Thursday, August 25, 2005

Designing Assessment Information to Support Teachers

A few years ago at a CASMA conference, Bob Linn made a presentation in which he noted that states faced a challenge in meeting their NCLB goals. The states have accepted that challenge, and they are rolling up their sleeves and getting to work. And they are looking to the educational measurement community to help them in this task. States are asking the educational measurement community to provide teachers the assessment information they need to achieve NCLB targets. In response, PEM has offered the PASeries to help states and districts meet their NCLB goals.

Before we can better help states meet their AYP goals, we must ourselves be able to answer two questions. What is the information teachers can use to meet NCLB achievement targets? And how do we effectively communicate that information? The design and configuration of assessment information that works well for teachers and helps support their work in the classroom, rather than make it more complicated, should be tackled systematically. But design ideas for assessment information are neither obvious nor effective when they are based on psychometric considerations alone. The design and configuration of assessment information that works well for teachers requires understanding how teachers work and what kind of results instructional practices obtain. Neither classical test theory nor IRT addresses teaching and instructional practices. But socio-cultural theory may provide a framework to work out answers to these questions.

What is socio-cultural theory? Typically, socio-cultural theory is associated with Vygotsky and individual learning. Vygotsky maintained the child follows the adult's example and gradually develops the ability to do certain tasks without help or assistance. He called the difference between what a child can do with help and what he or she can do without guidance the "zone of proximal development." However, socio-cultural theory has been transferred and extended to industrial design and product development. For example, the paper by Aula, Pekkala, and Romppainen outlines a research approach to designing successful products by recognizing the end users’ needs and expectations. This approach is part of the National Science Foundation’s research into the implementation of design theory to advance the product realization process. Some of this research is being funded by the Division of Design, Manufacture and Industrial Innovation.

In educational measurement, we can extend socio-cultural theory to the design of assessment information that supports teachers’ work in the classroom and helps teachers meet NCLB achievement targets. Our charge would be to develop theories and produce findings that are pertinent to understanding the design, development and implementation of usable assessment information systems. Such theories and findings would answer questions such as:

  • What kind of instructional practices are best able to take advantage of what kind of assessment information? For example, teachers whose only instructional strategy is to reteach a unit are able to use a different kind of assessment information than teachers who have available different instructional strategies for students with different misconceptions.
  • What kind of assessment information is best suited to inform instruction on what kind of learning? For example, different assessment information might be better suited to inform instruction of a procedure, such as the subtraction of multi-digit numbers, than the assessment information that is better suited to inform the instruction of conceptual understanding, such as the structure of the U.S. government.

We as educational measurement professionals have much work to do before we can identify a teacher’s “zone of instructional development” for assessment information. But we cannot give educators the same kind of response as Henry Ford gave to car buyers when asked what color cars were available: “Any color – so long as it’s black.” If we hope to help educators improve childrens’ learning, we must be able to design assessment information by recognizing teachers’ needs and expectations. And educators are pleading for, even demanding, this kind of information.

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