The discussion of context is organized around four broad themes:. To understand and improve educational assessment, the principles and beliefs underlying each of these elements, as well as their interrelationships, must be made explicit. At the same time, education policy makers are attempting to respond to many of the societal changes by redefining what all students should learn. These trends have profound implications for assessment. Existing assessments are the product of prior theories of learning and measurement.
While adherence to these theories has contributed to the enduring strengths of these assessments, it has also contributed to some of their limitations and impeded progress in assessment design. Alternative conceptions of learning and measurement now exist that offer the possibility to establish new foundations for enhanced assessment practices that can better support learning. The following subsections elaborate on each of these themes in turn. Some of the key terms used in the discussion and throughout this report are defined in Box 1—1.
Educational assessments assist teachers, students, and parents in determining how well students are learning. They help teachers understand how to adapt instruction on the basis of evidence of student learning. They help principals and superintendents document the progress of individual stu-. The cognitive sciences encompass a spectrum of researchers and theorists from diverse fields—including psychology, linguistics, computer science, anthropology, and neuroscience—who use a variety of approaches to study and understand the workings of human minds as they function individually and in groups.
The common ground is that the central subject of inquiry is cognition, which includes the mental processes and contents of thought involved in attention, perception, memory, reasoning, problem solving, and communication. These processes are studied as they occur in real time and as they contribute to the acquisition, organization, and use of knowledge. And they help policy makers and the public gauge the effectiveness of educational systems. Every educational assessment, whether used in the classroom or largescale context, is based on a set of scientific principles and philosophical assumptions, or foundations as they are termed in this report.
First, every assessment is grounded in a conception or theory about how people learn, what they know, and how knowledge and understanding progress over time. Second, each assessment embodies certain assumptions about which kinds of observations, or tasks, are most likely to elicit demonstrations of important knowledge and skills from students. Third, every assessment is premised on certain assumptions about how best to interpret the evidence from the observations to draw meaningful inferences about what students know and can do.
These three cornerstones of assessment are discussed and further developed with examples throughout this report. Even though these fundamental principles are sometimes more implicit than explicit, they are still influential. In fact, it is often the tacit nature of the foun-. Advances in the study of thinking and learning cognitive science and in the field of measurement psychometrics have stimulated people to think in new ways about how students learn and what they know, what is therefore worth assessing, and how to obtain useful information about student competencies.
Numerous researchers interested in problems of educational assessment have argued that, if brought together, advances in the cognitive and measurement sciences could provide a powerful basis for refashioning educational assessment e. Indeed, the merger could be mutually beneficial, with the potential to catalyze further advances in both fields. Such developments, if vigorously pursued, could have significant longterm implications for the field of assessment and for education in general.
Unfortunately, the theoretical foundations of assessment seldom receive explicit attention during most discussions about testing policy and practice. Short-term issues of implementation, test use, or score interpretation tend to take precedence, especially in the context of many large-scale testing programs NRC, b.
About Rethinking the Education Improvement Agenda
These developments have sparked widespread debate and activity in the field of assessment. The efforts under way in every state to reform education policy and practice through the implementation of higher standards for students and teachers have focused to a large extent on assessment, resulting in a major increase in the amount of testing and in the emphasis placed on its results Education Week, The following sub-. Societal, economic, and technological changes are transforming the world of work.
The workforce is becoming more diverse, boundaries between jobs are blurring, and work is being structured in more varying ways NRC, a. This restructuring often increases the skills workers need to do their jobs. For example, many manufacturing plants are introducing sophisticated information technologies and training employees to participate in work teams Appelbaum, Bailey, Berg, and Kalleberg, Reflecting these transformations in work, jobs requiring specialized skills and postsecondary education are expected to grow more quickly than other types of jobs in the coming years Bureau of Labor Statistics, To succeed in this increasingly competitive economy, all students, not just a few, must learn how to communicate, to think and reason effectively, to solve complex problems, to work with multidimensional data and sophisticated representations, to make judgments about the accuracy of masses of information, to collaborate in diverse teams, and to demonstrate self-motivation Barley and Orr, ; NRC, a, As the U.
Many routine tasks are now automated through the use of information technology, decreasing the demand for workers to perform them. Conversely, the demand for workers with high-level cognitive skills has grown as a result of the increased use of information technology in the workplace Bresnahan, Brynjolfsson, and Hitt, For example, organizations have become dependent upon quick e-mail interactions instead of slow iterations of memoranda and replies.
