Performance Assessments: How State Policy Can Advance Assessments for 21st Century Learning

From the abstract: "Employers, postsecondary institutions, and civic leaders are urging greater focus on 21st century skills essential for college, career, and civic success: problem solving, interpersonal skills, and collaboration, among others. In response to these demands, states across the country are working to realign policies—on learning standards, assessments, and human capital strategies—to set a new course for their state education systems.

"Many states are reconsidering their assessment strategies and asking whether existing assessments are designed to be the barometer, resource, and engine for learning necessary to support the new demands on students. To address gaps in existing assessments, many states are considering the role of performance assessments—assessments that require students to craft solutions to problems by constructing an answer, producing a product, or performing an activity rather than selecting from a list of multiple-choice answers—within their statewide assessment strategies. By requiring students to complete multifaceted tasks, these assessments can better support 21st century learning.

"This report is intended to familiarize state boards of education with performance assessments and help state board members and other policymakers address some of the thorniest issues around these assessments: purpose, sustainability, reliability, accountability, policy alignment, equity, professional practice, and implementation. The report ends with a set of discussion questions so that each state can begin to analyze barriers and opportunities toward effective implementation of these assessments."

Content Comments 

The paper starts off clearly defining it’s purpose: “to help state board of education members and other policy leaders understand the contributions that performance assessments can make as part of a comprehensive assessment and accountability system.” It’s content is largely focused on performance assessments and their value; however, the writers also note their position that “no test—performance assessments included—should be used as the sole or primary basis of consequential decisions for students, teachers, or schools. Giving tests such a large role in accountability not only overtaxes their limits, it dilutes the other essential functions of assessment: informing educator practice and individual student learning goals.” 

The paper’s structure, organization, and visual supports are useful for policy makers engaged in discussions related to alignment of resources for intended and desired assessment outcomes. The final three pages of this seventeen-page white paper provide a series of guiding questions for consideration and use by state leaders interested in considering purpose, sustainability, reliability, alignment, and other related topics leading to implementation of new or revised assessment policies or practices.