Publications & Resources

Large-Scale Assessment in Support of School Reform: Lessons in the Search for Alternative Measures

Oct 1997

Joan L. Herman

Assessment has long been a cornerstone of educational reform in the United States, fueled by beliefs in meritocracy, accountability, and the value of programmatic efforts to improve teaching and learning. Thirty years ago, for example, the passage of the original Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 brought the federal government into local schools for the first time in support of quality education for disadvantaged students, and with it the requirement that schools receiving this funding administer standardized tests to determine eligibility and to evaluate the effects of their programs. Fifteen or so years ago, minimum competency testing enjoyed a groundswell of popularity across the country, mandated by states to assure that all students would attain minimum standards of competence. More recently, the Goals 2000 legislation (1994), advocated by the President and passed by Congress, encouraged states to set rigorous standards for student performance and to assess students’ progress toward their attainment; and even more recently, a national summit of the nation’s governors similarly affirmed the need for their states to establish high standards for and rigorous assessment of student accomplishment (National Governors’ Association, 1996). Most recently, there has been great enthusiasm for alternative assessments, which ask students to create their own responses rather than simply selecting them, assessments that many believe best represent the kinds of skills students will need for future success. This article provides a historical perspective on current interest in alternative assessment in the United States and identifies critical qualities that good assessment should exemplify. The paper then reviews research results regarding the technical quality and consequences of using this form of assessment for large-scale accountability purposes and concludes with implications for future practice.

Herman, J. L. (1997). Large-scale assessment in support of school reform: Lessons in the search for alternative measures (CSE Report 446). Los Angeles: University of California, Los Angeles, National Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards, and Student Testing (CRESST).