Individuals not prepared to be quickly but effectively reflective are at a disadvantage in such an environment. Technology is also influencing curriculum, changing what and how students are learning, with implications for the types of competencies that should be assessed. New information and communications technologies present students with opportunities to apply complex content and skills that are difficult to tap through traditional instruction. In the Weather Visualizer program, for example, students use sophisticated computer tools to observe complex weather data and construct their own weather forecasts Edelson, Gordon, and Pea, These changes mean that more is being demanded of all aspects of education, including assessment.
Assessments must tap a broader range of competencies than in the past. They must capture the more complex skills. They must accurately measure higher levels of achievement while also providing meaningful information about students who still perform below expectations. All of these trends are being played out on a large scale in the drive to set challenging standards for student learning. Assessment has been greatly influenced by the movement during the past two decades aimed at raising educational quality by setting challenging academic standards.
At the national level, professional associations of subject matter specialists have developed widely disseminated standards outlining the content knowledge, skills, and procedures schools should teach in mathematics, science, and other areas. These efforts include, among others, the mathematics standards developed by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics , the science standards developed by the NRC , and the standards in several subjects developed by New Standards e.
In addition, virtually every state and many large school districts have standards in place outlining what all students should know and be able to do in core subjects. These standards are intended to guide both practice and policy at the state and district levels, including the development of largescale assessments of student performance. The process of developing and implementing standards at the national and local levels has advanced public dialogue and furthered professional consensus about the kinds of knowledge and skills that are important for students to learn at various stages of their education.
Many of the standards developed by states, school districts, and professional groups emphasize that it is important for students not only to attain a deep understanding of the content of various subjects, but also to develop the sophisticated thinking skills necessary to perform competently in these disciplines. By emphasizing problem solving and inquiry, many of the mathematics and science standards underscore the idea that students learn best when they are actively engaged in learning.
Several of the standards also stress the need for students to build coherent structures of knowledge and be able to apply that knowledge in much the same manner as people who work in a particular discipline. For instance, the national science standards NRC, state:. Learning science is something students do, not something that is done to them. In learning science, students describe objects and events, ask questions, organize knowledge, construct explanations of natural phenomena, test those explanations in many different ways, and communicate their ideas to others….
Students establish connections between their current. In these respects, the standards represent an important start toward incorporating findings from cognitive research about the nature of knowledge and expertise into curriculum and instruction. Standards vary widely, however, and some have fallen short of their intentions.
For example, some state standards are too vague to be useful blueprints for instruction or assessment. Others call upon students to learn a broad range of content rather than focusing in depth on the most central concepts and methods of a particular discipline, and some standards are so detailed that the big ideas are lost or buried American Federation of Teachers, ; Finn, Petrilli, and Vanourek, State standards, whatever their quality, have significantly shaped classroom practices and exerted a major impact on assessment.
Indeed, assessment is pivotal to standards-based reforms because it is the primary means of measuring progress toward attainment of the standards and of holding students, teachers, and administrators accountable for improvement over time. This accountability, in turn, is expected to create incentives for modifying and improving performance. Without doubt, the standards movement has increased the amount of testing in K schools and raised the consequences, expectations, and controversies attached to test results.
Currently, 48 states have statewide testing programs, compared with 39 in , and many school districts also have their own local testing programs in addition to the range of classroom tests teachers regularly administer.
Rethinking the education improvement agenda: a critical philosophical approach
Moreover, states and school districts have increasingly attached high stakes to test results. Scores on assessments are being used to make decisions about whether students advance to the next grade or graduate from high school, which students receive special services, how teachers and administrators are evaluated, how resources are allocated, and whether schools are eligible for various rewards or subject to sanctions or intervention by the district or state.
These efforts have particular implications for equity if and when certain groups are disproportionately affected by the policies. As a result, the courts are paying greater attention to assessment results, and lawsuits are under way in several states that seek to use measures of educational quality to determine whether they are fulfilling their responsibility to provide all students with an adequate education NRC, c. Although periodic testing is a critical part of any education reform, some of the movement toward increased testing may be fueled by a misguided assumption that more frequent testing, in and of itself, will improve education.
At the same time, criticism of test policies may be predicated on an equally misguided assumption that testing, in and of itself, is responsible for most of the problems in education. A more realistic view is to address education problems not by stepping up the amount of testing or abandoning assessments entirely, but rather by refashioning assessments to meet current and future needs for quality information. However, it must be recognized that even very well-designed assessments cannot by themselves improve learning.
Improvements in learning will depend on how well assessment, curriculum, and instruction are aligned and reinforce a common set of learning goals, and on whether instruction shifts in response to the information gained from assessments. With so much depending on large-scale assessment results, it is more crucial than ever that the scores be reliable in a technical sense and that the inferences drawn from the results be valid and fair.
