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High-Stakes Testing, Uncertainty, and Student Learning

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A brief history of high-stakes testing is followed by an analysis of eighteen states with severe consequences attached to their testing programs. These 18 states were examined to see if their high-stakes testing programs were affecting student learning, the intended outcome of high-stakes testing policies promoted throughout the nation. Scores on the individual tests that states use were not analyzed for evidence of learning. Such scores are easily manipulated through test-preparation programs, narrow curricula focus, exclusion of certain students, and so forth. Student learning was measured by means of additional tests covering some of the same domain as each state's own high-stakes test. The question asked was whether transfer to these domains occurs as a function of a state's high-stakes testing program.
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Education Policy Analysis Archives
Volume 10 Number 18 March 28, 2002 ISSN 1068-2341
A peer-reviewed scholarly journal
Editor: Gene V Glass
College of Education
Arizona State University
Copyright 2002, the
EDUCATION POLICY ANALYSIS ARCHIVES .
Permission is hereby granted to copy any article
if EPAA is credited and copies are not sold.
Articles appearing in EPAA are abstracted in the Current
Index to Journals in Education by the ERIC Clearinghouse on
Assessment and Evaluation and are permanently archived in
Resources in Education.
High-Stakes Testing, Uncertainty, and Student Learning
Audrey L. Amrein
Arizona State University
David C. Berliner
Arizona State University
Citation: Amrein, A.L. & Berliner, D.C. (2002, March 28). High-stakes testing, uncertainty, and
student learning Education Policy Analysis Archives, 10(18). Retrieved [date] from
http://epaa.asu.edu/epaa/v10n18/.
Related articles:
Vol. 11 No. 24
Vol. 11 No. 25
Abstract
A brief history of high-stakes testing is followed by an analysis of
eighteen states with severe consequences attached to their testing
programs. These 18 states were examined to see if their high-stakes
testing programs were affecting student learning, the intended outcome
of high-stakes testing policies promoted throughout the nation. Scores on
the individual tests that states use were not analyzed for evidence of
learning. Such scores are easily manipulated through test-preparation
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programs, narrow curricula focus, exclusion of certain students, and so
forth. Student learning was measured by means of additional tests
covering some of the same domain as each state's own high-stakes test.
The question asked was whether transfer to these domains occurs as a
function of a state's high-stakes testing program.
Four separate standardized and commonly used tests that overlap
the same domain as state tests were examined: the ACT, SAT, NAEP
and AP tests. Archival time series were used to examine the effects of
each state's high-stakes testing program on each of these different
measures of transfer. If scores on the transfer measures went up as a
function of a state's imposition of a high-stakes test we considered that
evidence of student learning in the domain and support for the belief that
the state's high-stakes testing policy was promoting transfer, as intended.
The uncertainty principle is used to interpret these data. That
principle states "The more important that any quantitative social
indicator becomes in social decision-making, the more likely it will be to
distort and corrupt the social process it is intended to monitor." Analyses
of these data reveal that if the intended goal of high-stakes testing policy
is to increase student learning, then that policy is not working. While a
state's high-stakes test may show increased scores, there is little support
in these data that such increases are anything but the result of test
preparation and/or the exclusion of students from the testing process.
These distortions, we argue, are predicted by the uncertainty principle.
The success of a high-stakes testing policy is whether it affects student
learning, not whether it can increase student scores on a particular test. If
student learning is not affected, the validity of a state's test is in question.
Evidence from this study of 18 states with high-stakes tests is that
in all but one analysis, student learning is indeterminate, remains at the
same level it was before the policy was implemented, or actually goes
down when high-stakes testing policies are instituted. Because clear
evidence for increased student learning is not found, and because there
are numerous reports of unintended consequences associated with
high-stakes testing policies (increased drop-out rates, teachers' and
schools' cheating on exams, teachers' defection from the profession, all
predicted by the uncertainly principle), it is concluded that there is need
for debate and transformation of current high-stakes testing policies.
The authors wish to thank the Rockefeller Foundation for support
of the research reported here. The views expressed are those of the
authors and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the
Rockefeller Foundation.
This is an era of strong support for public policies that use high-stakes tests to change
the behavior of teachers and students in desirable ways. But the use of high-stakes tests
is not new, and their effects are not always desirable. "Stakes," or the consequences
associated with test results, have long been a part of the American scene. For example,
early in the 20th century, scores on the recently invented standardized tests could, for
immigrants, result in entrance to or rejection from the United States of America. In the
public schools test scores could uncover talent, providing entrance into programs for the
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gifted, or as easily, provide evidence of deficiencies, leading to placement in vocational
tracks or even in homes for the mentally inferior. Test scores could also mean the
difference between acceptance into, or rejection from, the military. And throughout early
twentieth century society, standardized test scores were used to confirm the superiority
or inferiority of various races, ethnic groups, and social classes. Used in this way, the
consequences of standardized tests insured maintenance of the status quo along those
racial, ethnic and class lines. So, for about a century, significant consequences have been
attached to scores on standardized tests.
A Recent History of High-stakes Testing
In recent decades, test scores have come to dominate the discourse about schools and
their accomplishments. Families now make important decisions, such as where to live,
based on the scores from these tests. This occurs because real estate agents use school
test scores to rate neighborhood quality and this affects property values. (Note 1) Test
scores have been shown to affect housing prices, resulting in a difference of about
$9,000 between homes in grade "A" or grade "B" neighborhoods. (Note 2) At the
national and state levels, test scores are now commonly used to evaluate programs and
allocate educational resources. Millions of dollars now hinge on the tested performance
of students in educational and social programs.
Our current state of faith in and reliance on tests has roots in the launch of Sputnik in
1957. Our (then) economic and political rival, the Soviet Union, beat the United States
to space, causing our journalists and politicians to question American education with
extra vigor. At that time, state and federal politicians became more actively engaged in
the conduct of education, including advocacy for the increased use of tests to assess
school learning. (Note 3)
The belief that the achievement of students in U.S. schools was falling behind other
countries led politicians in the 1970s to instigate a minimum competency testing
movement to reform our schools. (Note 4) States began to rely on tests of basic skills to
ensure, in theory, that all students would learn at least the minimum needed to be a
productive citizen.
One of these states was Florida. After some hasty policy decisions, Florida implemented
a statewide minimum competency test that students were required to pass prior to being
graduated. Florida's early gains were used as an example of how standards and
accountability systems could improve education. However, when perceived gains hit a
plateau and differential pass rates and increased dropout rates among ethnic minorities
and students from low socioeconomic backgrounds were discovered, Florida's testing
policy was postponed. (Note 5)
In the 1980s, the minimum competency test movement was almost entirely discarded.
Beyond what was happening in Florida, suggestions that minimum competency tests
promoted low standards also raised concerns. In many schools the content of these tests
became the maximum in which students, particularly in urban schools, became
competent. (Note 6) It was widely perceived that minimum competency tests were
"dumbing down" the content learned in schools.
In 1983, the National Commission on Education released A Nation at Risk, (Note 7) the
most influential report on education of the past few decades. A Nation at Risk called for
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an end to the minimum competency testing movement and the beginning of a
high-stakes testing movement that would raise the nation's standards of achievement
drastically. Although history has not found the report to be accurate, (Note 8) it argued
persuasively that schools in the United States were performing poorly in comparison to
other countries and that the United States was in jeopardy of losing its global standing.
Citing losses in national and international student test scores, deterioration in school
quality, a "diluted" and "diffused" curriculum, and setbacks on other indicators of U.S.
superiority, the National Commission on Education triggered a nationwide panic
regarding the weakening condition of the American education system.
Despite its lack of scholarly credibility, A Nation at Risk produced massive effects. The
National Commission on Education called for more rigorous standards and
accountability mechanisms to bring the United States out of its purported educational
recession. The Commission recommended that states institute high standards to
homogenize and improve curricula and rigorous assessments be conducted to hold
schools accountable for meeting those standards. The Commission and those it
influenced intended to increase what students learn in schools. This report is an
investigation of how well that explicitly intended outcome of high-stakes testing
programs was achieved. We ask, below, whether increases in school learning are
actually associated with increases in the use of high-stakes tests? Although it appears to
be a simple question, it is very difficult to answer.
The Effects of A Nation at Risk on Testing in America
As a result of A Nation at Risk, state policymakers in every state but Iowa developed
educational standards and every state but Nebraska implemented assessment policies to
check those standards. (Note 9) In many states high-stakes, or serious consequences,
were attached to tests in order to hold schools, administrators, teachers, and students
accountable for meeting the newly imposed high standards.
In fixing high-stakes to assessments, policymakers borrowed principles from the
business sector and attached incentives to learning and sanctions to poor performance on
tests. High performing schools would be rewarded. Under performing schools would be
penalized, and to avoid further penalties, would improve themselves. Accordingly,
students would be motivated to learn, school personnel would be forced to do their jobs,
and the condition of education would inevitably improve, without much effort and
without too great a cost per state. What made sense, in theory, gained widespread
attention and eventually increased in popularity as a method for school reform.
Arguments in Support of High-stakes Tests.
At various times over the past years different arguments have been used to promote
high-stakes tests. A summary of these follows:
students and teachers need high-stakes tests to know what is important to learn
and to teach;
teachers need to be held accountable through high-stakes tests to motivate them to
teach better, particularly to push the laziest ones to work harder;
students work harder and learn more when they have to take high-stakes tests;
students will be motivated to do their best and score well on high-stakes tests; and
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that
scoring well on the test will lead to feelings of success, while doing poorly on
such tests will lead to increased effort to learn.
Supporters of high-stakes testing also assume that the tests:
are good measures of the curricula that is taught to students in our schools;
provide a kind of "level playing field," an equal opportunity for all students to
demonstrate their knowledge; and that
are good measures of an individual's performance, little affected by differences in
students' motivation, emotionality, language, and social status.
Finally, the supporters believe that:
teachers use test results to help provide better instruction for individual students;
administrators use the test results to improve student learning and design better
professional development for teachers; and that
parents understand high-stakes tests and how to interpret their children's scores.
The validity of these statements in support of high-stakes tests have been examined
through both quantitative and qualitative research, and by the commentary of teachers
who work in high-stakes testing environments. A reasonable conclusion from this
extensive corpus of work is that these statements are true only some of the time, or for
only a modest percent of the individuals who were studied. The research suggests,
therefore, that all of these statements are likely to be false a good deal of the time. And
in fact, some research studies show exactly the opposite of the effects anticipated by
supporters of high-stakes testing. (Note 10)
The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle Applied to the Social Sciences
For many years the research and policy community has accepted a social science version
of Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle. That principle is The more important that any
quantitative social indicator becomes in social decision-making, the more likely it will
be to distort and corrupt the social process it is intended to monitor. (Note 11) When
applied to a high-stakes testing environment, this principle warns us that attaching
serious personal and educational consequences to performance on tests for schools,
administrators, teachers, and students, may have distorting and corrupting effects. The
distortions and corruptions that accompany high-stakes tests make inferences about the
meanings of the scores on those tests uncertain. If there is uncertainty about the meaning
of a test score, the test may not be valid. Unaware of this ominous warning, supporters
of high-stakes testing, particularly politicians, have caused high-stakes testing to
proliferate. The spread of high-stakes tests throughout the nation is described next.
Current High-stakes Testing Practices
Today, twenty-two states offer schools incentives for high or improved test scores. (Note
12) Twenty states distribute financial rewards to successful schools, and nineteen states
distribute financial rewards to improved schools.
Punishments are attached to school scores twice as often as rewards, however. Forty-five
states hold schools accountable for test scores by publishing school or district report
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cards. Twenty-seven of those states hold schools accountable through rating and ranking
mechanisms; fourteen have the power to close, reconstitute, or take over low performing
schools; sixteen have the authority to replace teachers or administrators; and eleven have
the authority to revoke a school's accreditation. In low performing schools, low scores
also bring about embarrassment and public ridicule.
For administrators, threats of termination and cuts in pay exist, as does the potential for
personal bonuses. In Oakland, California, for example, city school administrators can
receive a 9% increase in pay for good school performance with a potential for an
additional 3% increase—1% per increase in reading, math and language arts. (Note 13)
For teachers, low average class scores may prevent teachers from receiving salary
increases, may influence tenure decisions, and in sixteen states may be cause for
dismissal. Only Texas has linked teacher evaluations to student or school test results, but
more states have plans to do so in the future.
