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High Stakes Assessments and Standards

Porter, A. C. (2000). Doing high-stakes assessment right. School Administrator, 11(57), 28-31.

High stakes assessment often serves as a “linchpin” for standards-based reform. In this article, Andrew C. Porter, the director of the Wisconsin Center for Education Research, describes lessons he has learned while serving as a consultant offering technical assistance on assessment and accountability systems to districts and states across the United States.

Many states and districts face a dilemma. According to Porter (2000), “simply using an off-the-shelf test for grade retention is not nearly good enough. On the other hand, requiring a perfect solution to every conceptual and technical problem before proceeding will result in nothing ever getting done” (para. 34).

The article describes three key features of quality high stakes assessments used for standards-based reform:

  1. setting good targets for performance (neither too high nor low) that are matched by quality curricula;
  2. symmetry (teachers as well as students are accountable for performance and achievement); and
  3. fairness and equity (tests are valid for diverse cultural groups and all children have equal opportunities to learn what is being assessed).

Grading and Standards

Gronlund, N. E. (2000). How to write and use instructional objectives (6th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Merrill.

Guskey, T. R. (2001). Helping standards make the grade. Educational Leadership, 59(1), 20-27.

Marzano, R. J. (1999). Building curriculum and assessment around standards. The High School Magazine, 6(5), 14-19.

While standards-based instruction holds much promise for improving learning outcomes, the implementation process can be very time- and labor-intensive. Teachers and administrators now face a “daunting task” (p. 20) in developing fair and accurate, standards-based grading and reporting systems, according to Guskey (2001). He recommends that policymakers and teachers do the following:

  1. Switch to criterion-referenced grading/reporting systems that provide meaningful information about student learning and attainment of performance objectives. Teachers and students alike view criterion-referenced grades as more equitable than other reporting systems.
  2. Use grading criteria that clearly differentiate between product, process, and progress indicators. For example, grades for effort and work habits should be evaluated separately from other performance-based grades.
  3. Determining specific purposes for reporting systems in advance, so that they can be most useful for parents, students, teachers, and other stakeholders. Begin with the end in mind. If parents are intended to understand and utilize performance data on a report card, they should be involved from the start in collaborating to develop the report card.
  4. Systematically developing a report card or form that uses benchmarks as a performance indicator to systematically measure the attainment of learning goals. In the end, the reporting measure “communicates teachers’ judgments of students’ progress and achievement in relation to the learning goals or standards.” (Guskey, p. 23).
  5. Unpacking standards. Curriculum and assessment measures should be driven by standards that are neither too specific nor overly broad (Gronlund, 2000; Marzano, 1999). However, many state-level standards are too comprehensive and need to be broken down, or “unpacked,” so that reporting systems are specific and easy to understand, according to Marzano.
  6. Maintaining a consistent reporting format when communicating information across grade levels to multiple audiences (e.g., students, parents, administrators, school district officials) across grade levels. As students move across grade levels, different standards are commonly listed on the reporting form. Guskey recommends that the process be simplified, so that one form with broad, uniform standards is used across grades. Curriculum guidebooks for the relevant grade level and teacher narratives can accompany the report form to provide additional information to the parent or other stakeholder.


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