Rethinking the Education Improvement Agenda: A Critical Philosophical Approach 
It is just as important, however, that the assessments actually measure the kinds of competencies students need to develop to keep pace with the societal, economic, and technological changes discussed above, and that they promote the kinds of teaching and learning that effectively build those competencies. By these criteria, the heavy demands placed on many current assessments generally exceed their capabilities. Current assessment practices are the cumulative product of theories of learning and models of measurement that were developed to fulfill the social and educational needs of a different time.
This evolutionary process is described in more detail in Chapters 3 and 4. As Mislevy , p. Early standardized tests were developed at a time when enrollments in public schools were burgeoning, and administrators sought tools to help them educate the rapidly growing student populations more efficiently.
As described in Testing in American Schools U. Congress, Office of Technology Assessment, , the first reported standardized written achievement exam was administered in Massachusetts in the mid th century and intended to serve two purposes: to enable external authorities to monitor school systems and to make it possible to classify children in pursuit of more efficient learning.
Thus it was believed that the same tests used to monitor. Yet significant problems have arisen in the history of assessment when it has been assumed that tests designed to evaluate the effectiveness of programs and schools can be used to make judgments about individual students.
Ways in which the purpose of an assessment should influence its design are discussed in Chapter 2 and more fully in Chapter 6. At the same time, some educators also sought to use tests to equalize opportunity by opening up to individuals with high ability or achievement an educational system previously dominated by those with social connections— that is, to establish an educational meritocracy Lemann, The achievement gaps that continue to persist suggest that the goal of equal educational opportunity has yet to be achieved.
Some aspects of current assessment systems are linked to earlier theories that assumed individuals have basically fixed dispositions to behave in certain ways across diverse situations. According to such a view, school achievement is perceived as a set of general proficiencies e. Current assessments are also derived from early theories that characterize learning as a step-by-step accumulation of facts, procedures, definitions, and other discrete bits of knowledge and skill.
Thus, the assessments tend to include items of factual and procedural knowledge that are relatively circumscribed in content and format and can be responded to in a short amount of time. These test items are typically treated as independent, discrete entities sampled from a larger universe of equally good questions. It is further assumed that these independent items can be accumulated or aggregated in various ways to produce overall scores. The most common kinds of educational tests do a reasonable job with certain functions of testing, such as measuring knowledge of basic facts and procedures and producing overall estimates of proficiency for an area of the curriculum.
But both their strengths and limitations are a product of their adherence to theories of learning and measurement that fail to capture the breadth and richness of knowledge and cognition. The limitations of these theories also compromise the usefulness of the assessments. Ironicially, Caribbean government spend a much larger percentage of public money on education than many developed countries and education in most Caribbean countries educational expenditure as a percentage of GDP is higher or on par with many OECD countries, but performance is not commensurate to that investment.
At the secondary education level, the number of students obtaining acceptable grades in 5 or more subjects is less than one quarter of the cohort sitting the exam and an even small percentage of the age cohort.
A Critical Philosophical Approach
Attention to quality and performance is the most urgent of the imperatives facing us particularly at secondary level. To compound the difficulty, to most of our young people — digital natives consigned to analog schools — school is simply boring and learning has no excitement. Chalk and talk no longer is able to keep the attention or focus the concentration of students whose personal lifestyles are increasingly multi-sensory, multi-tasking and short attention span dynamics.
Our teacher preparation processes have not kept pace with these challenges and in too many countries an insufficient proportion of the teaching service is neither trained nor prepared to successfully deliver instruction to the new generation student in distinctly different conditions such as we face today. The teaching service needs to be re-energized. As a result of the weakness of teacher preparation, our modes of instruction urgently need to be modernized. Isolated examples can be found all across the region of enthusiastic teacher using innovative pedagogies to stimulate and challenge their students.
Some of these examples use whatever is available in their community and environment to make learning fun; field trips for history, environmental science; household materials in science; student seminars with professionals in business and the world of work; job attachments in a range of areas. Some use simple ICT technologies: PowerPoint-aided lectures; Youtube videos; Internet web sites to enhance teaching and engage students.
Education has and is now widely seen as the panacea for all social problems The fifth reason why we need to redefine our education systems is that education is now widely assumed to be the panacea for all social problems. The escalating demands for adding all kinds of subjects to the curriculum have almost reached a point of curriculum overload. It has become a simplistic formula in public policy circles that for every problem we must shape an educational infusion to administer to the schools!
