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aptitude-achievement discrepancy analysis

Reflections on the Multiple Purposes for Assessment

As noted, the more purposes a single assessment aims to serve, the more each purpose will be compromised. Serving multiple purposes is not necessarily wrong, of course, and in truth few assessments can be said to serve a single purpose only. But it is incumbent on assessment designers and users to recognize the compromises and trade-offs such use entails. We return to notions of constraints and trade-offs later in this chapter.

Multiple assessments are thus needed to provide the various types of information required at different levels of the educational system. This does not mean, however, that the assessments need to be disconnected or working at cross-purposes. If multiple assessments grow out of a shared knowledge base about cognition and learning in the domain, they can provide valuable multiple perspectives on student achievement while supporting a core set of learning goals. Stakeholders should not be unduly concerned if differing assessments yield different information about student achievement; in fact, in many circumstances this is exactly what should be expected. However, if multiple assessments are to support learning effectively and provide clear and meaningful results for various audiences, it is important that the purposes served by each assessment and the aspects of achievement sampled by any given assessment be made explicit to users.

Later in the chapter we address how multiple assessments, including those used across both classroom and large-scale contexts, could work together to form more complete assessment systems. First, however, we discuss classroom and large-scale assessments in turn and how each can best be used to serve the goals of learning.


The first thing that comes to mind for many people when they think of “classroom assessment” is a midterm or end-of-course exam, used by the teacher for summative grading purposes. But such practices represent only a fraction of the kinds of assessment that occur on an ongoing basis in an effective classroom. The focus in this section is on assessments used by teachers to support instruction and learning, also referred to as formativeassessment. Such assessment offers considerable potential for improving student learning when informed by research and theory on how students develop subject matter competence.

As instruction is occurring, teachers need information to evaluate whether their teaching strategies are working. They also need information about the current understanding of individual students and groups of students so they can identify the most appropriate next steps for instruction. Moreover, students need feedback to monitor their own success in learning and to know