How do assessments help policymakers?
Policy and program evaluation: Assessments provide policymakers with indicators of academic progress at the
state, district, and school levels. This information can lead to a better understanding of how policies impact learning
outcomes on the ground and can sometimes indicate when policy change is necessary based on student outcomes.
Additionally, data from standardized assessments can be used to evaluate the effectiveness of programs, better
ensuring that investments in education programs are yielding positive outcomes for students. A great number of
policy decisions and program investments rely on longitudinal student achievement data. This research can be even
more powerful if the data these assessments produce are meaningful and accurately reflect student mastery of the
academic skills we know matter for success beyond high school.
School and district support practices: Information from high-quality assessments can yield more accurate information for state-level accountability systems. This information can help state policymakers determine what districts or
schools are in the greatest need of support or reform. Such information could guide the investment of financial or
human resources, promoting more equitable education practices.
High-quality assessments provide students, parents, teachers, school and district leaders, and policymakers with critical
information that supports their efforts toward improved instruction and student learning. While Tennessee uses data from
assessments to make important decisions at the classroom, school, district, and state level, current TCAP assessments lack full
alignment to Tennessee’s State Standards. It is critically important for Tennessee to implement a high-quality assessment that
yields an accurate measure of students’ progress toward mastery of Tennessee’s standards.
History of Standards-Based Reform and
Standards-based reform emerged in the late 1980s and 1990s, promoting key shifts in policy with the ultimate goal of
improving student learning and narrowing long-standing achievement gaps. The central premise of standards-based reform
is that education policies will only be effective if all policies are aligned around a common set of goals. Specific academic
standards are at the heart of standards-based reform, establishing what students are supposed to know and be able to do in
core academic subjects. When coupled with high-quality assessment and accountability systems, these standards are meant
to ensure that all students have an opportunity to learn key content in the core academic subjects.15 The key components of
a standards-based reform model are:
Clear, ambitious academic expectations for students as established through a set of academic standards that define
what students should know and be able to do.
The alignment of key components of the education system, such as teacher pre-service and in-service education, to
improve instruction of those academic expectations and promote student mastery.
The use of standardized assessments to monitor student progress on those academic standards and to guide and
inform instructional decisions.
Decentralization of decisions around curriculum and instruction to school districts and schools.
Accountability systems that reward or sanction schools, teachers, or students based on their performance or growth
on standardized assessments to encourage effort toward implementation of the academic standards.16
The passage of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) in 2002 built on the standards-based reform movement that had already
spread across the states throughout the 1990s.17 NCLB, the most recent reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary
Education Act, required states to adopt academic standards and implement standardized assessments that measured student
progress on those standards. NCLB increased the amount of testing in most states, requiring standardized assessments to be
administered to students annually in grades 3-8 and at least once in grades 10-12. NCLB also increased the importance of
decisions made based on information gleaned from those assessments.