New Assessments, Better Instruction? Designing Assessment Systems to Promote Instructional Improvement

The Hewlett Foundation commissioned RAND to review research about the effects of assessment and to summarize what is known about assessment as a lever for reform. To explore the likely influence of new assessments on teaching practice and the conditions that moderate that relationship, researchers conducted a series of literature reviews. The reviews suggest a wide variety of effects that testing might have on teachers' activities in the classroom, including changes in curriculum content and emphasis, changes in how teachers allocate time and resources across different pedagogical activities, and changes in how teachers interact with individual students. The literature also identifies a number of conditions that affect the impact that assessment may have on practice. Research suggests that the role of tests will be enhanced by policies that ensure the tests mirror high-quality instruction, are part of a larger, systemic change effort, and are accompanied by specific supports for teachers.

Content Comments 

This respectable literature review provides a comprehensive scan of the research around the impact of assessments over a period of nearly 30 years, specifically examining the role of assessments in changing instructional practice, with consideration for the external factors that can also impact classroom instruction. While there is mention of a relationship to the implications of the new CCSS-aligned assessments, this research paper does not specifically address instructional shifts per the new standards. This is a strong research summary, providing a well-organized framework for the reviews of a body of literature around assessment and concurrent factors that impact the classroom instruction associated with it. It is not necessarily aimed at educators or LEA/SEA staff. This is a research article best used as the research background to discussions about the impact of assessment on classroom instructional practice, and the considerations alongside it. It provides a summary of the research that was reviewed, but isn’t able to make a compelling case for application to the current discussions around the Common Core and the consortia assessments. A literature review of 130 quantitative and qualitative studies examining the impact of assessment on instructional practice, this research report provides a strong summary of assessment in a pre-CCSS world. The summary conclusions are informative, but don’t provide any specific guidance for educators, administrators, or policymakers, especially in the context of Common Core implications. This should be read as an informative report, not as a guidance document.