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Educational policy analysis archives
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University of South Florida
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University of South Florida.
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Educational policy analysis archives.
n Vol. 3, no. 6 (March 03, 1995).
Tempe, Ariz. :
b Arizona State University ;
Tampa, Fla. :
University of South Florida.
c March 03, 1995
Educational assessment reassessed : the usefulness of standardized and alternative measures of student achievement as indicators for the assessment of educational outcomes / William L. Sanders [and] Sandra P. Horn.
x Research
v Periodicals.
2 710
Arizona State University.
University of South Florida.
1 773
t Education Policy Analysis Archives (EPAA)
4 856


1 of 15 Education Policy Analysis Archives Volume 3 Number 6March 3, 1995ISSN 1068-2341A peer-reviewed scholarly electronic journal. Editor: Gene V Glass,Glass@ASU.EDU. College of Educ ation, Arizona State University,Tempe AZ 85287-2411 Copyright 1995, the EDUCATION POLICY ANALYSIS ARCHIVES.Permission is hereby granted to copy any a rticle provided that EDUCATION POLICY ANALYSIS ARCHIVES is credited and copies are not sold.Educational Assessment Reassessed: The Usefulness of Standardized and Alternative Meas ures of Student Achievement as Indicators for the Assessment of Edu cational Outcomes William L. Sanders Sandra P. Horn University of Tennessee sphorn@sacam.oren.ortn.eduAbstract: For decades, the assessment of educational entities --school systems, individual schools, and teachers--has evoked strong and sometimes viole nt emotions from the educational community, the general public, and their legislativ e representatives. In spite of attempts to codify standards for the evaluation of these entities, ass essment experts remain denominationalized--often religiously so. Methods o f assessment based on the use of standardized tests have come under intense fire in recent years with some critics going so far as to call for their complete elimination. Those who a dvocate alternative methods of assessment have become increasingly outspoken in establishing exclusive rights to the legitimate assessment paradigm. However, some of the most respected advoc ates of alternative assessment have taken a more moderate view, warning against an "either-or" mentality (Brandt, 1992, p. 35). Reflecting this more moderate perspective, this paper strongly advocates the use of multiple indicators of student learning, including those provided by stand ardized tests. The Debate No responsible person claims that any form of asse ssment can appraise the totality of a student's school experience or even the entirety of the learning that is a part of that experience. However, it is possible to develop indicators to me asure learning along important dimensions, closely related to the curriculum, both in standard ized assessment instruments and in alternative forms of assessment. The real issue is not whether standardized assessment or alternative


2 of 15assessment is the better model in every case for th e evaluation of educational outcomes. Rather, the issue is choosing the most appropriate indicato r variables for the specific purpose at hand, whatever that may be. Non-standardized assessment is the traditional form of assessment within classrooms. Teachers construct questions, evaluate student resp onses, assign and check homework, monitor projects, and informally assess student progress hu ndreds of times a day. These assessments may be accurate or they may be faulty, depending upon t he teacher's skill as a judge of various indicators and their applicability to the question at hand. However, unrelated factors can affect this type of assessment. For instance, research has shown that good handwriting can influence grading on essays (Feinberg, 1990, p. 15). Student behavior and appearance can likewise prejudice assessment. On the other hand, careful at tention to the information provided by student actions and products can lead to a deep and reveali ng understanding of students' comprehension and skill attainment. Standardized tests, whether the ubiquitous multiple choice test or other forms of standardized assessment, vary in their ability to f airly assess student knowledge, just as teacher assessments do. But current construction practices insure that standardized tests are subjected to rigorous validation criteria, reliability testing, and standardization procedures. The tests are open to review by experts and to criticism by anyone wit h credible grounds from which to argue. In the past, standardized tests have proved useful in comp aring, generalizing, and indicating levels of attainment based on set standards. In current pract ice, they serve many additional functions including the assessment of higher-order reasoning skills and academic growth over time. Non-standardized alternative assessment (referred t o, henceforth, simply as "alternative assessment"), has yet to demonstrate the ability to provide generalizable information for comparison purposes over time on a large-scale basi s without proving more costly in time and resources than standardized testing and without its elf falling prey to the "teaching to the test" syndrome so often cited as a major deleterious resu lt of standardized testing. The strengths of alternative assessment lie in its ability to indivi dualize assessment, to mimic good teaching practices, and to involve teachers more deeply in t he assessment process. Currently, attempts are being made to improve the generalizability and reli ability of alternative assessments in order to use them for the evaluation of school and school sy stem efficacy. The Negative Perception of Standardized MeasurementProblems With Roots in the Past Ignoring the strident voices of those who deny that effective educational practices can be examined at all, in hopes that it will be possible to reach a more useful conclusion, it must be acknowledged that the assumptions underpinning many of the evaluation schemes of the 70's and 80's were spurious. Of the doubtful assumptions, th e most obvious were these two: (1) there is a right way to teach and (2) good educational practic e can be identified independent of any demonstrated relationship to student learning. Alth ough the public (erroneously) bought into the first assumption, they were never convinced of the second, and rightfully so. The major indicator that distinguishes effective fr om ineffective educational practice is whether students learn that which is purportedly ta ught. However, student achievement data have rarely been incorporated in models for teacher and school evaluation, primarily because of the difficulty of delineating teacher and school effect s on student learning from demographic effects--those effects that are embodied in the ind ividual child-life of each student, independent of formal education. Informally, however, the public, through the media, assesses the success or failure of the schools by how well students perform on standardize d tests. The media uses test scores to