High average class scores may also bring about financial bonuses or raises in pay.
Eleven states disperse money directly to administrators or teachers in the most improved
schools. For example, California recently released each school's Academic Performance
Index (API). This is based almost entirely on Stanford 9 test scores. Schools showing the
biggest gains were to share $677 million in rewards while low performing schools in
which personnel did not raise student achievement scores were to face punishments.
(Note 14) In addition, teachers and administrators in 1,346 California schools that
demonstrated the greatest improvements over the past 2 years were to share $100 million
in bonus rewards, called Certificated Staff Performance Incentive Bonuses, ranging from
$5,000 to $25,000 per teacher. Although over $550 million had already been disbursed
to California schools, the distribution of the staff bonuses was deferred because some
teachers who posted gains on the API scale, but felt they were denied their share of the
reward money, filed a lawsuit against the state. (Note 15) The court found in favor of the
state.
Schools and teachers were not the only targets of rewards and punishments for test
performance. Policy makers also attached serious consequences to performance on tests
for individual students.
Although test scores are often promoted as diagnostic tools useful for identifying a
student's achievement deficits and assets, they are rarely used for such purposes when
they emanate from large-scale testing programs. Two major problems are the cause of
this. First, test scores are often reported in the summer after students exit each grade and
second, there are usually too few items on any one topic or area to be used in a
diagnostic way. (Note 16) As a result of these factors, scores on large-scale assessments
are most often used simply to distribute rewards and sanctions. This contributes to the
corruptions and distortions predicted by the social science version of Heisenberg's
Uncertainty Principle.
The special case of scholarships
The distortions and corruptions predicted by the Uncertainty Principle find fertile ground
for developing when high scores on a test result in special diplomas or scholarships.
Attaching scholarships to high performance on state tests is a relatively new concept, yet
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six states have already begun granting college scholarships and dispersing funds to
students with distinguished performance on tests. (Note 17) Michigan is a perfect
example of the corruptions and distortions that occur when stakes are high for a
quantitative social indicator.
The Michigan imbroglio. In spring 2000, Michigan implemented its Merit Award
Scholarship program in which 42,700 students who performed well on the Michigan
Educational Assessment Program high school tests were rewarded with scholarships of
$2,500 or $1,000 to help pay for in-state or out-of-state college tuition, respectively.
(Note 18)
There is quite a story behind these scholarships, however. (Note 19) In 1996, Michigan
became the 13th state to sue the nation's leading cigarette manufacturers to recover
health care costs encumbered by the state to treat smoking-related diseases developed by
Michigan's poor and disadvantaged citizens. The care and treatment of these citizens
placed a financial burden on the states, so they sued the tobacco companies for financial
compensation. Michigan won approximately $384 million to recover some of these
health care costs and then decided to distribute approximately 75% of this money among
high school seniors with high test scores as Merit Award Scholarships. The remainder of
the money went to health related needs and research, more or less unrelated to smoking
or disease treatment. Thus, the monies that were awarded to the state did not go to the
victims at the center of the lawsuit—Michigan's poor and indigent suffering from
tobacco related diseases—but went instead to those students who scored the highest on
the Michigan Educational Assessment Program high school test. These were Michigan's
relatively wealthier students who had the highest probability of enrolling in college even
without these scholarships. (Note 20)
Approximately 80% of the test-takers in an affluent Michigan neighborhood earned
scholarships while only 6% of the test-takers in Detroit earned scholarships. (Note 21)
One in three white, one in fourteen African American, one in five Hispanic, and one in
five Native American test takers received scholarships. (Note 22) In addition, from 1982
to 1997, while education spending for needy students increased 193%, education
spending for merit based programs such as the merit scholarships increased by 457% in
Michigan. (Note 23) Tests have often been defended because they can distribute or
redistribute resources based on notions of "merit." But too often the testing programs
become thinly disquised methods to maintain the status quo and insure that funds stay in
the hands of those who need them least.
Michigan is now being sued by a coalition that includes students, the American Civil
Liberties Union of Michigan (ACLU), the Mexican American Legal Defense and
Education Fund (MALDEF), and the National Association for the Advancement of
Colored people (NAACP). They are arguing that Michigan is denying students
scholarships based on test scores that are highly related to race, ethnicity, and
educational advantages. Michigan appears to be a state where high-stakes testing has had
a corrupting influence.
The satisfying effects of punishing the slackers. Connecting high-stakes tests with
rewards for high performance, such as in the example above, is not nearly as prevalent as
have been punishments attached to student scores that are judged to be too low.
Punishments are used three times as often as rewards. Policy makers appear to derive
satisfaction from the creation of public policies that punish those they perceive to be
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slackers.
Throughout the nation low scores are used to retain students in grade, using the slogan
of ending "social promotion." Promotion or retention is already contingent on test
performance in Louisiana, New Mexico, and North Carolina, while four more states
have plans to link promotion to test scores in the next few years. (Note 24)
Low scores may also prevent high school students from graduating from high school.
Whether a student passes or fails high school graduation exams – exams that purportedly
test a high school student's level of knowledge in core high school subjects – is
increasingly being used as the only determinant of whether some students graduate or
whether students are entitled to a regular high school diploma or merely a certificate of
attendance.
In fact, high school graduation exams are the assessments with the highest, most visible,
and most controversial stakes yet. When A Nation at Risk was released, only three states
(Note 25) had implemented high school graduation exams, then referred to as minimum
competency tests on which students' basic skills were tested. But in A Nation at Risk, the
commission called for more rigorous examinations on which high school students would
be required to demonstrate mastery in order to receive high school diplomas. (Note 26)
Since then, states have implemented high school graduation exam policies with greater
frequency.
Now, almost two decades later, eighteen states (Note 27) have developed and employed
high school graduation exams and nine more states (Note 28) have high-school
graduation exams underway. The frequency with which high school graduation exams
have become key components of states' high-stakes testing policies has escalated almost
linearly over the past twenty-three years and will continue to do so for at least the next
six years (see Figure 1).
Figure 1. Number of states with high school graduation exams 1979–2008 (Note 29)
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Who Uses high-stakes Tests?
Analyses of these data reveal that high school graduation exams are:
more common in states that allocate less money than the national average per
pupil for schooling as compared to the nation. High school graduation exams are
found in around 60% of the states in which yearly per pupil expenditures are lower
and in about 45% of the states in which yearly per pupil expenditures are higher
than the national average. (Note 30)
more likely to be found in states that have more centralized governments, rather
than those with more powerful county or city governments. Of the states that have
more centralized governments, 62% have or have plans to implement high school
graduation exams. Of the states that have less centralized governments, only 37%
have or have plans to implement high school graduation exams. (Note 31)
more likely to be found in the highly populated states and states with the largest
population growth as compared to the nation. (Note 32) For example, 76% of the
country's most highly populated states and only 32% of the country's smallest
states have or have plans to implement high school graduation exams. Looking at
growth, not just population we find that 76% of the states with the greatest
population growth and only 32% of the states with the lowest population growth
from 1990–2000 have or have plans to implement high school graduation exams.
(Note 33)
most likely to be found in the Southwest and the South. High school graduation
exams are currently in use in 50% of the southwestern states and 66% of the
southern states. Analyses also suggest that high school graduation exams will
become even more common in these regions in the future. By the year 2008, high
school graduation exams will be found in 75% of the southwestern and southern
states.
High school graduation exams will probably continue to be randomly dispersed
throughout 50% of the states in the Northeast and least likely to be found in 33% of the
mid-western states. The western states, over the next decade, will have the greatest
increase in the number of states with high school graduation exams by region. While
10% percent of the western states have already implemented high school graduation
exam policies, 50% of these states will have implemented these exams by the year 2008.
(Note 34)
More important for understanding high-stakes testing policy is that high school
graduation exams are more likely found in states with higher percentages of African
Americans and Hispanics and lower percentages of Caucasians as compared to the
nation. Census Bureau population statistics helped to verify this. (Note 35) Seventy-five
percent of the states with a higher percentage of African Americans than the nation have
high school graduation exams. By 2008 81% of such states will have implemented high
school graduation exams. Sixty-seven percent of the states with a higher percentage of
Hispanics than the nation have high school graduation exams. By 2008 89% of such
states will have implemented high school graduation exams. Conversely, 13% of the
states with a higher percentage of Caucasians than the nation have implemented high
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school graduation exams. By 2008 29% of such states will have implemented high
school graduation exams. In other words, high school graduation exams affect students
from racial minority backgrounds in greater proportions than they do white students. If
these high-stakes tests are discovered not to have their intended effects, that is, if they do
not promote the kinds of transfer of learning and education the nation desires, the
mistake will have greater consequences for America's children of color.
Similarly, high school graduation exams disproportionately affect students from lower
socioeconomic backgrounds. High school graduation exams are more likely to be found
in states with the greatest degrees of poverty as compared to the nation. Economically
disadvantaged students are most often found in the South and the Southwest and least
often found in the Northeast and Midwest. As noted, states in the South and the
Southwest are most likely to have high-stakes testing policies. Further, 69% of the states
with child poverty levels greater than the nation have or have plans to implement high
school graduation exams. Seventy percent of the states with the greatest 1990–1998
increases in the number of children living in poverty have or have plans to implement
such exams. (Note 36) That is, high school graduation exams are more likely to be
implemented in states that have lower levels of achievement, and the always present
correlate of low achievement, poorer students. Again, if these high-stakes tests are
discovered not to have their intended effects, that is, if they fail to promote transfer of
learning and education in its broadest sense, as the nation desires, the mistake will have
greater consequences for America's poorest children.
Matters of national standards and implementation of high-stakes tests are less likely to
be of concern for the reform of relatively elite schools, (Note 37) that are more often
found in regions other than the South and Southwest. Perhaps this helps to explain the
more extensive presence of high-stakes tests in the South and Southwest. This seems a
reasonable hypothesis especially when one purpose of high-stakes testing is to raise
student achievement levels in educational environments perceived to be failing.
It should be noted, however, that there is considerable variability in these data. All states
with high rates of children in poverty have not adopted high-stakes testing policies while
some states with lower rates of children in poverty have. In states with higher or lower
levels of poverty, however, schools that exist within poor rural and urban environments
are still more frequently targeted by these policies. Although legislators promote these
policies, claiming high standards and accountability for all, schools that already perform
well on tests are not the targets for these policies; poor, urban, under performing schools
are. But, for different reasons, support for high-stakes testing receives support in both
high and low achieving school districts. In successful schools and districts, high-stakes
testing policies are acceptable because the scores on those tests merely confirm the
expectations of the community. Thus, in successful communities, the tests pose little
threat and also have little incentive value. (Note 38) In poorer performing schools
high-stakes testing policies often enjoy popular support because, it is thought, at the very
least, that these tests will raise standards in a state's worst schools. (Note 39)
But if high-stakes testing policies do not promote learning, that is, if they do not appear
to be leading to education in the most profound sense of that term, then the tests will not
turn out to have any use in successful communities and schools, nor will they improve
the schools attended by poor children and ethnic minorities. If, in addition, the tests have
unintended consequences such as narrowing the curriculum taught, increasing drop out
rates and contributing to higher rates of retention in grade, they would not be good for
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any community. But these unintended negative consequences would have a greater
impact on the families and neighborhoods of poor and minority students.
Faith in testing. The effects of high-stakes tests on students is well worth pursuing since
it is unquestionably a "bull market" for testing. (Note 40) The faith state legislators have
put into tests, albeit blind, has increased dramatically over the past twenty years. (Note
41) The United States tests its children more than any other industrialized nation, has
done so for well over thirty years, (Note 42) and will continue to depend on even more
tests as it attempts to improve its schools. At the national level, President Bush has been
unquestionably successful in passing his "No Child Left Behind" plan that calls for even
more testing – annual high-stakes testing of every child in the United States in grades 3
through 8 in math and reading. Republicans and Democrats alike have endorsed
high-stakes testing policies for the nation making this President Bush's only educational
proposal that has claimed bipartisan support. (Note 43) According to the President and
other proponents, annual testing of every child and the attachment of penalties and
rewards to their performance on those tests, will unequivocally reform education.
Despite the optimism, the jury is still out on this issue.
Many researchers, teachers and social critics contend that high-stakes testing policies
have worsened the quality of our schools and have created negative effects that severely
outweigh the few, if any, positive benefits associated with high-stakes testing policies.
