Assessment to Support Learning

K-12 Testing

The domination of large-scale standardized exams in public education has been coupled with a devaluation of teachers’ assessments of their students’ learning. But high-quality classroom assessment, primarily to provide feedback to help students learn but also to sum up their achievement, remains an essential component of good teaching and school improvement. However, experts continue to debate the ways in which the two assessment forms can be complementary or contradictory within an assessment system.


Assessment in Support of Instruction and Learning: Bridging the Gap Between Large-Scale and Classroom Assessment reports the results of a 2003 meeting sponsored by several committees of the National Academy of Science. This brief book, which largely focuses on math and science, proposes criteria that assessment systems should meet, including:


• Comprehensive: “a range of measurement approaches are used to provide a variety of evidence to support educational decision-making” both formative (support teaching and learning) and summative.
• Coherent: “the models of learning underlying the assessments used at all levels... are compatible.”
• Continuous: “assessments measure student progress over time.”
• Integrated: “designed to fit into a larger, coherent educational system that provides resources and professional development.”
• Includes high-quality assessments. The report lists criteria both large-scale and classroom assessments should share and criteria unique to each form.


The report briefly describes a number of assessments, from the U.S. and other nations, presented to the meeting as working toward, if not yet meeting, the criteria. These include state systems under development in Maine and Nebraska (see Examiner, Winter-Spring 2003, Spring 2002) and a number of pilot projects developing assessment tools for classroom use. The report includes presenters’ contact information, websites, etc. for learning more about the various projects.


Unfortunately, two of the most developed and useful classroom-based assessments, the Learning Record and the Work Sampling System (see Examiner, Fall 2001, Spring 2001), were not included. In these systems, teachers gather and evaluate evidence of learning, enabling high-quality feedback to students along the way as well as valid summative information. Documentation of these approaches would have strengthened the report’s discussion of how to bridge the gap between assessment that is useful to teachers, students and parents, and assessment information useful for wider audiences.


• Available from National Academy Press at