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Measuring Deeper Learning Through Cognitively Demanding Test Items: Results from the Analysis of Six National and International Exams


"In 2010, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation's Education Program has established the Deeper Learning Initiative, which focuses on students' development of deeper learning skills (i.e., the mastery of core academic content, critical-thinking, problem-solving, collaboration, communication, and "learn-how-to-learn" skills). Two test consortia are developing the next generation of tests to measure students' attainment of the Common Core State Standards. These tests are expected to assess deeper learning skills to a greater extent than existing large-scale tests. A RAND study rated the cognitive demand of mathematics and English language arts items on six nationally and internationally administered exams: Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate, the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the Programme for International Student Assessment, the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study, and the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, using Norman Webb's Depth of Knowledge framework and the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career's self-developed frameworks. It found that these tests were more cognitively demanding than previously studied state achievement tests in both subjects, on average. The test items' level of cognitive demand varied by subject and format. The six tests varied in their percentages of cognitively demanding items, with only two tests meeting both criteria proposed by a panel of education researchers for high-quality measures of deeper learning. Moreover, the tests' cognitive demand levels varied with test purpose and the characteristics of the targeted students. The findings establish a benchmark for comparing how well the new generation of tests performs in assessing deeper learning.

This report should be of interest to education policymakers, researchers, and practitioners whose work addresses assessment policy, the Common Core State Standards, and deeper learning."