 12, based on their career plans and their coursework.

The state also plans to develop new district-level tests at each grade level. Districts could opt to design their own measures, as long as they correlated with the state exams.

If the board approves Ms. Graham's plan, the state would begin pilot-testing new state and district-level assessments in mathematics in 1996-97, and reading and writing assessments the following year.

Meanwhile, the state is refining its definition of the "essential skills" on which the assessments are based to insure they are precise, measurable, easily understood, and focused on academics.

The National Center for Fair and Open Testing, or FairTest, has published a guide to designing assessments that improve student learning.

The 56-page handbook by the watchdog group culls examples from the United States and Britain to illustrate classroom-observation forms, performance tasks, essay prompts, and projects and portfolios.

It discusses such issues as where to begin designing assessments, how to communicate with parents, scoring, and how to insure equity. The guide also includes a bibliography and list of resources.

Copies of the report, "Implementing Performance Assessments: A Guide to Classroom, School, and System Reform," are available for $6 each, postpaid, from FairTest, 342 Broadway, Cambridge, Mass. 02139; (617) 864-4810.

--Lynn Olson

Vol. 14, Issue 38

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