Because testing programs and their effects change all the time, reinterpretations of the
research that bears on this issue will be needed every few years. But at this time, in
contradiction to all the rhetoric, the research informs us that states that have
implemented high-stakes testing policies have fared worse on independent measures of
academic achievement than have states with no or low stakes testing programs. (Note
44) The research also informs us that high-stakes testing policies have had a
disproportionate negative impact on students from racial minority and low
socioeconomic backgrounds. (Note 45)
In Arizona, for example, officials reported that in 1999 students in poor and
high-minority school districts scored lower than middle-class and wealthy students on
Arizona's high-stakes high school graduation test, the AIMS (Arizona's Instrument to
Measure Standards). Ninety-seven percent of African Americans, Hispanics, and Native
Americans failed the math section of the AIMS, a significantly greater proportion of
failures than occurred in the white community, whose students also failed the test in
great numbers. (Note 46) Due to the high failure rates for different groups of students, as
well as various psychometric problems, this test had to be postponed.
In Louisiana parents requested that the office for civil rights investigate why nearly half
the children in school districts with the greatest numbers of poor and minority children
had failed Louisiana's test, after taking it for a second time. (Note 47) In Texas, in 1997,
only one out of every two African American, Mexican American, and economically
disadvantaged sophomores passed each section of Texas' high-stakes test the TAAS –
Texas' Assessment of Academic Skills. In contrast, four out of every five white
sophomores passed. (Note 48) In Georgia, two out of every three low-income students
failed the math, English, and reading sections of Georgia's competency tests. No students
from well-to-do counties failed any of the tests and more than half exceeded standards.
(Note 49)
The pattern of failing scores in these states are quite similar to the failure rates in other
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states with high school graduation exams and are illustrative of the achievement gap
between wealthy, mostly white school districts and poor, mostly minority school
districts. (Note 50) It appears that a major cause of these gaps is that high-stakes
standardized tests may be testing poor students on material they have not had a sufficient
opportunity to learn.
Education, Learning, and Training: Three Goals of Schooling
In this report we look at just one of the distorting and corrupting possibilities suggested
by Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle applied to the testing movement, namely, that
training rather than learning or general education is taking place in communities that
rely on high-stakes tests to reform their schools. As will be become clearer, if we have
doubt about the meaning of a test score, we must be skeptical about the validity of the
test.
Our interest in these distinctions between training, learning and education stems from
the many anecdotes and research reports we read that document the narrowing of the
curriculum and the inordinate amount of time spent in drill as a form of test preparation,
wherever high-stakes tests are used. The former president of the American Association
of School Administrators, speaking also as the Superintendent of one of the highest
achieving school districts in America, notes that:
The issue of teaching to these tests has become a major concern to parents
and educators. A real danger exists in that the test will become the
curriculum and that instruction will be narrow and focused on facts.
... Teachers believe they spend an inordinate amount of time on drills
leading to the memorization of facts rather than spending time on problem
solving and the development of critical and analytical thinking skills.
Teachers at the grade levels at which the test is given are particularly
vulnerable to the pressure of teaching to the test.
Rather than a push for higher standards, [Virginia's high-stakes] tests may
be driving the system toward mediocrity. The classroom adaptations of
"Trivial Pursuit" and "Do You Want to be a Millionaire?" may well result in
higher scores on these standardized tests, but will students have acquired the
breadth and knowledge to do well on other quality benchmarks, such as the
SAT and Advanced Placement exams? (Note 51)
This is our concern as well. Any narrowing of the curriculum, along with the confusion
of training to pass a test with broader notions of learning and education are especially
problematic side effects of high-stakes testing for low-income students. The poor, more
than their advantaged peers, need not only the skills that training provides but need the
more important benefits of learning and education that allow for full economic and
social integration in our society.
To understand the design of this study and to defend the measures used for our inquiry
requires a clarification of the distinctions between the related concepts of education,
learning (particularly school learning and the concept of transfer of learning), and
training. For most citizens it is education (the broadest and most difficult to define of
the concepts) that is the goal of schooling. Learning is the process through which
13 of 74
education is achieved. But merely demonstrating acquisition of some factual or
procedural knowledge is not the primary goal of school learning. That is merely a
proximal goal.
The proper goal of school learning is both more distal and more difficult to assess. The
proper goal of school learning is transfer of learning, that is, the application or use of
what is learned in one domain or context to that of another domain or context. School
learning in the service of education focuses deliberately on the goal of broad (or far)
transfer. School instruction that can be characterized as training is ordinarily a narrow
form of learning, where transfer of learning is measured on tasks that are highly similar
to those used in the training. Broad or far measures of transfer, the appropriate goal of
school learning, are different from the measures typically used to assess the outcomes of
training.
More concretely, training in holding a pencil, or of doing two-column addition with
regrouping, or memorizing the names of the presidents, is expected to yield just that.
After training to do those things is completed students should be able to write in pencil,
add columns of numbers, and name the presidents. The assessments used to measure
their newly acquired knowledge are simple and direct. On the other hand, learning to
write descriptive paragraphs, arguing about how numbers can be decomposed, and
engaging in civic activities should result in better writing, mathematics and citizenship.
To inquire whether that is indeed the case, much broader and more distal measures of
transfer are required and these kinds of outcomes of education are much harder to
measure.
Although enormously difficult to define, almost all citizens agree that school learning is
designed to produce an "educated" person. Howard Gardner provides one voice for these
aspirations by claiming that students become educated by probing, in sufficient depth, a
relatively small set of examples from the disciplines. In Gardner's curriculum teachers
lead students to think and act in the manner of scientists, mathematicians, artists, or
historians. Gardner advocates deep and serious study of a limited set of subject matter to
provide students with opportunities to deal seriously with the genuine and profound
ideas of humankind.
I believe that three very important concerns should animate education; these
concerns have names and histories that extend far back into the past. There
is the realm of truth—and its underside, what is false or indeterminable.
There is the realm of beauty –– and its absence in experiences or objects
that are ugly or kitschy. And there is the realm of morality –– what we
consider to be good, and what we consider to be evil. (Note 52)
Gardner's "educated" student thinks like those in the disciplines because the students
learn the forms of argument and proof that are appropriate to a discipline. Thus tutored,
students are able to analyze the fundamental ideas and problems that all humans struggle
with. It is a discussion and project-oriented curriculum, with minimum concern for test
preparation as a separate activity. Gardener's discipline-based curriculum is explicitly
concerned with transfer to a wide array of human endeavors. Despite the difficulty in
obtaining evidence of this kind of transfer of learning, there is ample support for this
kind of curriculum. Earl Shorris recently demonstrated the effect of this kind of
curriculum with desperately poor people who were given the chance to study the
disciplines with excellent and caring teachers. (Note 53) The experience of studying art,
14 of 74
music, moral philosophy, logic, and so forth, transformed the lives of these
impoverished young adults.
Minnesota Senator Paul Wellstone also understands that school learning is not an end in
itself. For him, our educational system should be designed to produce an "educated"
person, someone for whom transfer of what is learned in school is possible:
Education is, among other things, a process of shaping the moral
imagination, character, skills and intellect of our children, of inviting them
into the great conversation of our moral, cultural and intellectual life, and of
giving them the resources to prepare to fully participate in the life of the
nation and of the world." (Note 54)
Senator Wellstone, however, sees a problem with this goal:
Today in education there is a threat afoot,...: the threat of high-stakes testing
being grossly abused in the name of greater accountability, and almost
always to the serious detriment of our children." (Note 55)
The Senator, like many others, recognizes the possible distorting and corrupting effects
of high-stakes testing. He worries about compromising the education of our students,
because of "a growing set of classroom practices in which test-prep activities are
usurping a substantive curriculum." (Note 56) The Senator is concerned that test
preparation for the assessment of narrow curricular goals will turn out to be more like
training than like the kind of learning that promotes transfer. And if that were to be the
case, the test instruments themselves are likely to be narrow and near measures of
transfer, as befits training programs. If this scenario were to occur, then broad and far
measures of transfer, the indicators, we hope, of the educated person that we hold as our
ideal, might not become part of the ways in which we assess what is being learned in our
schools.
To reiterate: education (in some broad and hard-to-define way) is our goal. School
learning is the means to accomplish that goal. But, as a recent National Academy of
Science/National Research Council report on school learning makes clear, schooling that
too closely resembles training, as in preparation for testing, cannot accomplish the task
the nation has set for itself, namely, the development of adaptive and educated citizens
for this new millennium. (Note 57) Of course, school learning that promotes transfer is
only a necessary, and not a sufficient condition, to bring forth an educated person. The
issue, however, is whether high-stakes tests, with their potential for distorting and
corrupting classroom life, can overcome the difficulties inherent in such systems, and
thereby bring about the transformation in student achievements sought by all concerned
with public education. One of the nation's leading experts on measurement has thought
about this issue:
As someone who has spent his entire career doing research, writing, and
thinking about educational testing and assessment issues, I would like to
conclude by summarizing a compelling case showing that the major uses of
tests for student and school accountability during the past 50 years have
improved education and student learning in dramatic ways.
Unfortunately, I cannot. Instead, I am led to conclude that in most cases the
15 of 74
instruments and technology have not been up to the demands that have been
placed on them by high-stakes accountability. Assessment systems that are
useful monitors lose much of their dependability and credibility for that
purpose when high-stakes are attached to them. The unintended negative
effects of high-stakes accountability uses often outweigh the intended
positive effects." (Note 58)
Transfer of learning and test validity. This report looks at one of the effects claimed for
high-stakes testing: that states with high-stakes tests will show evidence that some kind
of broad learning, rather than just some kind of narrow training, has taken place. It is
well known that test preparation, meticulous alignment of the curriculum with the test,
as well as rewards and sanctions for students and other school personnel, will almost
always result in gains on whatever instrument is used by the state to assess its schools.
Scores on almost all assessment instruments are quite likely to go up as school
administrators and teachers train students to do well on tests such as the all-purpose
widely-used SAT-9s in California, or the customized Texas Assessment of Academic
Skills (TAAS), the Arizona Instrument to Measure Standards (AIMS), or the
Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS). We ask a more important
question than "Do scores rise on the high-stakes tests?" We ask whether there is
evidence of student learning, beyond the training that prepared them for the tests they
take, in those states that depend on high-stakes tests to improve student achievement?
We seek to know whether we are getting closer to the ideal we all hold of a broadly
educated student, or whether we are instead developing students that are much more
narrowly trained to be good test takers. It is important to note that this is not just a
question of how well the nation is reaching its intended outcomes, it is also an equally
important psychometric question about the validity of the tests, as well.
The National Research Council cautions that "An assessment should provide
representative coverage of the content and processes of the domain being tested, so that
the score is a valid measure of the student's knowledge of the broader [domain], not just
the particular sample of items on the test." (Note 59)
So the score a student obtains on a high-stakes test must be an indicator of transfer or
generalizability or that test is not valid. The problem is that:
tests almost always are made up of fewer items than the number actually needed to
thoroughly assess the entire domain that is of interest;
1.
testing time, as interminable as it may seem to the students, is rarely enough to
adequately sample all that is to be learned from a domain; and
2.
teachers may narrow what is taught in the domain so that the scores on the test
will be higher, though by doing this, the scores are then invalid since they no
longer reflect what the student knows of the entire domain.
3.
These three factors work against having high-stakes test scores accurately reflect
students' domain scores in areas such as reading, writing, science, etc. Because of this
constant threat of invalidity, attaching high-stakes to achievement tests of this type may
be impossible to do sensibly. (Note 60)
How might this show up in practice? Unfortunately there is already research evidence
that reading and writing scores in Texas may not reflect the domains that are really of
interest to us. The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle applied to assessment seems may be
16 of 74
at work distorting and corrupting the Texas system. The ensuing uncertainty about the
meaning of the test scores in Texas requires skepticism about whether that state obtained
valid indicators of the domain scores that are really of interest. That is, we have no
assurance that the performance on the test indicates what it is supposed to, namely,
transfer or generalizability of the performance assessed to the domain that is of interest
to us. For example,
... high school teachers report that although practice tests and classroom
drills have raised the rate of passing for the reading section of the TAAS at
their school, many of their students are unable to use those same skills for
actual reading. These students are passing the TAAS reading section by
being able to select among answers given. But they are not able to read
assignments, to make meaning of literature, to complete reading
assignments outside of class, or to connect reading assignments to other
parts of the course such as discussion and writing.