3 of 15compare one educational entity to another, and, in a comparison, someone always loses. The teacher-made assessment which forms the bulk of stu dent evaluation does not figure at all into the media's analysis of school success, and educato rs are unconvinced that group-administered tests provide an accurate indication of what a stud ent knows or has learned under their tutelage. Therefore, educators have come to view standardized tests as the root of the public's disenchantment with the schools and the prime reaso n for the denigration of the teaching profession. It's no wonder there has been such an o utcry against their use. Nevertheless, before we throw out the baby with the bath water, it would be well to look more deeply into the tub. Recent Developments in the Use of Standardized Data The negative perception of standardized testing as a measure of educational efficacy is, as stated above, partially a result of the way the res ults have been interpreted by the media and the general public. This problem is only indirectly ass ociated with standardized testing. Possibly, with time and effort, the media can be educated as to the proper use and interpretation of the data derived from test scores. Regardless, this aspect o f the debate must be relegated to the realm of societal problems rather than problems with the tes ts themselves. However, the perception that standardized scores can tell us very little about a nything other than the status of a given student at a given time in regard only to the items on a speci fic test may derive directly from the historical uses of standardized data. This criticism is unders tandable in light of the past, but there have been a great many changes in recent years in the de velopment of tests, the analysis of the data they render, and the uses to which they are put. Modern standardized tests reflect a response to pa st criticism. Item response theory informs the construction of tests that are equivale nt but non-redundant, thereby addressing the question of the score inflation that results from a dministering the same test, year after year. Test makers have also proved responsive to the need to a ssess higher-order thinking skills, so tests that contain items requiring application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation are now readily available. Standardized test data is ubiquitous. It is readil y available, cheap, and abundant. Most often, the scale scores, percentiles, and stanines provided by those who score the tests are duly recorded by the receiving school or system, precise ly as received. No further analysis is attempted. The usefulness of the data is severely l imited, and so it is used for very little other than placement and, occasionally, a crude form of p rogram evaluation that is, as critics have rightfully stated, biased by extraneous factors suc h as socio-economic level, past achievement, and percent of minority students. The reasons for the misuse and lack of use of stand ardized test data are readily discernible. First, performing the operations necessary to analy ze test data beyond the provided measures required an inordinate amount of time and expertise prior to the recent advent of powerful and inexpensive computers. It simply wasn't feasible fo r schools or systems or even states to proceed beyond the basic measures provided to them by the n ormal scoring algorithms. Merely constructing and maintaining a data base of schools teachers, and students used to be an impossible task for all but the smallest systems. C onstructing such a data base for a state was altogether unthinkable. Today, none of these obstac les are insurmountable. Second, there were enormous statistical problems in volved in the use of test scores for evaluative purposes. Among these were the regressio n to the mean and the problem of missing data. There was also the problem of delineating edu cational influences from the influences of extraneous factors. Now, there are statistical mode ls that can deal effectively with all of these difficulties. One of these is briefly described lat er in this paper. The refinement of test construction techniques, th e widespread use of powerful computer technologies, and the application of sophisticated statistical methodologies in education is


