Mar 17 2017

Developing and Measuring Higher Order Skills: Models for State Performance Assessment Systems

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) opens up new possibilities for how student and school success are defined and supported in American public education. Under ESSA, states have greater responsibility for designing and building their assessment and accountability systems. The law also broadens the concept of student learning, requiring that assessments measure “higher order thinking skills and understanding,” and explicitly allowing the use of multiple assessments—including “portfolios, projects, or extended-performance tasks”—as part of state systems. States can apply for an innovative assessment pilot to develop new approaches to assessment and gradually scale them up statewide.

These new opportunities to develop performance assessments provide important incentives for teaching the more complex skills students need to succeed in the rapidly evolving U.S. society and economy. The modern workplace requires students to demonstrate well-developed thinking skills, problem-solving abilities, design strategies, and communication capabilities that cannot be assessed by most tests currently in use.

This report discusses four models for integrating performance-based components into assessment systems, all of which have been used successfully at scale in states and nations around the world. It also discusses what is needed to assure validity, reliability, and comparability in the use of such assessments. These models—which can also be combined in various ways—include:

  • Performance items or tasks as part of traditional ‘sit-down’ tests.
  • Curriculum-embedded tasks that are implemented in the classroom during the school year, assessing more complex sets of skills.
  • Portfolios or collections of evidence that aggregate multiple tasks to display a broad set of competencies in multiple domains or genres.
  • Comprehensive assessment systems that include traditional sit-down tests, curriculum-embedded tasks, and portfolios and exhibitions leading to a student defense, each serving distinctive complementary purposes.

This report is published jointly by the Learning Policy Institute and the Council of Chief State School Officers.

Developing and Measuring Higher Order Skills: Models for State Performance Assessment Systems by Linda Darling-Hammond is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.