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Assessment Results Play a Role in Instruction and Policy Decisions

Written by Wendy B. Sanchez and Nicole F. Ice
(News Bulletin, January/February 2005)

The term assessment often conjures up images of tests and grades. While evaluation is one important use of assessment information, there are a variety of purposes for which teachers, teacher-educators, administrators, and policymakers can use such information. Along with evaluating student achievement, assessment information can be used to make instructional and policy decisions as well as to evaluate programs. In this issue, we will highlight the role of assessment in program evaluation and policy decisions.

Teacher Education

A variety of public and private sources fund many projects whose results can affect preservice teacher education as well as professional development opportunities for inservice teachers. A search of the National Science Foundation (NSF) Web site found numerous projects that could provide assessment results that would influence mathematics teacher education programs at colleges and universities.

For example, Knowing Mathematics for Teaching Algebra (Ferrini-Mundy, Senk, Wallace, and Floden, Michigan State University) is a project dedicated to creating assessment instruments to measure content knowledge for teaching algebra among preservice and inservice secondary mathematics teachers. Results from the project will be valuable to mathematics educators and mathematicians who prepare teachers as well as designers of professional development for mathematics teachers.

Another project that is likely to have an impact on teacher education programs is the Center for Proficiency in Teaching Mathematics (P. Wilson, Bass, Ball, J. Wilson, and Kilpatrick, University of Georgia and University of Michigan). The investigators in this project will “examine the nature of the mathematical knowledge that is important to teachers’ proficiency in teaching mathematics.” The results of the project are expected to “strengthen both the preservice education and the inservice professional development of teachers.”

A similar project, Design, Validation, and Dissemination of Measures of Content Knowledge for Teaching Mathematics (Hill and Ball, University of Michigan) is seeking to measure teachers’ content knowledge. Results from this project will be used to determine core elements of knowledge for teaching K–8 mathematics and thus could help direct teacher education and professional development by answering the project’s question: “What do teachers need to know and be able to do with mathematics in order to teach mathematics?”

Education Policy

An example of a project whose results may shape state policy is Mathematics Specialist in K–5 Schools: Research and Policy Pilot Study (Farley, Campbell, Bosher, and Inge, Virginia Commonwealth University, Norfolk State University, University of Virginia, University of Maryland). Investigators will assess the effectiveness of the “mathematics specialist program on teacher change and student achievement” and conduct a policy study related to the establishment of a statewide program in Virginia for mathematics specialists in K–5 schools.

At the national level, the project Adding Value to the Mathematics and Science Partnerships Evaluations (Webb, Wisconsin Center for Education Research) is a study of the “effects of MSP projects on student achievement.” The NSF’s Math and Science Partnership (MSP) program aims to strengthen K–12 science and mathematics education and supports partnerships that unite K–12 schools, institutions of higher education, and other stakeholders in activities that ensure that no child is left behind. Aspects of MSP projects determined to have a positive effect on student achievement could be valuable in designing and implementing additional programs for enhancing mathematics education.

NCTM notes in Principles and Standards for School Mathematics that while teachers play the central role in determining effective and high-quality instruction, others— students, administrators, higher-education faculty, families, caregivers, community members, professional organizations, and policymakers—also have responsibilities, resources, and influences that can enable teachers and students to be successful. Assessment results from projects such as the ones described above can result in improved teacher preparation programs as well as enhanced inservice and graduate education programs. Such improvements can help us meet the ultimate goal of delivering high-quality mathematics education for all students.

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