4 of 15producing a revolution in the use of standardized t est data in educational assessment, but the misuse and under-utilization of test data in the pa st haunts the present. Standardized test scores, when subjected to appropriate methodologies and uti lized for appropriate purposes, provide rich data for educational assessment. It would be lament able if the perspective these data can afford were obscured by arguments no longer valid.The Importance of Appropriate Indicators The answer as to what is happening in any situation is dependent upon the questions asked--not just what is asked but also how it is as ked. The answer will be more or less precise depending upon the means used to gather data and th e extent of the data gathered on the subject of the assessment. No matter what the focus of the study, there is an infinity of indicators that can provide information about the action or subject und er consideration. A meaningful evaluation depends to a large degree upon the quality of the indicators utilized. By knowing the capacity of the indicators to assess the subject and the correlation between various indicators, it is possible to form inferences from one indicator to another. If the indicators are highly correlated, then it is no lon ger a question of which is best but which is least costly in time and/or resources. On the other hand, a total lack of correlation between indicators indicates one of two things: they are not measuring the same things, or at least one of them is a poor measure of the subject. Here is a simple example of the concept of multiple indicators. There is a multitude of ways to determine the body fat percentage of a give n person. One way is to simply derive the ratio of height to weight and apply the result to a table. If the gender of the person is known, the indicator is considerably more precise. If the circ umference of the wrist is then added to the equation, the estimate is further refined. Includin g a skin fold measurement brings the estimate even closer to the actual body fat percentage of th e subject. If the subject is weighed while immersed in a pool of water, the best possible appr oximation achievable without endangering the subject will be attained. The correlation between these measures can easily be determined, and if each indicator is tested against the actual percentage of body fat as determined by the most accurate means available, it is possible to estimate the error of measurement of each of the less precise means. Once each indicator is optimized within the constra ints of its own format, a decision can be made as to which single measure or group of measures bes t addresses the problem at hand. If the best indicator is 99.1% accurate, the secon d best is 97% accurate, the third best is 93% accurate, and the fourth is 86% accurate, and t hey are all highly correlated, the decision as to which indicator to use is a function of needed a ccuracy versus cost/feasibility. Absolute accuracy in any type of measurement is imp ossible. Disregard of cost--time, resources, impact upon our subject--is irresponsibl e. Responsible assessment entails careful consideration of these factors in light of the purp ose of the assessment at hand. In education, the assessment of learning is general ly built around the demonstration of competence in certain domains. These domains and th e goals and objectives that address them are codified in curricular frameworks and course ou tlines. Teachers design a course ofinstruction based upon these guidelines and, generally, even th ough teaching may take any of a number of forms, there is a high correlation between what is taught and the formal curriculum. It is this correlation that makes large-scale assessment possi ble. Indicators can be developed that measure learning along the articulated curriculum, and, bec ause of the correlation between instruction and the stated curriculum, inferences can be drawn abou t the effectiveness of instructional strategies in school systems, schools, and classrooms along cu rricular lines. The means used to determine whether students have achieved the goals set for them--the indicators employed--range from the results of simp le observation to group-administered


5 of 15standardized tests; from a short homework assignmen t to the performance and analysis of a complex laboratory experiment. Test scores, perform ance, and artifacts are all indicators of learning. Determining which indicators are best sui ted to specific purposes is the core of the assessment debate.The Properties of Assessment MethodologiesCoverage Advocates of alternative assessment assume that sta ndardized tests provide a limited and shallow description of what an individual knows. In fact, multiple-choice tests cover a broad range of questions in each field surveyed, thereby providing a more detailed picture of student learning than is implied by the previous statement. Linn, Baker, and Dunbar (1991) state that ". . breadth of content . may be one of the criteria by which traditional tests appear to have an advantage over more elaborate performance assessmen ts. . [I]t is one of the criteria that clearly needs to be applied to any assessment." (p. 20). Th ese authors further contend that lack of adequate coverage can lead to a distortion of the i nstruction provided and abnormally high scores. Feinberg (1990) points out that "compared t o multiple-choice tests of similar length, written exams more arbitrarily emphasize one topic or another with which a student may (or may not) be familiar" (p. 17). Even though a student's understanding of the tasks assessed can be examined in great detail with some alternative assessment techniques, the sc ope of the assessment is limited by the very constraints that comprise its raison d'etre. Altern ative assessment, because of time constraints and, in the case of performance assessments, the co mplexity of the exercises, is generally limited to only a few tasks (Maeroff, 1991, p. 277). This i s a problem. In a study of science performance assessment, Schavelson, Baxter, and Pine (1992) fou nd that "task-sampling variability is considerable. In order to estimate the student's ac hievement, a substantial number of tasks may be needed." (p. 26). Wiggins notes that "writing promp ts and performance situations in general are quite particular. What happens when we slightly var y the prompt or the context? One of the unnerving findings is: the student's score changes" (Brandt, 1992, p. 36). What this means is that there is limited ability to generalize from task to task. Put another way, "Shavelson et al. found that performance was h ighly task dependent. The limited generalizability from task to task is consistent wi th research in learning and cognition that emphasizes the situation and context-specific natur e of thinking" (Linn, Baker, & Dunbar, 1991, p. 19). Achieving a "substantial number of tasks" i n alternative assessment is often impossible, making a generalization from the performance tasks to the larger realm of the subject area being assessed problematic. As Wiggins points out, "unpil oted, one-event testing in the performance area is even more dangerous than one-shot multiplechoice testing, because multiple-choice tests have many different but related items, which makes reliability easier to get and measure" (Brandt, 1992, p. 36).Time In Britain, where an assessment system based on stu dents' performance on "standard assessment tasks" (SATs), a series of individually administered, performance-based measures, has been piloted in the areas of English, math, and science, "it has been estimated that the SATs took two to five weeks out of the school year" (Mad aus & Kellaghan, 1993, p. 467). Nuttall states that, although the SATs had several good eff ects, "the interruption of normal education was substantial, as were the extra costs incurred." As a result, he continues, "at Grade 2, . the tasks have been redesigned so that many can be admi nistered to the whole class at the same time,


