The announcement of a new National Science Foundation grant to the University of Wisconsin to further develop a game-based science and math learning program, along with an associated assessment system, caught my eye. It’s the exact type of promising technology-enabled assessment system that I wrote about in “Beyond the Bubble.” It’s also a good opportunity to talk about how the various federal funding streams for assessment do not yet form a cohesive path for the development, testing, scaling, and mainstream use of innovative assessment practices.
In addition to local and state funds, there are several big streams of federal funding for assessment. The first, and largest, is the $400 million+ per year ($408 million in FY 09) that is given to fulfill NCLB’s state testing mandates. These funds go mostly towards the development and yearly operations of state testing systems.
The federal government also provides funds through several competitive programs. These include “GSEG” grants, focused on assessing students with disabilities, through the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, “Enhanced Assessment Grants” from the Office of Student Achievement and School Accountability Programs, and IES. All of these programs fund new research, evaluations, or demonstration projects with several million dollars per year. Outside of the Department of Education, the National Science Foundation also funds a number of innovative research projects related to assessment.
We’re funding the two ends of the pipeline: ongoing operations and promising research projects. The problem is the huge chasm in the middle. Mainstream assessment practice is incredibly resistant to change. Yet, there’s no attention or funding that helps an innovative project project move beyond the university or small scale testing in ten schools. Unless we can cross this chasm, new, promising assessment tools and practices will continue to flourish at conference programs, but never see the light of day in most of our nation’s classrooms.