Middle school teachers report that the TAAS emphasis on reading short
passages, then selecting answers to questions based on those short passages,
has made it very difficult for students to handle a sustained reading
assignment. After children spend several years in classes where "reading"
assignments were increasingly TAAS practice materials, the middle school
teachers in more than one district reported that [students] were unable to
read a novel even two years below grade level. (Note 61)
A similar phenomenon exists in testing writing, where a single writing format is
taught—the five paragraph persuasive essay. Each paragraph has exactly five sentences:
a topic sentence, three supporting sentences, and a concluding sentence much like the
introductory sentence. The teachers call this "TAAS writing," as opposed to "real
writing."
Teachers of writing who work with their students on developing ideas, on
finding their voice as writers, and on organizing papers in ways appropriate
to both the ideas and the papers' intended audience find themselves in
conflict with this prescriptive format. The format subordinates ideas to
form, sets a single form out as "the essay," and produces predictably, rote
writing. Writing as it relates to thinking, to language development and
fluency, to understanding one's audience, to enriching one's vocabulary, and
to developing ideas has been replaced by TAAS writing to this format.
(Note 62)
California also has well documented instances of this. The curriculum was so narrowed
to reflect the high-stakes SAT 9 exam, and the teachers under such pressure to teach just
what is on the test, that they voluntarily felt obliged to add a half hour a day of unpaid
teaching time to the school schedule. As one teacher said:
This year [we] ... extended our day a half hour more. And this is exclusively
to do science and social studies. ... We think it's very important for our
students to learn other subjects besides Open Court and math ... because in
upper grades, their literature, all that is based on social studies, and science
and things like that. And if they don't get that base from the beginning [in]
1st [and] 2nd grade, they're going to have a very hard time understanding
17 of 74
the literature in upper grades .... There is no room for social studies, science.
So that's when we decided to extend our day a half hour .... But this is a
time for us. With that half hour, we can teach whatever we want, and
especially in social studies and science and stuff, and not have to worry
about, "OK, this is what we have to do." It's our own time, and we pick
what we want to do. (Interview, 2/19/01) (Note 63)
In this school the stress to teach to the test is so great that some teachers violate their
contract and take an hourly cut in pay in order to teach as their professional ethics
demand of them. Such action by these teachers—in the face of serious opposition by
some of their colleagues–– is a potent indicator of how great the pressure in California is
to narrow the curriculum and relentlessly prepare students for the high-stakes test. The
paradox is, that by doing these things, the teachers actually invalidate the very tests on
which they work so hard to do well. It is not often pointed out that the harder teachers
work to directly prepare students for a high-stakes test, the less likely the test will be
valid for the purposes it was intended.
Test preparation associated with high-stakes testing becomes a source of invalidity if
students had differential test preparation—as often happens in the case of rich and poor
students who take the SAT for college entrance. But even if all the students had
intensive test preparation the potential for invalidity exists because the scores on the test
may then no longer represent the broader domain of knowledge for which the test score
was supposed to be an indicator. Under either of these circumstances, where there is
differential preparation for the tests by different groups of students, or intensive test
preparation by all the students, there is still a way to make a distinction between training
effects and the broader more desirable learning effects. That distinction can be made by
using transfer measures, that is, other measures of the same domain as the high-stakes
test but where no intensive test preparation occurred. The scores of students on tests of
the same or similar domains as those measured by the high-stakes test can help to
answer the question about whether learning in the broad domain of knowledge is taking
place, as intended, or whether a narrow form of learning is all that occurs from the test
preparation activities. If scores on these other tests rise along with the scores on the state
tests then genuine learning would appear to be taking place. The claim that transfer
within the domain is occurring can then be defended, and support will have been
garnered for the high-stakes testing programs now sweeping the country. We will now
examine data that help to answer these questions about whether broad-based learning or
narrow forms of training are occurring.
Design of the Study
The purpose of this study is to inquire whether the high-stakes testing programs promote
the transfer of learning that they are intended to foster. A second report in this series
inquires if there have been negative side-effects of high-stakes testing for economically
disadvantaged and ethnic minority students (see "The Unintended Consequences of
high-stakes Testing by A. L. Amrein & D. C. Berliner, forthcoming, at
http://www.edpolicyreports.org/). The sample of states used to assess the intended and
unintended effects of high-stakes testing are the eighteen states that have the most severe
consequences, that is, the highest stakes associated with their K–12 testing policies:
Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Louisiana, Maryland, Minnesota, Mississippi,
Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, South Carolina,
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Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia. Table 1 describes the stakes that exist in each of these
states at this time.
Table 1
Consequences/"Stakes" in K–12 Testing Policies in States that
Have Developed Tests with the Highest Stakes (Note 64)
States Total
Stakes
Grad.
exama
Grade
prom.
examb
Public
report
cardsc
Id. low
perform.d
$
awards
to
schoolse
$
awards
to
stafff
State may
close low
perform.g
State
may
replace
staffh
Students
may
enroll
else-
wherei
$
awards
to
studentsj
Alabama 6 X
X X X
X X
Florida 6 X
X X X X
X
Georgia 5 X 2004
(Note
65)
X X X X 2004
Indiana 6 X
X X X
X
X
Louisiana 7 X X
(Note
66)
X X
X X X
Maryland 6 X
XX X
X X
Minnesota 2 X
X
Mississippi 3 X
X X 2003
2003
Nevada 6 X
X X
X X
X
New Jersey 4 X
X X X
New
Mexico
7 X X
(Note
67)
X X X
X X
New York 5 X
X X
X X
North
Carolina
8 X X
(Note
68)
X X X X X X
(Note
69)
Ohio 6 X 2002
(Note
X X X X
X
19 of 74
70)
South
Carolina
6 X 2002
(Note
71)
X X X
X X
Tennessee 6 X
X X X X X
Texas 8 X 2003
(Note
72)
X X X X X X
(Note
73)
X
Virginia 4 X
X X
X
a
Graduation contingent on high school grad. exam.
b
Grade promotion contingent on exam.
c
State publishes annual school or district report cards.
d
State rates or identifies low performing schools according to whether they meet state
standards or improve each year.
e
Monetary awards given to high performing or improving schools.
f
Monetary awards can be used for "staff" bonuses.
g
State has the authority to close, reconstitute, revoke a school's accred. or takeover low
performing schools.
h
State has the authority to replace school personnel due to low test scores.
i
State permits students in failing schools to enroll elsewhere.
j
Monetary awards or scholarships for in- or out of state college tuition are given to high
performing students.
These states have not only the most severe consequences written into their K–12 testing
policies but lead the nation in incidences of school closures, school interventions, state
takeovers, teacher/administrator dismissals, etc., and this has occurred, at least in part,
because of low test scores. (Note 74) Further, these states have the most stringent K–8
promotion/retention policies and high school graduation exam policies. They are the
only states in which students are being retained in grade because of failing state tests and
in which high school students are being denied regular high school diplomas, or are
simply not graduating, because they have not passed the state's high school graduation
exam. These data on denial of high school diplomas are presented in Table 2.
Table 2
Rates at Which Students Did Not Graduate or Receive a High School
Diploma Due to Failing the State High School Graduation Exam (Note
75)
State (Note 76)
Grade in which students first
take the exam
Percent of students who did not
graduate or receive a regular
high school diploma because they
Year
20 of 74
did not meet the graduation
requirement (Note 77)
Alabama* 10 5.5% 2001
Florida* 11 5.5% 1999
Georgia* 11 12% 2001
Indiana* 10 2% 2000
Louisiana 10 & 11 4% 2001
Maryland 6 4% 2000
Minnesota 8 2% 2001
Mississippi* 11 n/a (Note 78) n/a
Nevada 11 3% 2001
New Jersey 11 6% 2001
New Mexico* 10 n/a n/a
New York n/a (Note 79) 10% 2000
North
Carolina*
9 (Note 80) 7% 2000
Ohio 8 2% 2000
South Carolina 10 8% 1999
Tennessee 9 2.5% 2001
Texas 10 2% 2001
Virginia* 6 0.5% 2001
The effects of high-stakes tests on learning were measured by examining indicators of
student learning, academic accomplishment and achievement other than the tests
associated with high-stakes. These other indicators of student learning serve as the
transfer measures that can answer our question about whether high-stakes tests show
merely training effects, or show transfer of learning effects, as well. The four different
measures we used to assess transfer in each of the states with the highest stakes were:
the ACT, administered by the American College Testing program;1.
the SAT, the Scholastic Achievement Test, administered by the College Board;2.
the NAEP, the National Assessment of Educational Progress, under the direction
of the National Center for Education Statistics and the National Assessment
Governing Board; and
3.
the AP exams, the Advanced Placement examination scores, administered by the
College Board.
4.
In each state, for each test, participation rates in the testing programs were also
examined since these vary from state-to-state and influence the interpretation of the
21 of 74
scores a state might attain.
Transfer measures to assess the effects of high-stakes tests. As noted above,
psychometricians teach us that one facet of validity is that the scores on a test are
indicators of performance in the domain from which the test items are drawn. Thus, the
score a student gets on a ten-item test of algebra, or on their driving test, ought to
provide information about how that student would score on any of the millions of
problems we could have chosen from the domain of algebra, or on how that student
might drive in innumerable traffic situations. The score on the short classroom
assessment, or on the test of driving performance, is actually an indicator of the students'
ability to transfer what they have demonstrated that they have learned to the other items
and traffic situations that are similar to those on the assessment. In a sense, then, we
don't really care much about the score that was obtained on either test. What we really
want to know is whether that student can do algebra problems or drive well in traffic. So
we are interested in the score on the tests the student actually took only in so far as those
scores represent what they know or can do in the domain in which we are interested.
This study seeks to clarify the relationship between the score obtained on a high-stakes
test and the domain knowledge that the test score represents.
If, as in some states, scores on the state test go up, it is proper to ask whether the scores
are also going up on other measures of the same domain. That is precisely what a gain
score on a state assessment should mean. Gain scores should be the indicators of
increased competency in the domain that is assessed by the tests, and that is why transfer
measures that assess the same domain are needed. (Note 81)
If the high-stakes testing of students really induces teachers to upgrade curricula and
instruction or leads students to study harder or better, then scores should also increase on
other independent assessments. (Note 82) So we used the ACT, SAT, NAEP and AP
exams as the other independent assessments, as measures of transfer. We are not alone
in using these four measures to assess transfer of learning. For example, one analyst of
the Texas high-stakes program believes: "If Texas-style systemic reform is working as
advertised, then the robust achievement gains that TAAS reports should also be showing
up on other achievement tests such as the National Assessment of Educational Progress
(NAEP), Advanced Placement exams and tests for college admission." (Note 83)
In addition, the RAND Corporation recently used this same logic to investigate the
validity of impressive gains on Kentucky's high-stakes tests. The researchers compared
the students' performance on Kentucky's state test with their performance on comparable
tests such as the NAEP and the ACT. Gains on the state test did not match gains on the
NAEP or ACT tests. They concluded the Kentucky state test scores were seemingly
inflated and were not a meaningful indicator of increased student learning in Kentucky.
(Note 84)
In assessing the effects of testing in Texas, other RAND researchers noted "Evidence
regarding the validity of score gains on the TAAS can be obtained by investigating the
degree to which these gains are also present on other measures of these same skills."
(Note 85)
Because some test data from the states with high-stakes tests do not show evidence of
learning on some of the transfer measures, journalist Peter Schrag noted that "...the
unimpressive scores on other tests raise unavoidable questions about what the numbers
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really mean [on the high-stakes tests] and about the cost of their achievement." (Note 86)
The National Research Council also supports transfer measures of the type we use by
relying on such data in their own analysis. They note, with dismay, that "There is some
evidence to indicate that improved scores on one test may not actually carry over when a
new test of the same knowledge and skills is introduced." (Note 87)
Sampling concerns. In each state the ACT and SAT tests are designed to measure the
achievements of various percentages of the 60–70 percent of the total high school
students in a state who intend to go to college. Within each state these tests probably
attract a broad sample of students intending to go to college, while the AP tests are
probably given to a more restricted and higher achieving sample of students. But in all
three cases the samples are not representative of the state's high school graduates.
However, these are all high-stakes tests for the students, with each test influencing their
future. Thus, their motivation to do well on the state's high-stakes test and these other
indicators of achievement is likely to be similar. This leads to a conservative test of
transfer of learning, because it ought to be easier to find indicators of transfer, if it
occurs, among these generally higher ability, more motivated students, rather than in a
sample that included all the students in a state.
