Guidelines On Student Assessment Released

By Kathleen Manzo — November 10, 1999 2 min read

As state testing programs take hold throughout the country, schools and districts must establish clear and multiple measures for regularly assessing student achievement, according to suggested guidelines released last week.

For More Information

The guidelines and nomination forms are available by e-mailing Joe Nathan at, or by calling the center at (612) 626-1834.

Researchers at the Center for School Change at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs have identified what they see as the necessary criteria for gauging what students know in five areas: reading, writing, mathematics, public service, and public speaking.

“Standardized tests are a fact of life,’' said Joe Nathan, the director of the Minneapolis-based center. “There is certain information you can get from standardized tests, but you can get [more comprehensive information] from alternate assessments.’'

Joe Nathan

After surveying hundreds of educators, organizations, and researchers, Mr. Nathan and research assistant Nicole Johnson compiled a list of the vital characteristics of assessment programs: They have clear goals or standards that are understood by teachers, students, and parents; they supplement standardized tests with other forms of formal and informal assessments; they use testing results not only as a means of ranking and sorting students or schools, but also to improve instruction; and they include all students and take into account a student’s native language.

Testing programs could also benefit from using outside consultants to judge students’ work, assessing attitudes of graduates, and forming committees of parents, educators, and students to monitor the programs, according to Mr. Nathan, whose center received a grant of almost $270,000 from the U.S. Department of Education to pay for the assessment project.

In Search of the Best

The Center for School Change is now searching for 20 schools throughout the country—10 charter schools and 10 regular public schools—that have comprehensive student-assessment programs that meet the criteria.

The center, which has been a strong proponent of charter schools, will study those programs over the next year and gather information on what they determine are the best practices. Those best practices will be posted on an Internet site and made available to teachers nationwide. The World Wide Web site, for example, might include activities that help teachers rate students’ writing skills, plans for training community members to assess students’ public-service skills, or ideas for using videotape to document student progress in public speaking.

As teachers and policymakers point out the limitations of standardized tests, some researchers say a variety of measures are necessary to assess more accurately what students know and are able to do.

“Schools and teachers can do more to rigorously assess the day-to-day progress of students,” said Matthew Gandal, the director of standards and assessments for Achieve, a nonprofit school improvement group based in Cambridge, Mass., that was founded by governors and business leaders. “But they need to be aligned with their state testing program.”

A version of this article appeared in the November 10, 1999 edition of Education Week as Guidelines On Student Assessment Released

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