Publications & Resources

Policymakers’ Views of Student Assessment

Jun 1994

Lorraine M. McDonnell

A new report by CRESST/RAND researcher Lorraine McDonnell, Policy makers’ Views of Student Assessment, confirms that, despite the trend towards new types of assessments, the debate over the appropriate uses of student assessment continues. “Policy makers,” writes McDonnell, “have varying and sometimes conflicting expectations about what assessment can accomplish.” McDonnell’s study found that policy makers tended to fall into three categories of expectations about student assessment: (a) agreement with testing experts that assessments should primarily inform teaching; (b) belief that testing should be used to hold schools and educators accountable; or (c) perception that assessments should be used to bring greater curricular coherence to schools, motivate students to perform better, and act as a lever to change instructional content and strategies. McDonnell’s study was based on interviews with 34 national and state policy makers and focuses primarily on those states where alternative assessments are under development or in use. “As long as policy makers,” concludes McDonnell, “see assessments as exerting a powerful leverage over school practice and, at the same time, are constrained by cost and other considerations, they will continue to use the same assessments for multiple purposes–some of which will have serious results for students, teachers, and schools.”

McDonnell, L. M. (1994). Policymakers’ views of student assessment (CSE Report 378). Los Angeles: University of California, Los Angeles, National Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards, and Student Testing (CRESST).