Motivation to achieve well may be diminished in the case of the NAEP because no
stakes are attached to those tests. But the NAEP state data is obtained from a random
sample of the states' schools, and thus may provide the most representative sample
among the four measures of transfer of learning we use. Nevertheless, even with NAEP
there is a problem. At each randomly selected school it is the local school personnel who
decide if individual students will participate in NAEP testing. As will become clear
later, sometimes the participation rates in NAEP testing seem suspect, leading to
concerns about the appropriateness of the NAEP sample, as well.
In each high-stakes state, from the year in which the first graduating class was required
to pass a high school graduation examination, we asked: What happened to achievement
in the domains assessed by the American College Test (ACT), in the domains assessed
by the Scholastic Achievement Test (SAT), in the domains assessed by the National
Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), (Note 88) and in the domains assessed by
the Advanced Placement (AP) tests. We asked also how participation rates in these
testing programs changed and might have affected interpretations of any effects found.
An archival time-series research design was chosen to examine the state-by-state and
year-to year data on each transfer measure. Time-series studies are particularly suited for
determining the degree to which large-scale social or governmental policies make an
impact. (Note 89) In archival time-series designs strings of observations of the variables
of interest are made before, and after, some policy is introduced. The effects of the
policy, if any, are apparent in the rise and fall of scores on the variable of interest.
We may consider the implementation of the state policy to engage in high-stakes testing
as the independent variable, or treatment, and the scores from year to year on the ACT,
SAT, NAEP and AP tests, before and after the implementation of high-stakes testing, as
four dependent variables of interest. Relationships between the treatments and effects
(between independent and dependent variables) are demonstrated by studying the pattern
in the trend lines before and after the intervention(s), that is, before and after it was
23 of 74
mandatory to pass state tests. (Note 90) Table 3 presents the dates at which high school
graduation requirements of this type were first introduced in the eighteen states under
study.
Table 3
Years in Which High School Graduation Exams
Affected Each Graduating Class (Note 91)
Graduating classes required to pass different
graduation exams to receive a regular high
school diploma.
State
Year in which the
state's 1st graduation
exam policy was
introduced
1st Exam
Class of...
2nd
Exam
Class of...
3rd Exam
Class of...
4th Exam
Class of...
5th
Exam
Class
of...
Alabama 1983 1985 1993 2001,
2002, 2003
Florida 1976 1979 1990 1996 2003
Georgia 1981 1984 1995 1997, 1998 Future
(Note 92)
Indiana 1996 2000
Louisiana 1989 1991 2003,
2004
Maryland 1981 1987 2007
Minnesota 1996 2000
Mississippi 1988 1989 2003,
2004,
2005,
20061
Nevada 1979 1981 1985 1992 1999 2003
New Jersey 1981 1984 1987 1995 2003,
2004,
2006
New
Mexico
1988 1990
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New York 1960s (Note 93) 1985 1995 2000,
2001,
2002,
2003,
2004, 2005
North
Carolina
1977 1980 1998
(Note 94)
2005
Ohio 1991 1991 1994 2007
South
Carolina
1986 1990 2005,
2006,
2007
Future
Tennessee 1982 1986 1998 2005
Texas 1980 1983
(Note 95)
1987 1992 2005
Virginia 1983 1986 2004
Two strategies were used to help evaluate the strength of the effects of the high-stakes
testing policy, and our confidence in those effects. First, data points before the
introduction of the tests provided baseline information. (Note 96) Whether changes in
the transfer measure occurred was determined by comparing the post intervention data
with the baseline or pre-intervention data. If there was a change in the trend line for the
data, just after intervention occurred, it was concluded that the treatment had an effect.
Secondly, national trend lines were positioned alongside state trend lines to help control
for normal fluctuations and extraneous influences on the data. (Note 97) The national
group was used as a nonequivalent comparison group to help estimate how the
dependent variable would have oscillated if there had been no treatment. (Note 98) The
national trend lines controlled for whether effects at the state level were genuine or just
reflections of national trends. Figure 2, using actual data from the state of Alabama, and
presented again in Appendix B, illustrates how the archival time series and our analyses
of effects worked.
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Figure 2. (From Appendix B) Analysis of the American College Test (ACT),
Alabama (Note 99)
Alabama implemented its 1st high school graduation exam in 1983. It was a prerequisite
for graduation that first affected the class of 1985. Alabama's 2nd exam first affected the
class of 1993. The enlarged diamond shape signifies the year before the 1st graduating
class was required to pass the exam. The policy intervention occurs in the year following
the large diamond. From these data we conclude that:
From 1984–1985 Alabama gained .1 point on the nation.
From 1984–1992 Alabama gained .3 points on the nation.
From 1992–1993 Alabama gained .1 point on the nation.
From 1992–2001 Alabama lost .1 point to the nation.
To interpret these data, one inspects the state trend line and notes from the bold diamond
shapes that there were two different points at which Alabama instituted high-stakes tests.
After the first test was implemented, there was a score gain on the ACT in Alabama.
(Note 100) After the second test there was an equally modest rise in Alabama's ACT
scores. But in each case the national trend line showed similar effects, which moderates
those conclusions. We can conclude from plotting the ACT scores each year that: 1)
there were, indeed, small short term gains on the ACT in the year after new high-stakes
tests were instituted; and 2) that the long term effects that may have occurred were
substantial after the first test, but resulted in a small negative effect after the second
high-stakes test was instituted. As can be seen, the national trend lines are quite
important for interpreting the effects of a high-stakes testing policy on a measure of
transfer.
A combined national trend line was used because the creation of a comparison group
from the 32 states with no or low stakes attached to their tests was not feasible.
Designation of which category a state was in changed from year to year so there were
never clear cases of "states with high-stakes tests" and a comparison group made up of
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"states without high-stakes tests" across the years. Using the combined national trend
line was the best comparison group available, even though this trend line included each
of the states that were under analysis and the other 17 states that we designated as
high-stakes states and were also the object of study. Because of these factors there are
some difficulties in the comparison of the state and national trend lines, perhaps
introducing some bias toward or against finding learning effects when comparing state
trend lines with the national trend lines. If such bias exists, we believe its effects would
be minimal.
Sources of Data
In an archival time series analysis, effects of the independent variable were measured
using historical records and data collected from agency and governmental archives (Note
101) and extensive telephone calls and emails to and from agency personnel and
directors. The following state-level data archives were collected:
American College Test (ACT)
ACT composite scores – 1980–2001
ACT participation rates – 1994–2001
SAT
SAT composite scores – 1977–2001
SAT participation rates – 1991–2001
National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP)
NAEP Grade 4 Mathematics composite scores – 1992, 1996, 2000
NAEP Grade 8 Mathematics composite scores – 1990, 1992, 1996,
2000
NAEP Grade 4 Reading composite scores – 1992, 1994, 1998
NAEP Grade 8 Reading composite scores – 1998
Advance Placement (AP)
Percentage of 11th / 12th graders who took AP exams 1991–2000
Percentage of 11th / 12th graders receiving a 3 or above 1995–2000
State summaries for each of the 18 states with the highest stakes written into their K–12
testing policies were constructed to facilitate the time series analysis. These are
presented in Appendix A. The summaries include contextual and historical information
about each state's testing policies. Each summary should help readers gain more insight
about each state's testing policies and the values each state attributes to high-stakes tests,
beyond the information offered in Table 1. Most importantly, each summary includes
background information regarding the key intervention points, or years in which
graduating seniors were first required to pass different versions of high school
graduation exams as summarized in Table 3. These intervention points were illustrated
in each archival time series graph, and each interpretation of state data relied on what
happened after these key points in time. The archival time series graphs for each of the
transfer measures we used are included in the different Appendices. The data associated
27 of 74
with each of the transfer measures will now be described.
The American College Test (ACT) and the
Scholastic Achievement Test (SAT)
The American College Test (ACT) (Note 102) and Scholastic Achievement Test (SAT)
(Note 103) are the two predominant entrance exams taken by students prior to enrolling
in higher education. College-bound students take the ACT or SAT to meet in-state or
out-of-state university enrollment requirements. Scores on these tests are used by college
admissions officers as indicators of ability and academic achievement and are used in
decisions about whether an applicant has the minimum level of knowledge to enter into,
and prosper, at the college to which they applied. Although many studies have been
conducted questioning the usefulness of these tests in predicting a student's actual
success after enrolling in college, they continue to be widely used by universities when
accepting students into their institutions.. (Note 104).
Despite questions about their predictive validity, both ACT and SAT scores can be
considered as sensible indicators of academic achievement in the domains that constitute
the general high school curriculum of the United States. Averaged at the state level, both
tests can be thought of as external and alternative indicators of achievement by the
students of a particular state. Both of these tests can serve as measures of transfer of
learning.
At this time, we know that the set of states without high-stakes tests perform better on
the ACT and SAT. We do not know, however, how performance on the ACT and SAT
tests changed after high school graduation exams were implemented in the 18 states that
have introduced high-stakes testing policies. The objective of the first section of this
inquiry is to answer this question.
There are, however, limitations to using these measures. For example, students who take
the ACT and SAT are college-bound students and do not represent all students in a
given state. But in 2001 38% and 45% of all graduating seniors took the ACT and the
SAT tests, respectively. Although the sample of students is not representative, we can
still use these scores to assess how high-stakes tests affected an average of
approximately 2 out of every 5 students across the nation. Additionally, because
participation rates vary by state we can use state participation rates to assess how in
some states high-stakes tests affected the academic performance of more than 75% of
graduating seniors.
It should be noted, as well, that some states are ACT states or states in which the
majority of high school seniors take the ACT. Other states are SAT states or states in
which the majority of high school seniors take the SAT. In Mississippi, for example,
only 4% of high school seniors took the SAT in 2001 but in that same year 89% of high
school seniors took the ACT. This would make Mississippi an ACT state. Whether
states with high-stakes tests are ACT or SAT states should be taken into consideration to
help us understand the sample of students who are taking the tests. If within Mississippi
only 4% of high school seniors took the SAT it can be assumed that those students were
probably among the brightest or most ambitious high school seniors in Mississippi.
These students probably take the SAT because they were seeking out-of-state
universities. Conversely, if 89% of high school seniors took the ACT, it can be assumed
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that those students were probably a bit less talented or ambitious seniors, predominantly
students trying to meet the requirements of the universities within the state of
Mississippi. It is likely, however, that this sample also includes those seeking entrance to
out of state universities that accept ACT scores. The participation rates for each test
helps to decipher whether different samples of college bound students performed
differently.
It should also be noted that the ACT and SAT tests are high-stakes tests. A student's
score does influence to which colleges a student may apply and in which colleges a
student may enroll. It seems likely, therefore, that students who take these tests are
trying to achieve the highest scores possible. This would deflate arguments that students
try harder on high school graduation exams than college entrance exams. If anything, the
opposite might be true.
The purpose in the next two analyses is to assess how student learning changed in the
domains represented by the ACT and SAT. Student scores and participation rates on
these tests will be examined in each state after high-stakes high school graduation tests
were implemented. Effects will be analyzed from the year in which the first graduating
class was required to pass a high school graduation exam. It is also the purpose of the
next two analyses to assess how high school seniors who are likely to be bound for
out-of-state colleges, and seniors likely to be bound for in-state colleges, performed after
high school graduation high-stakes exams were implemented.
American College Test (ACT)
The ACT data for each of the 18 states with high-stakes testing is included in Appendix
B. Short-term, long-term, (Note 105) and overall achievement trends on the ACT were
analyzed in the years following a states implementation of a high-stakes high school
graduation exam. These analyses are summarized in Appendix B as well. The data and
analysis for the state of Alabama, which we included as Figure 2, illustrated the way we
examined each state's ACT data. A summary of those trends across the 18 states with the
highest stakes is provided in Table 4.
