Assessments Helping Teachers

By W. James Popham, James Pellegrino, and David Berliner

Educational accountability tests are, by definition, supposed to hold educators accountable. If students’ scores on such tests are high, educators are regarded as successful. If students’ scores are low, the opposite conclusion is reached. But high scores in high-stakes testing environments can be achieved by undesirable methods, such as excessive test preparation and even cheating, rather than by better instruction.

In 2002, Wyoming’s education officials set out to create accountability tests capable not only of accurately evaluating their state’s schools, but also of stimulating better instruction. After several years of preparation and five years of testing, Wyoming has recently released evidence on the question of whether its instructionally supportive accountability tests work as intended.

During most of this period, we served on a technical advisory committee for Wyoming’s accountability tests. Because we have closely observed the program’s development, we can report on its nature and evolution. We also will identify four obstacles to successful implementation of the tests, describe results of the most recent administration of those tests to Wyoming’s students, and discuss what those results might imply.

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