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Assessment Issues Need National Attention

Written by Wendy Sanchez and Nicole Ice
(News Bulletin, September 2004)

NCTM, in its ongoing efforts to improve mathematics education, recognizes that there is work to be done at the national level in the area of assessment, and it is facilitating professional discussions that can guide such work. In September 2003, the National Science Foundation and NCTM funded the Research Catalyst Conference. One of the purposes of the conference was to improve pre-K–12 mathematics teaching and learning by generating and catalyzing coordinated research about important questions related to the impact, implementation, and influence of standards and related assessments, instructional materials, and teacher education initiatives.

NCTM has recently published the results of the conference as the Proceedings of the NCTM Research Catalyst Conference: September 11–13, 2003. This 2004 publication details the discussions and outcomes of the work of eight groups of attendees, one of which was the Assessment and Student Achievement group. The report from this group outlined a framework for research in assessment, included a research agenda, and noted a need for agreed-on research tools. Part of the research agenda was related to using high-stakes assessment to improve classroom learning. This use of assessment requires research in order to answer questions such as the following:

  • How are the results of high-stakes assessments being used to guide decisions about curriculum and instruction?

  • What are the characteristics of high-stakes assessments, and to what extent do they reflect the stated and enacted curricula of particular states?

  • How can we capitalize on teachers' commitment to improving scores on high-stakes assessment to improve student learning?

A working group at the NCTM Research Presession at the 82nd Annual Meeting in Philadelphia in April continued the discussion initiated at the Research Catalyst Conference. The group noted Alan Shoenfeld's (2002) conclusion that students who learn from a reform curriculum do not perform at a significantly different level from students who learn from a traditional curriculum on tests of basic skills; however, these students significantly outperform traditionally taught students on tests that measure conceptual understanding and problem solving. Therefore, the group recognized a need for assessment instruments that can identify the differences among students who can think conceptually about mathematics and those who cannot. Ideally, all high-stakes assessments should capitalize on what we know about student learning from mathematics education research and should assess the content and processes envisioned in NCTM's Principles and Standards for School Mathematics. To this end, the group proposed the creation of frameworks for instruments that would assess students' conceptual understanding of mathematics. These frameworks would help guide states as they revisit their high-stakes assessment instruments. Any significant developments and progress in this area will be reported in future issues.


National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM). Proceedings of the NCTM Research Catalyst Conference: September 11–13, 2003. Reston, Va.: NCTM, 2004.

Shoenfeld, Alan H. "Making Mathematics Work for All Children: Issues of Standards, Testing and Equity," Education Researchers 3 (January/February 2002): 13–25.

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