Table 4
Results from the Analysis of ACT Scores (Note 106)
State Effect after
1st HSGE
Effect after
2nd HSGE
Effect after
3rd HSGE
Effect after
4th HSGE
Overall
Effects
Short
Term
Long
Term
Short
Term
Long
Term
Short
Term
Long
Term
Short
Term
Long
Term
Alabama 1984–'85
+0.1
1984–'92
+0.3
1992–'93
+0.1
1992–'01
–0.1
Positive
Florida n/a 1980–'89
–0.4
1989–'90
–0.1
1989–'95
–0.2
1995–'96
–0.3
(+2%)
1995–'01
–0.6
(+5%)
Negative
Georgia 1983–'84
+0.2
1983–'94
–0.5
1994–'95
–0.1 (0%)
1994–'01
–0.6
(0%)
Negative
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Indiana 1999–'00
+0.2
(–1%)
1999–'01
+0.2
(–1%)
Positive
Louisiana 1990–'91
0
1990–'01
–0.2
Negative
Maryland 1986–'87
+0.1
1986–'01
–0.6
Negative
Minnesota 1999–'00
–0.1
(0%)
1999–'01
0 (0%)
Negative
Mississippi 1988–'89
0
1988–'01
–0.4
Negative
Nevada 1980–'81
–0.1
1980–'84
+0.1
1984–'85
–0.3
1984–'91
+0.1
1991–'92
+0.2
1991–'98
+0.1
1998–'99
+0.1
(–1%)
1998–'01
–0.1
(–5%)
Positive
New Jersey 1983–'84
+0.3
1983–'86
–1.4
1986–'87
–0.2
1986–'94
–0.1
1994–'95
–0.5
(–1%)
1994–'01
–0.5
(–1%)
Negative
New
Mexico
1989–'90
+0.1
1989–'01
–0.5
Negative
New York 1984–'85
–0.2
1984–'94
–0.5
1994–'95
+0.1
(–1%)
1994–'01
+0.4
(–6%)
Negative
North
Carolina
1979–'80
n/a
1980–'97
–1.1
1997–'98
+0.1 (0%)
1997–'01
+0.4
(0%)
Negative
Ohio 1993–'94
+0.1
1993–'01
+0.1
Positive
South
Carolina
1989–'90
+0.1
1989–'01
–0.5
Negative
Tennessee 1985–'86
+0.3
1985–'97
–0.3
1997–'98
+0.1
(–7%)
1997–'01
+0.3
(–6%)
Positive
Texas 1986–'87
+0.2
1986–'91
+0.7
1991–1'92
0
1991–'01
0
Positive
Virginia 1985–'86
–0.1
1985–'01
–1.3
Negative
From Table 4, looking at all the states simultaneously, and in comparison to the nation,
we can evaluate short-term, long-term, and the overall effects of high stakes testing
policies.
Short-term effects. In the short term, ACT gains were posted 1.6 times more often than
losses after high school graduation exams were implemented. Short-term gains were
evident sixteen times, losses were evident ten times, and no apparent effects were
evident three times. But the gains and losses that occurred were partly artificial, because
the states' short-term changes in scores were correlated (–0.51 < r < 0.13) (Note 107) to
30 of 74
the states short-term changes in participation rates. This modest negative correlation
informs us that if the participation rate in ACT testing went down then the scores on the
ACT went up, and vice versa. Under these circumstances it is hard to defend the thesis
that there are reliable short-term gains from high-stakes tests.
Long-term effects. In the long term, and also in comparison to the nation, ACT losses
were posted 1.9 times more often than gains after high school graduation exams were
implemented. Long-term gains were evident ten times, losses were evident nineteen
times, and no apparent effects were evident two times. These gains and losses were
"real" given that the states' long-term changes in score were unrelated (r = –0.18) (Note
108) to the states' long-term changes in participation rates.
Overall effects. In comparison to the rest of the nation, negative ACT effects were
displayed 2 times more often than positive effects after high-stakes high school
graduation exams were implemented. Six states displayed overall positive effects, while
twelve states displayed overall negative effects. In this data set overall losses or gains
were unrelated to whether the percentage of students participating in the ACT increased
or decreased.
Assuming that the ACT can serve as an alternative measure of the same or a similar
domain as a state's high-stakes achievement tests, there is scant evidence of learning.
Although states may demonstrate increases in scores on their own high-stakes tests, it
appears that transfer of learning is not a typical outcome of their high-stakes testing
policy. Sixty-seven percent of the states that use high school graduation exams posted
decreases in ACT performance after high school graduation exams were implemented.
These decreases were unrelated to whether participation rates increased or decreased at
the same time. On average, the college-bound students in states with high school
graduation exams decreased in levels of academic achievement as measured by the ACT.
One additional point about the ACT data needs to be made. In ACT states (states in
which more than 50% of high school seniors took the ACT) students who are thought to
be headed for in-state colleges were just slightly (1.3 times) more likely to post negative
effects on the ACT. In SAT states (states in which less than 50% of high school seniors
took the ACT) the students who are more likely bound for out-of-state colleges were 2.7
times more likely to post negative effects on the ACT. If anything, high school
graduation exams hindered the performance of the brightest and most ambitious of the
students bound for out-of-state colleges. Seventy-three percent of the states in which less
than 50% of students take the ACT posted overall losses on the ACT.
Analysis of ACT Participation Rates. (Note 109) Just as ACT scores were used as
indicators of academic achievement, ACT participation rates were used as indicators of
the rates by which students in each state were planning to go to college. Arguably, if
high school graduation exams increased academic achievement in some broad and
general sense, an increase in the number of students pursuing a college degree would be
noticed. An indicator of that trend would be increased ACT participation rates over time.
So we examined changes in the rates by which students participated in ACT testing after
the year in which the first graduating class was required to pass a high school graduation
exam and for which data were available. These results are presented in Table 5.
Table 5
31 of 74
Results from the Analysis of ACT Participation Rates
State Year in which students
had to pass 1st HSGE
to graduate
Change in % of students taking
the ACT 1994–2001 as
compared to the nation*
Overall
Effects
Alabama 1985 +9% Positive
Florida 1979 +4% Positive
Georgia 1984 0% Neutral
Indiana 2000 –1% Negative
Louisiana 1991 +5% Positive
Maryland 1987 –1% Negative
Minnesota 2000 0% Neutral
Mississippi 1989 +14% Positive
Nevada 1981 –6% Negative
New Jersey 1985 –1% Negative
New
Mexico
1990 0% Neutral
New York 1985 –6% Negative
North
Carolina
1980 +2% Positive
Ohio 1994 +2% Positive
32 of 74
South
Carolina
1990 +15% Positive
Tennessee 1986 +10% Positive
Texas 1987 –2% Negative
Virginia 1986 +4% Positive
*1999–2001 data were used for Indiana and Minnesota.
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From this analysis we learn that from 1994–2001 ACT participation rates, as compared
to the nation, increased in 50% of the states with high school graduation exams. When
compared to the nation, participation rates increased in nine states, decreased in six
states, and stayed the same in three states. Thus there is scant support for the belief that
high-stakes testing policies within a state have an impact on the rate of college
attendance.
The Scholastic Achievement Test (SAT)
The SAT data for each of the 18 states with high-stakes testing is included in Appendix
C. Short-term, long-term, and overall achievement trends were analyzed following the
states' implementation of their high-stakes high school graduation exam and these
analyses are summarized in Appendix C, as well. The state of Florida was randomly
chosen from this data set to illustrate what a time series for the SAT looks like. These
data are provided in Figure 3. A summary of those trends across the 18 high-stakes
testing states is provided in Table 6.
Figure 3. Florida: SAT scores
Florida implemented its 1st high school graduation exam in 1976. It was a prerequisite
for graduation that first affected the class of 1979. Florida's 2nd exam first affected the
class of 1990 and its 3rd exam the class of 1996 – see points of intervention (diamonds)
enlarged to signify the year before the 1st graduating class was required to pass each
exam:
From 1978–1979 Florida gained 6 points on the nation.
From 1978–1989 Florida lost 4 points to the nation.
From 1989–1990 Florida gained 2 points on the nation.
From 1989–1995 Florida lost 2 points to the nation.
From 1995–1996 Florida lost 2 points to the nation.
From 1995–2001 Florida lost 6 points to the nation.
34 of 74
Table 6
Results from the Analysis of SAT Scores Across the States (Note 110)
State
Effect after 1st
HSGE
Effect after 2nd
HSGE
Effect after 3rd
HSGE
Effect after 4th
HSGE
Overall
Effects
Short
Term
Long
Term
Short
Term
Long
Term
Short
Term
Long
Term
Short
Term
Long
Term
Alabama 1984–85
+13
1984–92
+23
1992–93
+7 (0%)
1992–01
+4 (–2%)
Positive
Florida 1978–79
+6
1978–89
–4
1989–90
+2
1989–95
–2
1995–96
–2 (0%)
1995–01
–6
(+2%)
Negative
Georgia 1983–84
0
1983–94
+21
1994–95
–2
(+1%)
1994–2001
+10 (–5%)
Positive
Indiana 1999–00
+2
1999–01
+2
Positive
Louisiana 1990–91
+3
1990–01
+19
Positive
Maryland 1986–87
+3
1986–01
–6
Negative
Minnesota 1999–00
–12
1999–01
–19
Negative
Mississippi 1988–89
–13
1988–01
+7
Negative
Nevada 1980–81
+3
1980–84
–6
1984–85
–16
1984–91
–10
1991–92
+1
(+2%)
1991–98
–15
1998–99
+7
1998–01
–2
Negative
New Jersey 1983–84
–2
1983–86
+2
1986–87
+4
1986–94
+8
1994–95
–2 (0%)
1994–01
+1
(+7%)
Positive
New
Mexico
1989–90
–3
1989–01
–29
Negative
New York 1984–85
–3
1984–94
–11
1994–95
–3
(–1%)
1994–2001
–6 (–2%)
Negative
North
Carolina
1980–81
+7
1980–97
+32
1997–98
+3
1997–01
+10
Positive
Ohio 1993–94
+7
1993–01
–1
Positive
South
Carolina
1989–90
+2
1989–01
+15
Positive
Tennessee 1985–86
–3
1985–97
+8
1997–98
+1
1997–01
–9 (–3%)
Negative
Texas 1986–87
–2
1986–91
+7
1991–92
–1 (0%)
1991–01
–8 (+6%)
Negative
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Short–term effects. Looking across all the states simultaneously, and in comparison to
the nation, we see that in the short term, SAT gains were posted 1.3 times more often
than losses after high school graduation exams were implemented. Short-term gains
were posted seventeen times, losses were posted thirteen times, and no apparent effects
were posted once. But the gains and losses that occurred were partly artificial because
the states' short-term changes in scores were related (–0.60 < r < 0.38) to the states
short-term changes in participation rates. The negative correlations inform us that if the
participation rate in SAT testing went down the scores on the SAT went up, and vice
versa. The modest positive correlations inform us that in a few cases if the participation
rate in SAT testing went down the scores on the SAT went down, and vice versa. Under
these circumstances it is hard to defend the thesis that there are any reliable short-term
gains on measures of general learning associated with high-stakes tests.
Long-term effects. In the long term, and also in comparison to the nation, SAT losses
were posted 1.1 times more often than gains after high school graduation exams were
implemented. Long-term gains were evident fifteen times, and losses were evident
sixteen times. These gains and losses were partly artificial, however, given that the
states' long-term changes in score were negatively correlated (r = –0.41) to the changes
in participation rates for taking the SAT. The fewer students taking the test, the higher
the SAT scores, and vice versa.
Overall effects. In comparison to the rest of the nation, negative SAT effects were posted
1.3 times more often than positive effects after high school graduation exams were
implemented. Eight states displayed overall positive effects, while ten states displayed
overall negative effects. But the gains or losses in score were related to increases and
decreases in the percentage of students participating in the SAT. Thus it is hard to
attribute any effects on the SAT to the implementation of high-stakes testing.
If we assume that the SAT is an alternative measure of the same or a similar domain as a
state's own high-stakes achievement tests, then there is scant evidence of learning.
Although states may demonstrate increases in scores on their own high-stakes tests, it
appears that transfer of learning is not a typical outcome of their high-stakes testing
policy. Fifty-six percent of the states that use high school graduation exams posted
decreases in SAT performance after high school graduation exams were implemented.
However, these decreases were slightly related to whether SAT participation rates
increased or decreased at the same time. Thus, there is no reliable evidence that
high-stakes high school graduation exams improve the performance of students who take
the SAT. Gains and losses in SAT scores are more related to who participates in the
SAT than the implementation of high school graduation exams.
