by Carol Fry Bohlin (News Bulletin, July/August 2003)
Over the past decade, assessment issues have had a growing impact on schools. During this time, NCTM produced materials that can serve as useful guides on assessment for teachers, professional development providers, and educational policymakers.
NCTM highlighted assessment in its 1993 Yearbook, Assessment in the Mathematics Classroom. The May 1995 Assessment Standards for School Mathematics expanded on the Evaluation Standards presented in NCTM's 1989 Curriculum and Evaluation Standards for School Mathematics. These documents were followed in 2000 by Principles and Standards for School Mathematics, which listed "assessment that informs and guides instructional practice" as one of six principles of high-quality mathematics education programs.
As the Assessment Standards were being prepared for publication in 1994, NCTM's Assessment Addenda Task Force was established and asked to produce a six-book series to support the Assessment Standards. Between 1998 and 2003, the task force published four volumes of Mathematics Assessment: A Practical Handbook—one book for each grade band (K-2, 3-5, 6-8, and 9-12). Two volumes of Mathematics Assessment: Cases and Discussion Questions were also written—one for grades K-5 and the other for grades 6-12.
Bill Bush, the task force chair and editor, described the books this way: "The four Practical Handbooks provide excellent advice and examples for building a classroom assessment system that comprehensively assesses students' proficiencies in and attitudes toward mathematics. The two Cases books serve as a resource for postsecondary faculty and professional development providers who wish to help teachers build a balanced approach to classroom assessment."
Following the release of Principles and Standards, a second Assessment Task Force was appointed to propose recommendations related to NCTM's vision of fostering strong, recognized national leadership in the area of assessment, both for its members and for policymakers and the general public. The task force emphasized a need to offer education and support for teachers regarding large-scale and classroom assessments, as well as to help improve the quality of mathematics assessments at the classroom, local, state, and national levels.
The task force submitted its final report to the NCTM Board of Directors in October 2002. The Board's actions in response to the task force's recommendations included creating this "Assessment Issues" column in the NCTM News Bulletin and choosing to explore the development of a political action agenda to promote NCTM's leadership and national influence in policy matters related to mathematics education issues, including assessment. The Board also accepted the recommendation to produce a set of Mathematics Assessment Literacy Guides. (The proposed titles are (a) Basic Mathematics Assessment Literacy, (b) Applying Mathematics Assessment to Instruction, and (c) Interpreting Large-Scale Assessments.)
In February 2003, the Board established a task force charged with developing "a set of assessment samplers for each of the four Principles and Standards grade bands, based on the Principles and Standards Table of Standards and Expectations. Each sampler [will] provide a collection of items illustrating assessment activities, student work, design processes, and scoring schemes. The samplers will provide collections of items to be used primarily by teachers in their design of appropriate classroom assessments and will also serve as materials for use in preservice courses and for professional development." Each sampler will include short-response, extended-response, and multiple-choice items, some that will be original and some that will be obtained from published sources. It is expected that these resources will be used by the NCTM Academy for Professional Development and in other professional development programs.
Although the No Child Left Behind legislation has only recently brought assessment to the attention of many policymakers, NCTM has been working to provide its members valuable assessment information for a number of years. Council members and others concerned with mathematics education can continue to look to NCTM for reliable guidance and informative products addressing assessment.
For more information
Descriptions of NCTM's assessment materials and ordering information can be found at the NCTM online store.