The CBAL™ Initiative: Innovation in K–12 Assessment

ETS has been conducting a long-term research and development initiative called Cognitively Based Assessment of, for, and as Learning (CBAL™). We are engaging in this complex initiative because we believe that existing approaches to K–12 accountability assessment could be markedly improved by incorporating:

  • findings from learning-sciences research about what it means to be proficient in a domain (in addition to common core standards)
  • tasks that model effective teaching and learning practice
  • mechanisms for returning information about student performance in a rapid enough fashion to be of use to teachers and students
  • testing on multiple occasions so that highly consequential decisions have a stronger evidential basis

About the CBAL Research Initiative

Read more about the CBAL system model. Learn more about the research-based proficiency models that we have developed in conjunction with CBAL projects in reading, writing and mathematics.

Goals and Characteristics of the CBAL Initiative

In the CBAL Initiative, ETS’s central goal is to create a future comprehensive system of assessment that:

  • documents what students have achieved ("of learning"),
  • helps identify how to plan and adjust instruction ("for learning"), and
  • is considered by students and teachers to be a worthwhile educational experience in and of itself ("as learning").

The system will attempt to unify and create synergy among accountability testing, formative assessment and professional support. We envision this system having these key characteristics:

  1. Accountability tests, formative assessment and professional support will be derived from the same conceptual base. That base will be built upon cognitive-scientific research, Common Core or state standards and curricular considerations.
  2. The CBAL assessments will consist largely of engaging, extended, constructed-response tasks that are delivered primarily by computer and, to the extent feasible, automatically scored.
  3. Because of their nature, the CBAL tasks should be viewed by teachers and students as worthwhile learning experiences in and of themselves. Ideally, taking the test should be an educational experience and preparing for it should have the effect of improving student domain competency, not just improving performance on the test.
  4. Accountability tests will be distributed over several administrations throughout the school year so that: (1) the importance of any one assessment and occasion is diminished; (2) tasks can be more complex and more integrative because more time is available for assessment in the aggregate; and (3) the assessments provide prompt interim information to teachers while there is time to take instructional action.
  5. For accountability purposes, estimates of student competency will be aggregations of information collected over time. In addition to these competency estimates, the accountability tests will offer some formative information to teachers, students, parents and local policymakers.
  6. Results from the accountability tests will serve as initial information for more extensive formative or diagnostic assessment, indicating such things as the competency level, area(s) in which follow-up is suggested, and initial formative hypotheses. (However, the CBAL formative assessments will never be used for accountability purposes.)
  7. The CBAL formative assessment will be designed to help teachers engage students in a structured process that reveals evidence about what students know and are able to do, helps teachers and students identify the characteristics of proficient performance, and moves students toward developing competency. The CBAL formative assessment will include classroom tasks and activities, resource materials and diagnostic tests. Most components of the CBAL formative assessments should be adaptable by the teacher for use when and how the teacher sees fit.
  8. The CBAL assessments should be designed to help students take an active role in their own learning and the evaluation of it.
  9. While the accountability testing, formative assessment and professional support components derive from the same conceptual base, they should be able to function independently of one another. So, for example, states should be able to implement the accountability system without also having to implement the formative system, should they so desire.

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ETS Research Forum: Paul Deane

ETS Research Form: Paul Deane video

Learn about the CBAL Language Arts learning progressions and their relationship to the Common Core State Standards (4:48).

The CBAL™ Research Program: Overview

The CBAL Research Program: Overview Video

Get an overview of the CBAL™ research program, including how the CBAL assessment prototypes are being used in the classroom (8:02).