Authentic Assessment and Accountability: Worth Reading

K-12 Testing

To guarantee that no child really is left behind, schools must ensure that no child is left unknown, write Elliot Washor and Charles Mojkowski in an excellent Education Week column, “Accountability in Small Schools.” Their article describes key elements of what should be in an accountability system that includes “many and varied performance measures” as well as large-scale exams, points relevant to all schools, not just small ones.


Such a system, they say, must be student-centered, support authentic assessment, look “beyond school at valued measures of success,” be open to external review or audit, and make enlightened use of technology. The authors propose that student work be gathered in an electronic format that can make possible random audits of a complete packages of students’ “learning plans, exhibitions, portfolios and transcripts.” Through sampling, the same work that is used to evaluate students can then be used to evaluate schools. If schools are not succeeding, meetings between the school’s faculty and the state’s auditors would determine what to do. The Met School in Providence, Rhode Island, where Washor is co-director, has created such portfolios.


Left unanswered in this article are two key accountability questions: does the school have the resources needed to work well with each of its students; and what will be the role of state exams, particularly if they do not mesh well with the instructional goals and practices of the school?


- April 9, 2003.


In “Creating a System of Accountability,” Sam Meisels and his colleagues examine the ways in which “instructional” assessments, in this case the Work Sampling System (WSS), could be used in an accountability program. Instructional or “formative” assessments are those used in the classroom to guide teachers’ work with their students. Meisels developed the WSS but recently sold it to Pearson.


The report first shows how use of the WSS led to solid improvement in students’ performance on the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills in reading, and somewhat less dramatic improvement in math. This provides more evidence that high quality classroom-based assessments can lead to significant gains in standardized test scores.


However, much of importance that children should learn is not assessed by standardized tests, and the use of the tests may skew classroom instruction toward the narrower instruments even in classrooms using high-quality assessments. Meisels asks, “Is it possible to design an accountability system that relies on both classroom and test-based information about student achievement?” He argues that the WSS experience shows that classroom assessments can be a crucial part of an accountability system, enabling emphasis to be put on rich teaching and learning, not just boosting scores on tests. The paper does not describe how such a system could work, but Maine and Nebraska are currently developing such approaches (see Examiner, Spring 2002), and the Massachusetts Coalition for Authentic Reform in Education developed a plan for authentic assessment and accountability to replace the high-stakes tests.


• Meisels et al. at
• CARE plan at

The Boston Center for Collaborative Education has produced several useful publications on authentic assessment, focusing on middle schools. Turning Points: Transforming Middle School: Looking Collaboratively at Student and Teacher Work presents protocols for looking at student and teacher work. It also describes effective processes for using such protocols. The Winter 2002 Conversations focuses on authentic assessment and its uses in transforming and strengthening middle schools.


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