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Gordon Report: New Assessments Will Need Continued Scrutiny

A two-year independent commission studying the future of education and especially the effective use of assessment to measure student learning has issued a public policy statement calling for policymakers to turn their attention on the use of assessments to providing timely information to students and teachers rather than school and teacher accountability. The group also expressed skepticism that the use of digital technologies for performing real-time assessment of learning is ready for prime time, suggesting that more research is required before these can be integrated into classrooms and schools.

In its latest report, the Gordon Commission on the Future of Assessment in K-12 Education stated that "good assessments provide timely, constructive information that help students accelerate their learning and teachers personalize instruction." Formed in April 2011, the commission includes nearly 30 education scholars in the fields of education, psychometrics, and public policy.

Currently, the commission stated, test results appear to focus more on school accountability at the cost of using the data for achieving more personalized learning, which is one of its more "valuable uses."

The commission made a point of endorsing the Common Core State Standards, with its emphasis on critical thinking and problem solving, along with the online assessment work being done by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) and Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium. However, the report warned, the outcomes shouldn't be solely used "to hold teachers and schools accountable for performance."

"Our conviction is that while the field of measurement in education has established a splendid history primarily directed at the measurement of education, the future of assessment in education will depend on the field's capacity to pursue assessment for education," said Commission Co-Founder Edmund Gordon. "The primary purpose of assessment ought to be to inform and improve teaching and learning." Gordon, for whom the Commission is named, has taught in multiple disciplines at universities including Howard, Yeshiva, Columbia, City University of New York, and Yale.

The report also expressed enthusiasm for the potential of digital games and simulations to combine learning and assessment. "I am really interested in ways that technology can dramatically change both what we assess and how we assess it and also our ability to make assessment more productive for teachers and others to use," said Commission Co-Chair Jim Pellegrino, a professor of education and co-director of the Learning Sciences Research Institute at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

The commission made three recommendations in the report:

'States should create a permanent Council on Educational Assessments modeled on the Education Commission of the States.'

As the report explained, because every American state is required to provide free public education, states have the most authority over the assessments used to monitor the quality of that education. The two assessment consortia, while led by states, are being funded by the federal government. The commission said it believes responsibility for "monitoring how well the assessments are working" will be difficult for lone state education departments to manage. A permanent council, funded by the federal government, states, and "a small tax on every assessment sold," could take up this work and continue the collaboration states are already doing to develop the assessments.

'The President and Congress should use the pending reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and other federal laws to promote new ideas about assessment.'

Just as the current administration has used incentives for Race to the Top competitions to encourage innovation in a number of education areas, the commission recommends that a similar approach be used to "incentivize" states and assessment companies to experiment with "radically different forms of assessments."

'A number of organizations--including federal agencies, universities, teacher associations, and for-profit and non-profit entities--should commit to a 10‐year research and development effort to strengthen the capacity of the United States assessment enterprise.'

Even with the release of the PARCC and Smarter Balanced assessments set for 2014-2015, the commission said it wants to remind those involved in education issues that the work of creating the optimal assessment isn't done yet. By banding together and committing to a long-term R&D process, the report noted, assessment tasks could eventually "exemplify the type of learning that we want to occur in classrooms."

"Changes in the economy, the uses of technology, and the explosion of social media and other communications have changed the nature of what it means to be well‐educated and competent in the 21st century," Gordon added. "Technologies have empowered individuals in multiple ways--enabling them to express themselves, gather information easily, make informed choices, and organize themselves into networks for a variety of purposes. New assessments--both external and internal to classroom use--must fit into this landscape of the future."

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a writer who covers technology and business for a number of publications. Contact her at dian@dischaffhauser.com.

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