6 of 15and some of the most time-consuming ones have been dropped" (1992, pp. 57-57). In fact, the number of tasks students are expected to perform wi ll be only about a third of the number originally proposed, and there is a possibility tha t multiple-choice questions will be used to further speed up the assessment (Maeroff, p. 279). Finally, Madaus and Kellaghan report that according to a study carried out by Patricia Broadf oot and her colleagues, "virtually all the teachers surveyed. . reported that major disrupti ons had occurred to normal classroom practice, and half of those surveyed felt that the SATs were totally unmanageable" (p. 463). At a time when teachers are demanding more time to teach, wil l they buy in to an assessment program that requires such a vast amount of time be diverted fro m instruction?Cost Hymes et al., in the American Association of Schoo l Administrators (AASA) Critical Issues Report, The Changing Face of Testing and Ass essment; Problems and Solutions (1991), offer the following insight into the problem of cos t of assessment models: In these days of shrinking budgets, the cost-effect iveness of nationally standardized tests is a major boon to most local school district s. They can, in effect, get accountability for pennies a pupil. The alternative s are far more expensive. Even while defending their programs as well worth the in vestment, such pioneers in authentic assessment measures as Dale Carlson, dire ctor of the California Assessment Program, will concede that the cost diff erential can be as much as five times per pupil." (p. 11). As Lorrie Shepard notes in Educational Researcher, "cost is a big factor, both for development and scoring" of alternative assessment tasks (1991, p. 22). Worthen (1993) credits Shepard with estimating the cost of the fourth grad e math portion of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) at $150 per pupil. Furt her, he tells us that George Madaus has reported estimates that using per formance assessment in most subjects in American schools would cost between $2. 5 and $3 billion annually. And Desmond Nuttall has pointed out that, despite sever al advantages of the broad use of performance assessment in England, its financial an d personnel costs are so immense as to threaten its continuation (p. 452). Other experts are no more hopeful in their estimate s: For his estimate, Arthur Wise used the College Entr ance Examination Board's fee for Advanced Placement (AP) tests: $65 per test. Hi s projection of costs for five tests at three grade levels comes to between $2 bil lion and $3 billion a year. Keep in mind that the AP tests for the most part are scored by machine. . In several [European] countries it is estimated that to score essay-on-demand exam papers in four to five subject fields at ages 16+ and 18+ cos ts $135 per student (Madaus & Kellaghan, 1993, p. 467) Testing the Few as Opposed to Testing the Many To mitigate the cost of alternative assessment, She pard (1991, p. 22) suggests the use of a sampling of students and grades in key subjects thr ough the use of "a few exemplary assessments" as opposed to the universal testing of most students in several subjects and in several grades through many assessment items, as is normally the case with standardized testing.


7 of 15This trade-off places severe limitations on the use s to which the assessment results can be put. If Shepard's suggestion was implemented, the result ing assessment data would be practically useless for assessment of educational e ntities. As Madaus and Kellaghan tell us, "matrix sampling offers one way to reduce costs -but only at the expense of information on individual performance. It is difficult to imagine that parents will be satisfied with the assurance that 'everything is progressing nicely although we don't know exactly how your child is doing'" (1993, p. 467). Furthermore, whereas deducing the p rogress of a cohort of students on the basis of limited data can be logically accomplished throu gh time-honored statistical means, it cannot be done unless the information is generalizable. Di scerning the effectiveness of any individual teacher, school, or program would be nearly impossi ble due to the inadequacy of the non-standardized data to provide generalizable info rmation. For these reasons, unless the cost of alternative a ssessment can be mitigated to allow for much more wide-spread implementation, its use as a model for large-scale educational assessment is problematic, at best.Effects of High-Stakes Consequences on Assessment M easures The British Educational Research Association has co ncluded that the validity of the Standard Assessment Tasks, a performance-based asse ssment system by which student achievement is assessed in Britain, may be compromi sed by teachers coaching their students because of the high stakes consequences of the resu lts (Madaus & Kellaghan, p. 467). Standardized tests may be compromised in the same m anner. In either case, the instructional process itself is subverted when assessment results become the goal of instruction. Fresh, non-redundant, equivalent tests, regardless of the format, are the simplest means to discourage "teaching to the test." Revising standar dized tests by drawing from item banks that have been constructed based on item response theory is a simple and inexpensive matter. In Tennessee and in a growing number of other states, such revisions are now mandated for tests administered state-wide. For alternative assessment schemes, which require that criteria for acceptable performance, articulation of performance levels, and training of assessors be revised in addition to devising a new problem or performanc e task, revision is clearly more difficult, time-consuming, and expensive. Furthermore, the com plex task assessments are themselves difficult to devise. For these reasons, alternative assessment tasks are often administered unchanged, year after year. In New York, where it is the case that the same ta sks have been used to assess fourth-grade science manipulative skills for at lea st three years, the teachers are fully aware of what their students will be asked to do, so their s tudents' performance on these tasks may actually reflect the results of practice rather than any hig her-level cognition, thereby subverting the very purpose of alternative assessment (Maeroff, 1991, p 281). Linn, et al., report the case of a New York geometry teacher who had been recognized for superior teaching on th e basis of performance of his students on the Regents geometry exam. Unfortunatel y, the superior performance of his students was achieved by having them memorize t he 12 proofs that might appear on the Regents exam. (p. 20) It is apparent from cases such as these that we can not assume that basing high-stakes assessment on alternative assessment would alleviat e "teaching to the test." Rather, unless continual revision were an integral aspect of the p rocess, the complexity of revising assessment tasks could exacerbate the problem.