One additional point about the SAT data needs to be made. In SAT states (states in
which more than 50% of high school seniors took the SAT) students who are thought to
be headed for in-state colleges were equally likely to post negative and positive effects
on the SAT. In ACT states (states in which less than 50% of high school seniors took the
SAT) the students who are more likely bound for out-of-state colleges were 1.7 times
more likely to post negative effects on the SAT. If anything, high school graduation
exams hindered the performance of the brightest and most ambitious of the students
bound for out-of-state colleges. Sixty-three percent of the states in which less than 50%
of students take the SAT posted overall losses on the SAT.
Analysis of SAT Participation Rates. Just as SAT scores were used as indicators of
36 of 74
academic achievement, SAT participation rates were used as indicators of the rates by
which students in each state were planning to go to college. Arguably, if high school
graduation exams increased academic achievement in some broad and general sense, an
increase in the number of students pursuing a college degree would be noticed. An
indicator of that trend would be increased SAT participation rates. So we examined
changes in the rates by which students participated in SAT testing after the year in which
the first graduating class was required to pass a high school graduation exam and for
which data were available. These results are presented in Table 7.
Table 7
Results from the Analysis of SAT Participation Rates
State Year students must pass
1st HSGE to graduate
Change in % of students taking the SAT
1991–2001 as compared to the nation*
Overall
Effects
Alabama 1985 –2% Negative
Florida 1979 +3% Positive
Georgia 1984 –2% Negative
Indiana 2000 –1% Negative
Louisiana 1991 –5% Negative
Maryland 1987 –2% Negative
Minnesota 2000 –1% Negative
Mississippi 1989 –3% Negative
Nevada 1981 +5% Positive
New Jersey 1985 +4% Positive
New Mexico 1990 –2% Negative
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New York 1985 –1% Negative
North
Carolina
1980 +5% Positive
Ohio 1994 +2% Positive
South
Carolina
1990 –4% Negative
Tennessee 1986 –2% Negative
Texas 1987 +6% Positive
Virginia 1986 +5% Positive
* 1993–2001 data were used for Ohio and 2000–2001 data were used for Indiana and Minnesota.
Participation rates were not available for 1998 and 1999.
From this analysis we learn that from 1991–2001 (1993–2001 in Ohio, and 2000–2001
in Indiana and Minnesota) SAT participation rates, as compared to the nation, fell in
61% of the states with high school graduation exams. Participation rates in the SAT
increased in seven states and decreased in eleven states. There is scant support for the
belief that high-stakes testing policies will increase the rate of college attendance.
Students did not participate in the SAT testing program at greater rates after high-stakes
high school graduation exams were implemented.
National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP)
Some may argue that using ACT and SAT scores to assess the effects of high school
graduation exams is illogical because high school graduation exams are specifically
intended to raise the achievement levels of those students who are the most likely to fail
– the poor, in general, and poor racial minorities, in particular. These students do not
take the ACT or SAT in great numbers. But the effects of high-stakes policies on these
particular populations can be assessed with data from the National Assessment of
Educational Progress.(Note 111)
The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), commonly known as ‘the
nation's report card," is the test administered by the federal government to monitor the
condition of education in the nation's schools. NAEP began in 1969 as a national
assessment of three different age or grade levels, for which students were randomly
sampled and tested to provide information about the outcomes of the nation's various
educational systems. In 1990 NAEP was expanded to provide information at the state
level, allowing for the first time state-to-state comparisons.
States that volunteered to participate in NAEP could gauge how they performed in math
38 of 74
and reading in comparison to each other and to the nation, overall. This way states could
assess the effects of the particular educational policies they had implemented. Under
President Bush's national education policy, however, states are required to take the
NAEP because it is believed to be the most robust and stable instrument the nation has
to gauge learning and educational progress across all states.(Note 112) The federal
government believes, as we do, that NAEP exams can be used to asses transfer, that
NAEP is an alternate measure of the domains that are assessed by each of the states.
Weaknesses of the NAEP. It is proper to acknowledge that the NAEP has a number of
weaknesses influencing interpretations of the data that we offer below. First, state level
NAEP data pertain only to 4th and 8th grade achievement. The national student data set
includes 12th grade data as well, and some additional subjects are tested, but at the state
levels, only 4th and 8th grade achievement is measured. Given these circumstances it is
not logical to attempt an assessment of the effects of implementing a high school
graduation exam, or any other exam that is usually administered at the high school level,
by analyzing NAEP tests given at the 4th or 8th grade. On the other hand, it is not
illogical to make the assumption that other state reform policies went into effect at or
around the same time as high-stakes high school graduation exams were put into place,
including the use of other high-stakes tests at lower grade levels.(Note 113) The
usefulness of the NAEP analyses that follow rest on the assumption that states' other
K–12 high-stakes testing policies were implemented at or around the same time as each
state's high school graduation exam. Table 1 describes these policies, and these policies
are elaborated on in Appendix A. Other researchers who have used NAEP data to draw
conclusions about the effects of high-stakes tests have used this logic and methodology
as well.(Note 114)
Secondly, the NAEP does not have stakes attached to it. Students who are randomly
selected to participate do not have to perform their best. However, because each student
only takes small sections of the test, students appear to be motivated to do well and the
scores appear to be trustworthy.(Note 115)
Third, states like North Carolina have aligned their state-administered exams with the
NAEP, making for state-mandated tests that are very similar to the NAEP.(Note 116) In
such cases gains in score on the NAEP may be related to similarities in test content
rather than actual increases in school learning. States that align their tests with the NAEP
have an unfair advantage over other states that aligned their tests with their state
standards, but such imitative forms of testing occur. State tests that look much like the
NAEP will probably become more common now that President Bush is attempting to
attach stakes to the NAEP, and this will, of course, make the NAEP much less useful as
a yardstick to assess if genuine learning of the domains of interest is taking place.
Finally, when analyzing NAEP data it is important to pay attention to who is actually
tested. The NAEP sampling plan uses a multi-stage random sampling technique. In each
participating state, school districts are randomly sampled. Then, schools within districts
are randomly sampled. And then, students within schools are randomly sampled. Once
the final list of participants is drawn, school personnel sift through the list and remove
students who they have classified as Limited English Proficient (LEP) or who have
Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) as part of their special education programs. Local
personnel are required to follow "carefully defined criteria" in making determinations as
to whether potential participants are "capable of participating."(Note 117) In short,
although the NAEP uses random sampling techniques, not all students sampled are
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actually tested. The exclusion of these students biases NAEP results.
Illusion from exclusion. Walter Haney found that exclusion rates explained gains in
NAEP scores and vice versa. Texas, for example, was one state in which large gains in
NAEP scores were heralded as proof that high-stakes tests do, indeed, improve student
achievement. But Haney found that the percentages of students excluded from
participating in the NAEP increased at the same time that large gains in scores were
noted. Exclusion rates increased at both grade levels escalating from 8% to 11% at grade
4 and from 7% to 8% at grade 8 from 1992–1996. Meanwhile, in contrast, exclusion
rates declined at both grade levels at the national level during this same time period,
decreasing from 8% to 6% at grade 4 and from 7% to 5% at grade 8. Haney, therefore,
termed the score gains in Texas an "illusion arising from exclusion."(Note 118)
Unfortunately, however, such illusions from exclusions hold true across the other states
that use high-stakes tests. For example, North Carolina was the other state in which large
gains in NAEP scores were heralded as proof that high-stakes testing programs improve
student achievement. On the 4th grade NAEP math test North Carolina recorded an
average composite score of 212 in 1992 and an average composite score of 232 in 2000.
The nation's composite score increased from 218 to 226 over the same time period.
North Carolina gained 20 points while the nation gained 8, making for what would seem
to be a remarkable 12-point gain over the nation, the largest gain made by any state. But
North Carolina excluded 4% of its LEP and IEP students in 1992 and 13% of its LEP
and IEP students in 2000. Meanwhile, the nation's exclusion rate decreased from 8% to
7% over the same time period. North Carolina excluded 9% more of its LEP and IEP
students while the nation excluded 1% less making for a 10% divergence between North
Carolina's and the nation's exclusion rates from 1992–2000. North Carolina's grade 4
math 1992–2000 exclusion rates increased 325% while the nation's exclusion rate
decreased. In addition, North Carolina's grade 8 math 1992–2000 exclusion rates
increased 467% while the nation's exclusion rate stayed the same.
There is little doubt that the relative gains posted by North Carolina were partly, if not
entirely, artificial given the enormous relative increase in the rates by which North
Carolina excluded students from participating in the NAEP. The Heisenberg Uncertainty
Principle appears to be at work in both Texas and North Carolina, leading to distortions
and corruptions of the data, giving rise to uncertainty about the meaning of the scores on
the NAEP tests.
North Carolina and Texas, however, are not the only states in which exclusionary trends
were observed. In states with high-stakes tests, between 0%–49% of the gains in NAEP
scores can be explained by increases in rates of exclusion. Similarly, 0%–49% of the
losses in score can be explained by decreases in rates of exclusion over the same
years.(Note 119) The more recent the data, the more the variance in NAEP scores can be
explained by changes in exclusion rates. In short, states that are posting gains are
increasingly excluding students from the assessment. This is happening with greater
frequency as time passes from one NAEP test to the next. That is, as the stakes attached
to the NAEP become higher, the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle in assessment
apparently is having its effects, with distortions and corruptions of the assessment
system becoming more evident.
The state scores on the NAEP math and reading tests, at grades 4 and 8, will be used in
our analysis to test the effects on learning from using high-stakes tests in states that have
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implemented high-stakes high school graduation exams. Given that exclusion rates
affect gains and losses in score, however, state exclusion rates will be presented along
side the relative gains or losses posted by each state. In this way readers can make their
own judgments about whether year-to-year gains in score are likely to be "true" or
"artificial." The gains and losses in scores and exclusion rates have all been calculated in
comparison to the pooled national data.
Analysis of NAEP Grade 4 Math Scores
For each state, after high-stakes tests were implemented, an analysis of NAEP
mathematics achievement scores was conducted. The state of Georgia was randomly
chosen to serve as an example of the analysis we did on the grade 4 NAEP math tests
(see Figure 4). The logic of this analysis rests on two assumptions. First, that high-stakes
tests and other reforms were implemented in all grades at or around the same time, or
soon after high-stakes high school graduation exams were implemented. Second, that
such high-stakes test programs and the reform efforts that accompany them should affect
learning in the different mathematics domains that make up the K–4 curriculum. NAEP
is a test derived from the K–4 mathematics domains.
Figure 4. NAEP Math, Grade 4: Georgia
Trend lines and analytic comments for all the other states are included in Appendix D. A
summary of these data across all 18 states is presented as Table 8.
Georgia implemented its 1st high school graduation exam in 1984. Assuming that other
stakes attached to Georgia's K–8 tests (see Table 1) were attached at or around the same
time or some time thereafter:
From 1992–1996 Georgia lost 4 points to the nation.
From 1996–2000 Georgia gained 4 points, as did the nation.
From 1992–2000 Georgia lost 4 points to the nation.
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Table 8
Results from the Analysis of NAEP Math Grade 4 Scores
State Year in
which
students
had to
pass 1st
HSGE to
graduate
1992–1996
Change in
score
1992–1996
Change in
%
excluded
1996–2000
Change in
score
1996–2000
Change in
%
excluded
1992–2000
Change in
score
1992–2000
Change in
%
excluded
Overall
Effects
Alabama 1985 0 +3% +2 –1% +2 +2% Positive
Florida 1979 –2 n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a Negative
Georgia 1984 –4 +4% 0 –1% –4 +3% Negative
Indiana 2000 n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a
Louisiana 1991 +1 +6% +5 –1% +6 +5% Positive
Maryland 1987 –1 +6% –2 0% –3 +6% Negative
Minnesota 2000 n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a
Mississippi 1989 +2 +3% –1 –3% +1 0% Positive
Nevada 1981 n/a n/a –1 0% n/a n/a Negative
New Jersey 1984 –4 n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a Negative
New
Mexico
1990 –3 +7% –4 –1% –7 +6% Negative
New York 1985 0 +5% 0 +3% 0 +8% Neutral
North
Carolina
1980 +8 +5% +4 +5% +12 +10% Positive
Ohio 1994 +2 n/a +2 n/a +4 +5% Positive
South
Carolina
1990 –3 +3% +3 0% 0 +3% Neutral
Tennessee 1986 +4 +4% –3 –3% +1 +1% Positive
Texas 1987 +7 +4% 0 +4% +7 +8% Positive
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The time period 1992–1996. From Table 8, in comparison to the nation as a whole, we
see that the states that implemented high-stakes tests 1 or more years before 1996 posted
losses 1.2 times more often than gains on the 1992–1996 grade 4 NAEP math tests. Six
states posted gains, seven states posted losses, and two states posted no changes, as
compared to the nation. Thus, only 40% of the states with high-stakes tests posted gains
from 1992–1996. These gains and losses may be considered "real" given that the states'
1992–1996 changes in score were unrelated (r = 0) to the states' 1992–1996 exclusion
rates.
