Issue 5 – July 2012
Special Issue on Summative Assessment
Assessment is always centre stage in educational politics but
traditional approaches to test design are rarely called in doubt. US
testing has long emphasised psychometric efficiency, minimizing
statistical error but with little or no concern for systematic
error, so the performances actually assessed cover only a small part
of the declared learning goals. UK examinations show greater concern
for the variety of tasks but the emphasis in mathematics remains on
fragments of knowledge that reflect the detailed content level
criteria of the National Curriculum, while development methods
effectively preclude the non-routine tasks that assessing "process"
strategies and skills requires. While other countries, including the
Netherlands, have happier stories to tell, the problems are generic.
This Special Issue addresses the design and development
challenges of producing tests that reflect the broad spectrum of
performance goals that international standards set out. It is
timely. In the US the Common Core State Standards set out a vision
that integrates mathematical practices and content; two interstate
assessment consortia are funded to realise that vision in the
assessment they offer. The signs on the quality of the likely
outcomes are mixed, as they are in the UK where a change of
government has called in question a similar move towards broad
The four articles in this issue look at the design challenges
from different perspectives. The lead is a report from a
distinguished working group of ISDDE, which takes a comprehensive
look at the design and implementation issues. Daniel Pead expands on
the strengths and weaknesses of computer technology in assessment,
exposing the naivete of those who think it is capable of assessing substantial chains
of reasoning but showing ways in
which it can improve the quality of assessment. Betsy Taleporos’
piece looks at how the periodic tests that are being introduced may
be used to yield some diagnostic information - a potentially
formative use of summative assessment. The final piece, in the
"designers speak" series, sets out the assessment design principles
that Malcolm Swan and the Shell Centre team have developed over the
last 30 years.
As ever, reaction pieces to any of the above would be welcomed
by the editors.
A future special issue on formative assessment is being
planned. We invite suggestions for contributions.
Editor of this special issue.
Paul Black, Hugh Burkhardt, Phil Daro, Ian Jones, Glenda Lappan,
Daniel Pead, and Max Stephens:
for the ISDDE Working Group
on Examinations and Policy
How can we help policy makers choose better exams? This
question was the focus of the Assessment Working Group at the 2010 ISDDE
Conference in Oxford. The group brought together high-level
international expertise in assessment . It tackled issues that are
central to policy makers looking for tests that, at reasonable
cost, deliver valid, reliable assessments of students’ performance
in mathematics and science – with results that inform students,
teachers, and school systems.
This paper describes the analysis and recommendations from
the group’s discussions, with references that provide further
detail. It has contributed to discussions, in the US and elsewhere,
on “how to do better”. We hope it will continue to be useful both
to policy makers and to assessment designers.
ISDDE (2012) Black, P., Burkhardt, H., Daro, P., Jones, I., Lappan,
G., Pead, D., Stephens, M.
High-stakes Examinations to Support
Policy. Educational Designer, 2(5).
This paper discusses the formative use of periodic
assessments as they were developed and are in use by America’s
Choice Pearson in its mathematics and language arts intervention
programs. It is a practical case study of the use of design
principles in creating assessments that are useful for classroom
teachers and, by the nature of their design, provide diagnostic
information that is instructionally relevant. The use of these
measures varies with the program but all of them are designed to
highlight misconceptions or common error patterns. It is important
to recognize that misconceptions occur in both content domains, as
they do in other domains. Uncovering misconceptions or error
patterns offers tremendous insight into a formative use of
assessments, since the reasons behind answering a question
incorrectly can directly inform instructional practice. This
approach is also underscored by some of the suggestions in the lead
article in this issue of ED.
Taleporos, E. (2012) Periodic Assessments and Diagnostic Reports. Educational Designer, 2(5).
This article considers how the principled design of
interactive, computer-delivered tasks can enable the assessment of
problem solving and process skills in ways that would not be
possible in a conventional test. The case studied is World Class
Tests, a project started by the UK government in 1999, which set
out to produce and deliver summative assessment tests that would
reveal “submerged talent” in 9 and 13 year-old students who were
not being challenged by the regular curriculum. There were two
subjects: “Mathematics” and “Problem-solving in Mathematics,
Science and Technology”; 50% of the test for each subject was
delivered on computer. This article describes the design and
development of the computer-based tests in problem-solving, and
discusses some implications for the current effort to increase the
emphasis on problem-solving and process skills in assessment. The
author was the lead designer for the project strand working on
computer-based problem solving tasks.
Curricula that value mathematical practices will only be
implemented effectively when high-stakes assessments recognise and
reward these aspects of performance across a range of contexts and
content. In this paper we discuss the challenge of designing such
tests, a set of principles for doing so well, and strategies and
tactics for turning those principles into tasks and tests that
work well in practice.
Swan, M., Burkhardt, H. (2012) A Designer Speaks. Educational Designer, 2(5).