8 of 15Bias Norm-referenced testing has confronted the problem of bias for decades. In fact, Feinberg notes that "multiple-choice tests themselves came i nto widespread use over the past four decades partly in an effort to achieve the very fairness th at the critics say they lack" (p. 14), and on the next page, he cites Stephen P. Klein of the RAND Co rporation who says that "if the performance test scores were adjusted to take into account the lower reliability of performance test grading, the racial gap would be even wider than on multiple -choice." Maeroff notes that In England in the late 1980s, when the assessments that make up the General Certificate of Secondary Education were changed to put more emphasis on performance tasks (which are assessed by classroom teachers) and less on written answers, the gaps between the average scores of var ious ethnic groups increased rather than narrowed. (p. 281). Kellaghan et al. observed that teachers in Irish pr imary schools were quite biased in the evaluation of their students at the time of their s tudy. They speculate that the reason such bias existed was due to the lack of standardized testing in Ireland (Kellaghan, Madaus, & Airasian, 1982, p. 23). Worthen and Spandel (1991, p. 67) put it this way: Assume for the moment that there is a bit of cultur al bias in college entrance tests. Do away with them, right? Not unless you want to se e college admission decisions revert to the still more biased "Good Old Boy" whoknows-whom type of system that excluded minorities effectively for decades be fore admissions tests, though admittedly imperfect, provided a less biased altern ative." Bias in standardized testing can be detected and, w hen it cannot be eliminated, its effects can be measured so that scores can be fairly interp reted. Bias in alternative assessment is much more difficult to articulate. Because this is the c ase, the effects of biased non-standardized assessments may not be recognized as such and may, therefore, be attributed to the subject rather than to the assessment.Assessment and Cognitive Complexity Perhaps the most common argument proponents of alt ernative assessment bring against the use of standardized tests is this: standardized tests measure only recall and other lower-order thinking skills whereas alternative methods of asse ssment require students to exhibit the higher-order skills such as critical thinking, anal ysis, synthesis, reasoning, and problem solving. If this were true, it would be a very damning argum ent indeed, but neither assertion is altogether accurate. The development of assessments that require the de monstration of complex problem-solving strategies is an essential componen t of the alternative assessment movement. Proponents of alternative assessment cite the abili ty of alternative assessment problems to elicit the use of higher-order thinking skills and to asse ss the quality of those skills as its primary advantage over standardized methods of assessment. While it is true that alternative assessment techni ques certainly have the capacity to fulfill these high aspirations, it does not necessarily fol low that they always do. Worthen (1993, p. 450) points out that "proponents of alternative assessme nt cannot assume that students are using such skills just because they are performing a hands-on task." Linn et al. address this problem in more detail:


