State Chiefs Set Criteria for ‘High-Quality’ Assessment

By Catherine Gewertz — October 01, 2013 2 min read
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State schools superintendents have banded together to demand that testmakers—and the two consortia building tests for the common standards—adhere to four principles to create “high-quality assessment.”

In a document issued today, the Council of Chief State School Officers lays out its view of what good tests must include. It describes how assessment practice should ensure test accessibility and security, and create user-friendly reports that chart students’ progress and provide data that can help guide instruction.

The bulk of the paper details how tests should reflect the Common Core State Standards in mathematics and English/language arts. In math, for instance, it says that good math tests must gauge a balance of concepts, procedures, and applications, and must link math reasoning and practices to its content. In English/language arts, it says that good tests must assess both reading and writing and be based on “a balance” of literature and informational text.

The paper lands at a time of jitters about PARCC and Smarter Balanced, the two big groups of states that are crafting tests for the common standards. In some states, lawmakers are pushing back against their states’ plans to use the tests. A few states have withdrawn from the consortia. And some states have become uneasy with the cost of the tests, or how much time students will have to spend taking them. The consortia themselves have had to respond to such worries, revising their test designs in the face of pressure from states.

Given that landscape, the CCSSO paper can be seen as a way to rally the troops to stick by their original vision of good assessment when times get tough. It’s also a lever to pressure test designers. It’s also a handy way to get the ear of the U.S. Department of Education, which is rethinking how it conducts its peer review process for state assessments. The department has been gathering public input on what good assessment should look like. That process can exert a powerful influence over what state tests look like.

Regardless of whether states use the consortia assessments or tests created by other entities, they “must remain committed to ensuring that their students are taking high-quality assessments,” CCSSO Executive Director Chris Minnich says in a letter today to the superintendents. “States will adhere to a set of principles to ensure the assessments they select are meeting the high bar they expect. The principles included herein are intended to be used as a tool to help states hold themselves and their assessments accountable for high quality.”

Back in June, a group of scholars who focus on assessment released their own set of criteria for high-quality tests, urging testmakers—and the two state consortia—to build tests that meet them. They detail their reasoning in their full paper, “Criteria for High Quality Assessment.” But the five key takeaways are that tests should:

  • Examine higher-order thinking skills, especially those that are transferable and relate to applying knowledge to new contexts.
  • Provide “high fidelity” evaluation of those higher-order skills, such as through researching and presenting arguments.
  • Be internationally benchmarked to align assessment content and measurement practices with those used in leading nations.
  • Use “instructionally sensitive” items that reflect how well teachers are teaching and give them useful guidance on how to improve.
  • Be valid, reliable, and fair, as well as accessible to all learners.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.