Researchers release new criteria for student assessment

James Pellegrino

James Pellegrino / Photo: Jenny Fontaine (click on image for larger file size)

A University of Illinois at Chicago scholar is one of a national group of education leaders to release new student-assessment criteria that challenge current testing procedures in the U.S.

In the report, presented last week at the National Conference on Student Assessment, the researchers laid out five recommendations to help states and school districts better measure the skills U.S. students need to succeed under the Common Core State Standards.

The new standards, which 45 states have adopted, aim to promote deeper learning of the 21st century skills needed to succeed in today’s knowledge-based economy.

“The three R’s of reading, writing and arithmetic are important, but they are just the baseline for success in the 21st century,” says James Pellegrino, UIC distinguished professor of psychology and education. “Assessments are the lever that drives deeper curriculum, so they must be much richer than those we have now.”

Pellegrino, co-director of the UIC Learning Sciences Research Institute and an expert on student learning, instruction and assessment, is co-author of “Criteria for High-Quality Assessments.” The report — the first of its kind — underscores the role that high-quality assessments will play in helping teachers prepare their students to enter the real world.

Developing these skills requires assessments that measure short- and long-term progress so teachers can adjust instruction and students know where they need to improve, the researchers said.

The report features five core criteria for states, districts and the public to use in evaluating assessments:

  • Assessments should examine higher-order thinking skills, especially those that are transferable and relate to applying knowledge to new contexts.
  • Assessments should provide “high-fidelity” evaluation of these higher-order skills, such as through researching and presenting arguments.
  • Assessments should be internationally benchmarked to align assessment content and measurement practices with those used in leading nations.
  • Assessment should use “instructionally sensitive” items that reflect how well teachers are teaching and give them useful guidance on how to improve.
  • Assessment must be valid, reliable, and fair, as well as accessible to all learners.

By the 2014-2015 school year, most states will be assessing their K-12 students against the Common Core State Standards, which feature an increased focus on students’ ability to analyze, prove and explain their ideas.

“Standards alone will not get our students to this next level,” said Pellegrino, co-chair of the Gordon Commission on the Future of Assessment in Education.

The report’s findings align with a March 2013 report from the Gordon Commission, which noted that common core assessments correctly emphasize deeper learning, but might fall short of their potential if their sole purpose is to hold teachers and schools accountable for performance.

“Criteria for High-Quality Assessments,” available at, was co-published by the Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education, the Center for Research on Student Standards and Testing at the University of California, Los Angeles, and the UIC Learning Sciences Research Institute.

UIC ranks among the nation’s leading research universities and is Chicago’s largest university with 27,500 students, 12,000 faculty and staff, 15 colleges and the state’s major public medical center. A hallmark of the campus is the Great Cities Commitment, through which UIC faculty, students and staff engage with community, corporate, foundation and government partners to improve the quality of life in metropolitan areas around the world.

More information about UIC.

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