9 of 15The construction of an open-ended proof of a theore m in geometry can be a cognitively complex task or simply the display of a memorized sequence of responses to a particular problem, depending on the novelty of the task and the prior experience of the learner. (p. 19) Performance assessments may show how students solve problems or how much they have practiced the skill being assessed. Essays may indi cate the ability to organize thoughts and communicate them in writing or nothing more than th e acquisition of a formula for writing essays, assiduously taught in preparation for the a ssessment. Discerning the difference is another hurdle alternative assessment must surmount. As to the assertion that standardized, multiple-cho ice tests assess only recall of specific and isolated bits of knowledge, it is appropriate t o admit that some do. Some criterion-referenced tests of basic skills are little more than recitati ons of factoids. But this is not a function of standardized tests: this is a function of the purpo se for which a particular test was devised. As Worthen and Spandel put it, The notion that multiple choice tests can tap only recall is a myth. In fact, the best multiple choice items can--and do--measure students ability to analyze, synthesize information, make comparisons, draw inferences, and evaluate ideas, products, or performances. (p. 67) Feinberg points out that "the most widely known mul tiple-choice exam, the Scholastic Aptitude Test, tests very little knowledge; it is a lmost completely a test of analytical and reasoning ability at quite complex and sophisticate d levels" and that "many other standardized tests, particularly at the high school level, also probe the ability to draw fair inferences and reach tenable conclusions." (p. 16). Although open-ended alternative assessments offer students a far greater range for response than any multiple-choice format can, it is not accurate to assert that higher-order thinking skills cannot be assessed wit h standardized tests. Finally, in an article he wrote for Educational Leadership Whimbey (1985) found that there was a high correlation between aptitude and a chievement test scores and the scores on special reasoning tests. He concludes that "the hig h correlations mean that there is generally little value in administering a separate reasoning test li ke the WASI (Whimbey Analytical Skills Inventory) if scores on a battery of aptitude and a chievement tests such as the NJCBSPT (New Jersey College Basic Skills Placement Test) are alr eady available for students." (p. 38). Standardization of Assessment Situations Standardization is of little importance if the resu lts of assessment are to be used in isolation from all other factors. In other words, i f the purpose is simply to learn about the state of a single subject, a unique assessment might be devi sed to furnish the information desired. However, if the assessment is to be used for the pu rpose of comparison, generalization, or decision-making, standardization is essential. Standardized testing achieves standardization by no rming practices, machine scoring of multiple-choice questions, precise instructions for administration, and standard formats for tests and recording of responses. The results can then be used to draw inferences about the state of cohorts or individuals as compared to an establishe d standard. The task of standardization is far more complex in the matter of alternative assessment. The judgment of performance of designated tasks is a matter of interpretation and is carried out by any number of individuals who may have different understandings of what an appropriate response entails. The presentation of the task may take place in vastly different circumstances


10 of 15and contexts. Madaus and Kellaghan reported major p roblems with standardization of assessment procedures and settings in the British system of pe rformance assessment, the SATs: . there was a serious lack of standardization, which must call into question the comparability of individual student scores or aggre gate school scores. . [T]he report from the British Educational Research Associ ation (BERA) concluded that assumptions that the SATs produce reliable and robu st data were not borne out. The lack of comparable, reliable, and robust data is a function of a lack of standardization in the administration of the SATs, problems in making judgments about students' performance, and of wide variations between schools in the support received for testing and in the amount of changes i n practices and routines occasioned by the assessments. (p. 466). Furthermore, those who are assessed may also have d ifficulty in understanding what response is needed. Maeroff cites problems in portf olio assessment of elementary students' work. In one case, when a student chose her "best" math w ork, it was all from the beginning of the school year. The evaluator had nothing from which t o judge the child's progress (p. 280). It is not necessary that alternative assessment mea sures exhibit the same level of standardization as achievement tests do in order to be of value, but the appropriate use of alternative assessment may be limited by the very c haracteristics that make it a good indicator of individual achievement from being a valid indicator of how that progress compares to the progress of others. It may be that an alternative assessment that is a marvelous indicator of an individual child's academic progress will prove fairly useless for other purposes. Americans may have to decide whether comparisons are what the y seek in alternative assessment or whether they prefer to use the approa ch for other, more individualized purposes. . Putting less emphasis on comparison s is fine, but at some point a child and his parents have a right to know whether the ch ild's progress is reasonable for his or her age and experience. (Maeroff, p. 276). Is There Evidence of Correlation Between Alternativ e and Standardized Assessment Measures? Shavelson et al. found that "taken in the aggregate a combination of the alternative assessments correlates about the same with aptitude as does the standardized science achievement test. Aptitude, then, is a major factor in generalizing performance across assessment tasks" (p. 26). What this means is that students sc ore at a comparable level on the battery of performance assessments in Shavelson's study and on aptitude and a standardized science achievement test. Feinberg cites further studies in which a correlati on was found between performance testing and standardized measures: On the California Bar exam, the largest program so far to have incorporated performance testing, the rank order of applicants i s nearly the same on the performance, essay, and multiple-choice sections. L ow-scoring students score low on all three parts, high-scoring candidates score h igh on all three. According to a new study, the same thing is true o n the free-response and multiple-choice parts of the Advanced Placement com puter science exam. Several similar studies on other tests have yielded similar conclusions. . (p. 31)


