Accountability models and practices are changing rapidly, fueled by demands for educational reform. The pressure to revise the methods used to judge learning and instruction in our nation's schools has increased substantially. Resnick and Resnick (1985) write that: "Tests and examinations have traditionally served as a major means of setting and maintaining educational standards." As such, they have become the primary tools of accountability for schools and learning as well as a major source of data for certification and admission to further study.
In spite of widespread use, these tests and examinations (frequently called learning assessments) have not generally been shown to improve the quality of learning. Tests have been used to revise standards and influence curricula in our schools. To some extent, when tests are used for certification, approval, and comparison, they have resulted in teaching "to the test" and a focus on skills and knowledge that are easily described and measured. When tests are used in this way, the skills and knowledge become the goals for learning and norms derived from group measures become the standards. What is lost in the process is a focus on individual students and their need to construct knowledge and understanding in a very personal and unique way.
Measuring complex performance using alternative assessment models matches the new standards more closely than traditional "paper-and-pencil" tests. These strategies are well-documented, and experience in their implementation is increasing. Issues of fairness, validity, and connection to meaningful standards exist with many forms of alternative assessment. However, experience seems to support the belief that the pitfalls are outweighed by the good fit between some of the newer alternative assessment strategies and a constructivist model of learning.