There is no question that education has an indisputable and major role to play in social transformation and that it must be relevant to the challenges of every era, but we cannot expect that it can solve all problems. The school cannot be the symbolic and substitute arena of action for every socio-economic problem while we do nothing in other spheres of public policy to fundamentally address the issue.
Put simply, no amount of drug education in schools will succeed if the law enforcement agencies allow drug dealing with impunity on our streets and drug dealers are allowed to accumulate and flout their wealth. The transfer of responsibility one can better say the abdication of responsibility from other public and civic agencies and the family to the schools is placing unreasonable demand on teachers.
How can teachers be held absolutely accountable for educational outcomes when they are unable to focus on their core responsibilities and must instead become surrogate welfare officers, substitute parents, maintain order and discipline against an encroaching tide of criminality that has permeated the entire society? The scope of what needs to be done is immense but it can be manageable if we take a systematic and systemic approach. There are 4 pillars that are foundational to the solution:. Agree on a philosophy of education in the contemporary Caribbean 2.
Establish a seamless education system 3. Make learning fun 4. Attune our assessment to key competencies and global competitiveness. A philosophy of education in the contemporary Caribbean Articulating the philosophy of education is an essential first step which establishes the vision and purpose of education. Accepting that education is central to any national development strategy and taking account of the unprecedented changes that have taken place in the world over the past decade in particular and the grave challenges as well as opportunities posed to developing countries, we must start with basic principles.
The articulation of that philosophy of education must ensure that there is consistency between the regional and the national. These two agendas are not inconsistent because the regional must provide the architectural framework within which we can productively establish our particularities. While the Statement of the Ideal Caribbean Person describes the type of person that our education system ought to produce in language that is far too obtruse!
Each of the four imperatives carries very clear implications for curriculum and the competencies that need to be cultivated.
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Establish a seamless education system As has been argued earlier, educational quality cannot be resolved by focusing on only specific stages. Educational quality is not a compartmentalized thing — it requires consistent effort across every level of the system. Attention to quality at each level is like the passing of a quality baton in a lengthy relay race — only when it is successfully passed can we expect exemplary performance in the succeeding level. In order to realize this, our education system needs to be reshaped as a seamless system in which opportunity is open to all with varying pathways to success according to interests, capability and development pace.
The paradigm of Education for All promoted at the international level by UNESCO and adopted by the multilaterals with significant input from civil society internationally has created a positive environment for the realization of this solution. The notion of access to education from the cradle to the grave has now moved into the policy mainstream.
Rethinking quality and improvement in higher education | Emerald Insight
A seamless education system is one in which there is an adequate articulation of levels and the rationalization of the competencies and outcomes expected of every stage. Unlike the inherited post-colonial paradigm, it does not naturally assume wastage as one moves up the educational ladder but facilitates continuous learning through different pathways.
It is interesting to note the many anecdotal cases of Caribbean persons with incomplete schooling whose future appeared to have been constrained in the region but who, on migration to the United States, have progressively and successfully improved their education and qualifications because of the opportunities available in the multiple pathways of the US system. Make learning fun A major challenge is to engage young people in education in ways that they find exciting and which inculcates a strong desire to learn, to think critically and to improve themselves. We can only achieve this if we are ultimately able — at every level of the education system — to make learning fun.
To make learning fun requires a simultaneous reinvention of curriculum and the encouragement of new pedagogies of engagement and discovery. Each chapter draws on international case studies, provides engaging questions and makes suggestions for further reading to support the reader. Eschewing a standard argument that the state and true education are in opposition, Flint and Peim provide an accessible analysis of a wide range of ideas which challenges traditional assumptions about power and government.
This is a much needed myth-busting book that will stretch our thinking about schools and schooling, childhood and life-long learning, teacher education and identity, research and statistics. The insights offered by the authors are fresh and provocative and provide new ways of thinking about education policy in an era of accountability. It should be recommended reading for any student of culture and society and will be of great interest to people working in education policy and teacher education.
Over the past quarter of a century or more we have been conditioned to think about school effectiveness and improvement in a strictly functionalist and technical way. In this book Kevin Flint and Nick Peim move beyond the conventional wisdom and encourage us to interpret the field critically and from a broader intellectual perspective. In developing their ideas about 'the enframing', Flint and Peim have given us a book containing a myriad insights that will surely be important in informing not only future research and analysis, but policy and practice as well.
Not only does it provide a cogent and precisely argued reassessment of the purposes of state education, and its concomitant machinery; along the way Flint and Peim have also produced a powerful introduction to continental philosophy and critical theory, demonstrating how it can be used to lucidly expose policy and practice within the field of education in its often anti-democratic, governmental and anti-educational dimensions.