11 of 15Whimbey's work in this area has been cited previous ly in the section, "Assessment and Cognitive Complexity." More work examining the correlation between altern ative assessment ratings and standardized measures of learning must be done, but there is evidence that such a correlation exists. Since this is the case, the question become s which form of assessment is most appropriate to a given purpose. Having determined that, we must next ask which appropriate model is most efficient in terms of cost and resources.The Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System (TVAAS) : Recent Refinements in the Use of Standardized Student Achievement Data in Educati onal Assessment What TVAAS Is. TVAAS is a process that measures the influence that systems, schools, and teachers have on the rate of academic growth for populations of s tudents. To accomplish this, TVAAS uses statistical mixed-model methodology and student sca le scores from the norm-referenced component of the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program (TCAP). However, any reliable linear measure of academic growth with a s trong relationship to the curriculum could be used as input into the process. Pilot studies revea led and subsequent research has confirmed that the statistical mixed model theory and methodology upon which TVAAS is based alleviates the problems associated in the past with the use of stu dent data in educational assessment (McLean & Sanders, 1984). When extraneous factors are ident ified that would bias the estimates, this methodology readily allows the incorporation of exo genous variables to insure unbiased results. However, the research to date indicates that this h as not been necessary. For example, the effects attributable to individual systems and schools have been shown to be unrelated to socio-economic indicators such as number of reduced -cost or free lunch students, racial composition of the student body, or location--rural urban, suburban. Very simply put, each child's own academic history incorporates socio-eco nomic status, ability, past achievement, and many other factors. By modeling a learning profile for each student as part of the mixed-model equations, children serve as their own controls or "blocking factors" in TVAAS. Assessment should be a tool for educational improve ment, providing information that allows educators to determine which practices resul t in desired outcomes and which do not. TVAAS is an outcomes-based assessment system. By fo cusing on outcomes rather than the processes by which they are achieved, teachers and schools are free to use whatever methods prove practical in achieving student academic progr ess. TVAAS does not assume a "perfect teacher" or a "best way to teach." Rather, the assu mption is that effective teaching, whatever form it assumes, will lead to student gains. The ad vantage TVAAS offers in this regard is that those teachers and methods that lead to greater stu dent achievement can be identified. In other words, teachers can try something new and actually see the effects, at least insofar as they are reflected in student academic gains. In several ways, this is an entirely new approach t o using normed data. One criticism of the use of normed data is that it is often used to plac e students somewhere on a distribution for the purpose of comparison with others. TVAAS, to the co ntrary, uses scale scores to establish where a child is academically and to determine how much p rogress that child makes in a subject year. Where s/he is in relation to other students is irre levant. Whether s/he progresses normally from whatever point s/he begins is what matters. TVAAS c oncentrates on gains because student gains provide information on educational effects that mea sures of ability cannot. High achievement scores do not necessarily indicate progress, but hi gh gains do. By focusing on the gains that all students make from year to year, regardless of wher e they start, the school systems and the individual schools deemed to be most effective by T VAAS are those that provide educational


12 of 15opportunities for all students--the advanced learne r as well as the slower learner. Astin (1982, p. 14) states that "the basic argument underlying the value-added approach is that true excellence resides in the ability of the school or college to affect its students favorably, to enhance their intellectual development, and to m ake a positive difference in their lives." TVAAS was developed on the premise that society has a right to expect that schools will provide students with the opportunity for academic growth r egardless of the level at which the students enter the educational venue. In other words, all st udents can and should learn commensurate with their abilities. This very brief description of TVAAS is provided si mply to illustrate one viable model for utilizing standardized scores in assessing educatio nal entities. For a far more detailed description of TVAAS, its development, methodology, and applica tion, see Sanders & Horn, 1994. Conclusion Standardized testing renders viable, inexpensive, r eliable, and valid indicators of student learning useful in the assessment of educational en tities and student achievement. Standardized testing is already in place in most states of the u nion, so the data are readily available. Standardization makes it possible to generalize and to draw conclusions about the data and their implications. Alternative forms of assessment are also viable too ls for the assessment of student progress and attainment, so long as care is taken to assure their validity and reliability. Because they are expensive and difficult to develop, administer and score, their usefulness for large-scale assessment is questionable. Should such assessment models achieve comparable reliability and validity as standard measures now possess, they wou ld in effect have become standardized, also. There is a question as to whether this is a desirab le result. If it is determined that this is the course that should be attempted, the results of ass essments of any type that exhibit an appropriate degree of reliability and validity can be used for large-scale assessment. However, if alternative forms of assessment are used, instead, for the asse ssment of individual students by in-house assessors, many of the problems listed above may be avoided and the strengths of alternative assessment modes may have the impact desired on the quality of instruction in the classroom. The issue is not whether one form of assessment is intrinsically better than another. No assessment model is suited for every purpose. The r eal issue is choosing appropriately among indicator variables and applying the most suitable model to render them. It is necessary to determine what information is sufficient to each pu rpose before deciding upon the form of assessment to be used. When a variety of valid and reliable assessment methods exist, it is parochial and ineffectual to adhere to only one, as serting that it is in all instances superior. It is the opinion of these authors that factionalism is d etrimental to the comprehension of educational effects and that much is to be gained by adopting a more ecumenical stance in regard to educational assessment.ReferencesAstin, A. W. (1982). "Excellence and Equity in Amer ican Education." Washington, D. C.: National Commission on Excellence in Education. (ER IC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 227 098)Brandt, R. (1992). "On Performance Assessment: A Co nversation with Grant Wiggins." Educational Leadership 49(8), pp. 35-37. Feinberg, L. (1990). "Multiple-Choice and Its Criti cs." College Board Review No. 156, pp.


