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Standards for the Assessment of Reading and Writing: Standard 10

10. All stakeholders in the educational community—students, families, teachers, administrators, policymakers, and the public—must have an equal voice in the development, interpretation, and reporting of assessment information.

Each of the constituents named in this standard has a stake in assessment. Students are concerned because their literacy learning, their concepts of themselves as literate people, and the quality of their subsequent lives and careers are at stake. Teachers have at stake their understandings of their students, their professional practice and knowledge, their perceptions of themselves as teachers, and the quality of their work life and standing in the community. Families clearly have an investment in their children’s learning, well-being, and educational future. The public invests money in education, in part as an investment in the future, and has a stake in maintaining the quality of that investment. The stewardship of the investment involves administrators and policymakers. Assessment is always value laden, and the ongoing participation of all parties involved in it is necessary in a democratic society. When any one perspective is missing, silenced, or privileged above others, the assessment picture is distorted.

Stakeholders closest to the process—families, teachers, students, and the local community—are most familiar with the intimate details of children’s learning and are in the best position to observe and document the small, yet important, steps that make up learning. These intimate participants in the process have access to information about a child’s growth over time, how a child is developing skill in the processes of learning that will lead to more learning in the future, and how a child is applying prior learning in new situations. Following public laws in most countries, policymakers have the responsibility of ensuring equity and preventing local injustices.

However, when policymakers develop practices that drive local assessment and instructional processes, other stakeholders’ voices are easily silenced and assessment becomes dominated by procedures developed by people who have little regular contact with students or teachers. Policy has always privileged some forms of literacy over others, but today the privileged forms generally exclude genres and modalities that children increasingly use—webpages, social networking sites, texting, and so on—and that are increasingly required beyond school. It may be possible to get more valid data on traditional assessments, even large-scale assessments, if the content and modalities of the assessments are adapted to students’ interests in nonprint media.

When broad-brush assessment tools, such as nationally normed, state-mandated standardized achievement tests, are privileged over other forms of assessment, the important perspectives of families, teachers, and students are silenced. Under these circumstances, assessment becomes something done to students and schools rather than a shared conversation with schools and their local communities. When assessment is done to schools, an adversarial relationship develops in which teachers and school administrators focus on how to raise test scores at the expense of learning. When broad-brush assessment tools are paired with punitive consequences in an effort to hold schools accountable for high standards, assessment conversations evolve into an “us versus them” contest in which the learners are the losers.

A common reaction to this feeling is to reject the value and credibility of the assessment procedure. At the same time, there is a breakdown in the relationship between those controlling the assessment and those who feel controlled by it. By contrast, the more ownership the various participants feel in the assessment process, the more seriously they value their own and others’ stake in the process and the greater the possibility of quality assessment.

New technologies require changes in the ways we define literacy, and they offer new opportunities for assessing and reporting information about student learning. Electronic portfolios, data warehousing, Web-based assessment tools, and other digital innovations should prompt thoughtful conversations among all stakeholders to ensure that assessment information continues to inform instruction and to reflect the values of the local community, the needs of students and teachers, and the needs of the larger society.

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A Professional Association of Educators in English Studies, Literacy, and Language Arts