David Plank's comments about the new generation of assessments and the increased interest in more "authentic assessment" on the part of the feds are encouraging. I would just remind us that in the early 1990s California was at the cutting edge of this kind of assessment with the CLAS. The CLAS was designed to test "higher order thinking skills," to give students the opportunity to work out solutions in groups, to demonstrate how to approach a problem rather than just regurgitate a correct answer. It was designed to do pretty much what David was suggesting a new generation of tests should do. But it never had the chance to prove itself or to be worked out--as happens always when developing a new testing system--because it was shot down primarily on ideological grounds. Parent groups organized to oppose the test as "too intrusive," they worried that their children would be asked to divulge too much about their thought processes, that the texts that were used for prompts in the test were too leading and provocative in making students think about difficult questions. These parents wanted old-fashioned, "just the facts" tests, and they won. The system was dismantled as the state had to defend itself against all kinds of absurd claims. There probably would have been some problems with reliability of the tests, as Dan Koretz at the time was doing research in Vermont on performance based testing and finding some reliability problems, but these issues would have been worthy of further design work. The tests were probably going to be more expensive to administer and score as well, but folks at CDE were also attacking this issue with more sophisticated software that could have reduced the costs. We never got to the point of improving on the testing system because it was shot down by its opponents.
I urge those who will be working on this project to go back to 1994 and deconstruct what happened the last time around before tripping over the same rock again.