13 of 15 12-17+.Hymes, D., A. Chafin, & P. Gonder. (1991). The Chan ging Face of Testing and Assessment; Problems and Solutions (AASA Critical Issues Report ). Arlington, VA: American Association of School Administrators.Kellaghan, T., G. Madaus, & P. Airasian. (1982). The Effects of Standardized Testing Boston: Kluwer-Nijhoff Publishers.Linn, R. L., E. L. Baker, & S. B. Dunbar. (1991). Complex, Performance-Based Assessment: Expectations and Validation Criteria." Educational Researcher 20(8), pp. 15-21. Maeroff, G. I. (1991). "Assessing Alternative Asses sment." Phi Delta Kappan 73(4), pp. 273-281).MacLean, R. A., and Sanders, W. L. (1984). Objectiv e Component of Teacher Evaluation--A Feasibility Study, (Working Paper No. 199). Knoxvil le, TN: University of Tennessee, College of Business Administration.Nuttall, D. (1992). "Performance Assessment: The Me ssage from England." Educational Leadership 49(8), pp. 54-57. Sanders, W. L. & S. P. Horn. 1994. "The Tennessee V alue-Added Assessment System (TVAAS): Mixed Model Methodology in Educational Ass essment." Journal of Personnel Evaluation in Education 8, pp.299-311. Shavelson, R., G. Baxter, & J. Pine. (1992). "Perfo rmance Assessments: Political Rhetoric and Measurement Reality." Educational Researcher 21(4), pp. 22-27. Shepard, L. (1991). "Interview on Assessment Issues With Lorrie Shepard." Educational Researcher 20(2), pp. 21-23+. Whimbey, A. (1985). "You Don't Need a Special 'Reas oning' Test to Implement and Evaluate Reasoning Training." Educational Leadership 43(2), pp. 37-39. Worthen, B. (1993). "Critical Issues That Will Dete rmine the Future of Alternative Assessment." Phi Delta Kappan 74(6), pp. 444-454. Worthen, B. & V. Spandel. (1991). "Putting the Stan dardized Test Debate in Perspective." Educational Leadership 48(5), pp. 65-69.About the AuthorsWilliam L. SandersSandra P. Hornsphorn@sacam.oren.ortn.eduValue Added Research & Assessment CenterUniversity of TennesseeCopyright 1995 by the Education Policy Analysis Archives and Sanders & Ho rn


14 of 15EPAA can be accessed either by visiting one of its seve ral archived forms or by subscribing to the LISTSERV known as EPAA at (To sub scribe, send an email letter to whose sole contents are SUB EPAA y our-name.) As articles are published by the Archives they are sent immediately to the EPAA subscribers and simultaneously archived in three forms. Articles are archived on EPAA as individual files under the name of the author a nd the Volume and article number. For example, the article by Stephen Kemmis in Volume 1, Number 1 of the Archives can be retrieved by sending an e-mail letter to LISTSERV@a and making the single line in the letter rea d GET KEMMIS V1N1 F=MAIL. For a table of contents of the entire ARCHIVES, send the following e-mail message to INDEX EPAA F=MAIL, tha t is, send an e-mail letter and make its single line read INDEX EPAA F=MAIL.The World Wide Web address for the Education Policy Analysis Archives is Policy Analysis Archives are "gophered" at To receive a publication guide for submitting artic les, see the EPAA World Wide Web site or send an e-mail letter to and include the single l ine GET EPAA PUBGUIDE F=MAIL. It will be sent to you by return e-mail. General questions about ap propriateness of topics or particular articles may be addressed to the Editor, Gene V Glass, Glass@asu.ed u or reach him at College of Education, Arizona Sta te University, Tempe, AZ 85287-2411. (602-965-2692)Editorial Board John Andrew Coulson Alan Davis Mark E. Thomas F. Alison I. Arlen Gullickson Ernest R. Aimee Craig B. Howley u56e3@wvnvm.bitnet William Richard M. Jaeger Benjamin Thomas Dewayne Mary P. Les Susan Bobbitt Anne L. Hugh G. Richard C. Anthony G. Rud


15 of 15Dennis Jay Robert Robert T.