The time period 1996–2000. Table 8 also reveals that on the 1996–2000 grade 4 NAEP
math tests the states that implemented high-stakes tests 1 or more years before 2000
posted gains 1.2 times more often than losses, as compared to the nation. Six states
posted gains, five states posted losses, and three states posted no changes as compared to
the nation. Thus, only 43% of the states with high-stakes tests posted gains from
1996–2000. These gains and losses, however, were partly artificial since the states'
1996–2000 changes in score were positively correlated (r = 0.45) with the states'
1996–2000 exclusion rates.
The time period 1992–2000. Table 8 also reveals that states that implemented
high-stakes tests 1 or more years before 2000 posted gains 2.7 times more often than
losses. Another way to look at these data is to note that these states were 1.6 times more
likely to show gains rather than losses or no changes on the grade 4 NAEP math tests
over the time period from 1992–2000. Eight states posted gains, three states posted
losses, and two states posted no changes as compared to the nation. Thus, gains were
posted by 62% of the states with high-stakes tests from 1992–2000. But these gains and
losses were partly artificial given that the states' 1992–2000 changes in score were
positively correlated (r = 0.39) to the states' 1992–2000 exclusion rates. The higher the
percent of students excluded, the higher the NAEP scores obtained by a state. Because of
the correlation we found between exclusion rates and scores on the NAEP, there is
uncertainty about the meaning of those improved scores.
The overall data set. In the years for which data were available, across all time periods,
the implementation of high-stakes tests resulted in positive effects 1.3 times more often
than negative effects on the grade 4 NAEP tests in mathematics. Eight states displayed
positive effects, six states displayed negative effects, and two states displayed neutral
effects. Thus, in comparison to national trends, 50% of the states with high-stakes tests
posted positive effects but these gains and losses were partly artificial, given that the
overall positive or negative changes in score were related to changes in the overall state
exclusion rates.
In short, when compared to the nation as a whole, high-stakes testing policies did not
usually lead to improvement in the performance of students on the grade 4 NAEP math
tests between 1992 and 2000. Gains and losses were more likely to be related to who
was excluded from the NAEP than to the effects of high-stakes testing programs in a
state. In the 1992–1996 time period, when participation rates were unrelated to gains and
losses, the academic achievement of students may have even been thwarted in those
states where high-stakes testing was implemented. High-stakes tests within states
probably had a differential impact on students from racial minority and economically
disadvantaged backgrounds.
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Analysis of NAEP Grade 8 Math Scores
For each state, after high-stakes tests had been implemented, an analysis of NAEP
mathematics achievement scores was conducted. The state of Mississippi was randomly
chosen to serve as an example of the analysis we did on the grade 8 NAEP math tests
(see Figure 5). The logic of this analysis rests on two assumptions. First, that high-stakes
tests and other reforms were implemented in all grades at or around the same time, or
soon after high-stakes high school graduation exams were implemented. Second, that
such high-stakes test programs should affect learning in the different mathematics
domains that make up the K–8 curriculum. NAEP is a test derived from the domains that
make up the K–8 curriculum.
Figure 5. Mississippi – NAEP math grade 8
Mississippi implemented its 1st high school graduation exam in 1988. Assuming that the
stakes attached to Mississippi's K–8 tests (see Table 1) were attached at or around the
same time or some time thereafter. From 1990–1992 Mississippi data were not available.
From 1992–1996 Mississippi gained 4 points, as did the nation. From 1996–2000
Mississippi gained 4 points, as did the nation. From 1990–2000 Mississippi NAEP data
were not available.
All other states' trend lines and analytic comments are included in Appendix E. A
summary of these data across all 18 states is presented as Table 9.
Table 9
Results from the Analysis of NAEP Math Grade 8 Scores
State Year in
which
students
1990–
92
1990–1
92
1992–
96
1992– 96
Change
1996–
00
1996– 00
Change
1990–
00
1990–00
Change
Overall
Effects
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had to
pass 1st
HSGE to
graduate
Change
in
score
Change
in %
excluded
Change
in
score
in %
excluded Change
in
score
in %
excluded Change
in
score
in %
excluded
Alabama 1985 –6 –2% 0 +4% +2 –4% –4 –2% Negative
Florida 1979 –1 n/a 0 n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a Negative
Georgia 1984 –5 0% –1 +4% 0 –2% –6 +2% Negative
Indiana 2000 n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a
Louisiana 1991 –1 –2% –2 +4% +3 –2% 0 0 Neutral
Maryland 1987 –1 –2% +1 +4% +2 +2% +2 +4% Positive
Minnesota 2000 n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a
Mississippi 1989 0 n/a 0 +2% n/a n/a n/a n/a Neutral
Nevada 1981 n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a
New Jersey 1984 n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a
New
Mexico
1990 –2 –3% –2 +5% –6 +2% –10 +4% Negative
New York 1985 0 0% 0 +2% +2 +3% +2 +5% Positive
North
Carolina
1980 +3 –2% +6 +3% +8 +8% +17 +9% Positive
Ohio 1994 –1 –1% +3.5 n/a +3.5 n/a +6 +2% Positive
South
Carolina
1990 n/a n/a –4 +2% +2 –1% n/a n/a Negative
Tennessee 1986 n/a n/a +1 +1% –4 –1% n/a n/a Negative
Texas 1987 +2 –1% +1 +4% +1 –1% +4 +2% Positive
Virginia 1986 –2 –2% –2 +4% +3 +1% –1 +3% Negative
The time period 1990–1992. Table 9 reveals that, in comparison to the nation as a
whole, states that implemented high-stakes tests one or more years before 1992 posted
losses 4 times more often than gains on the 1990–1992 grade 8 NAEP math tests.
Compared to the nation, two states posted gains, eight states posted losses, and two
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states posted no change. Over this time period gains on the NAEP tests were posted by
17% of the states with high-stakes tests. These gains and losses were "real" given that
the states' 1990–1992 changes in score were unrelated (r = 0) to the states' 1990–1992
exclusion rates.
The time period 1992–1996. Table 9 also reveals that states that implemented
high-stakes tests 1 or more years before 1996 were as likely to post gains as losses on the
1992–1996 grade 8 NAEP math tests. Five states posted gains, five states posted losses,
and four states posted no changes as compared to the nation. Thus, from 1992–1996
only 36% of the states with high-stakes tests posted gains. These gains and losses were
"real" given that the states' 1992–1996 changes in score were unrelated (r = 0) to the
states' 1992–1996 exclusion rates.
The time period 1996–2000. Looking at the grade 8 NAEP math tests over the
1996–2000 time period we see that states that implemented high-stakes tests 1 or more
years before 2000 posted gains 4.5 times more often than losses. Nine states posted
gains, two states posted losses, and one state posted no changes, as compared to the
nation. Thus, in the time period from 1996–2000 gains were posted by 75% of the states
with high-stakes tests, but those NAEP scores were related to whether exclusion rates
increased or decreased over the same time period, raising some uncertainty about the
authenticity of these gains. Gains and losses during this time period must be considered
partly artificial given that the states' 1996–2000 changes in score were positively related
(r = 0.35) to the states' 1996–2000 exclusion rates.
The time period 1990–2000. Looking over the long term, states that implemented
high-stakes tests one or more years before 2000 posted gains 1.3 times more often than
losses on the 1990–2000 grade 8 NAEP math tests. Five states posted gains, four states
posted losses, and one state posted no changes as compared to the nation. These gains
and losses were partly artificial, however, given that the states' 1996–2000 changes in
score were substantially related (r = 0.53) to the states' 1990–2000 exclusion rates.
Overall, across the years for which data were available, the states that had implemented
high-stakes tests displayed negative effects 1.4 times more often than positive effects.
Five states displayed positive effects, seven states displayed negative effects, and two
states displayed neutral effects. Another way of interpreting these data is that 36% of the
states with high-stakes tests posted positive effects from 1990–2000 on the grade 8
NAEP math examinations, while losses were posted by 50% of the states with
high-stakes tests over this same time period. These gains and losses were partly
artificial, however, given that the overall positive or negative changes in score were
related to overall exclusion rates.
In short, there is no compelling evidence that high-stakes testing policies have improved
the performance of students on the grade 8 NAEP math tests. Gains were more related to
who was excluded from the NAEP than to whether there were high-stakes tests being
used or not. If anything, the weight of the evidence suggests that high-stakes tests
thwarted the academic achievement of students in these states.
Analysis of the Grade 4 NAEP Reading Scores
For each state, after high-stakes tests had been implemented, an analysis of NAEP
reading achievement scores was conducted. The state of Virginia was randomly chosen
46 of 74
to serve as an example of the analysis we did on the grade 4 NAEP reading tests (see
Figure 6). The logic of this analysis rests on two assumptions. First, that high-stakes
tests and other reforms were implemented in all grades at or around the same time, or
soon after high-stakes high school graduation exams were implemented. Second, that
such high-stakes test programs should affect learning in the different domains of reading
that make up the K–4 curricula. NAEP is a test derived from the various domains that
constitute the K–4 reading curriculum.
Figure 6. Virginia – NAEP reading grade 4
Virginia implemented its 1st high school graduation exam around 1981. Assuming that
the stakes attached to Virginia's K–8 tests (see Table 1) were attached at or around the
same time or some time thereafter 1) From 1992–1994 Virginia lost 5 points to the
nation; 2) From 1994–1998 Virginia gained 2 points on the nation; 3) From 1992–1998
Virginia lost 3 points to the nation. Trend lines and analytic comments for all other
states are included in Appendix F. A summary of these data across all 18 states is
presented as Table 10.
Table 10
Results from the analysis of NAEP reading grade 4 scores
State Year in
which
students
had to
pass 1st
HSGE to
graduate
1992–94
Change
in score
1992–94
Change
in %
excluded
1994–98
Change
in score
1994–98
Change
in %
excluded
1992–98
Change
in score
1992–98
Change
in %
excluded
Overall
Effects
Alabama 1985 +4 –1% 0 +4% +4 +3% Positive
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Florida 1979 0 +1% 1 –1% –1 0% Negative
Georgia 1984 –2 0% 0 +2% –2 +2% Negative
Indiana 2000 n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a
Louisiana 1991 –4 +2% +4 +7% 0 +9% Neutral
Maryland 1987 +2 0% +2 +3% +4 +3% Positive
Minnesota 2000 n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a
Mississippi 1989 +6 +1% –1 2% +5 –1% Positive
Nevada 1981 n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a
New Jersey 1984 n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a
New
Mexico
1990 –3 0% –2 +3% 5 +3% Negative
New York 1985 0 +2% +1 0% +1 +2% Positive
North
Carolina
1980 +5 +1% 0 +6% +5 +7% Positive
Ohio 1994 n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a
South
Carolina
1990 –4 +1% +4 +5% 0 +6% Neutral
Tennessee 1986 +4 +1% –4 –1% 0 0% Neutral
Texas 1987 +2 +3% +2 +3% +4 +6% Positive
Virginia 1986 –5 +1% +2 +2% –3 +3% Negative
The time period 1992–1994. We note in Table 10 that on the grade 4 reading test, during
the time period 1992–1994, states that implemented high-stakes tests 1 or more years
before 1994 posted gains 1.2 times more often than losses, in comparison to the nation.
Compared to national trends six states posted gains, five states posted losses, and two
states posted no changes at all. Thus, only 46% of the states with high-stakes tests posted
gains from 1992–1994. These gains and losses were "real" given that the states' changes
in score for the time period 1992–1994 were virtually unrelated (r = –0.10) to the states'
exclusion rates.
The time period 1994–1998. Table 10 also reveals that those states implementing
high-stakes tests 1 or more years before 1998 posted gains 1.5 times more often than
losses when compared to national trends. Six states posted gains, four states posted
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losses, and three states posted no changes when compared to the national trends. Thus,
only 46% of the states with high-stakes tests from 1994–1998 posted gains. These gains
and losses were partly artificial, however, given that the states' 1994–1998 changes in
score were strongly correlated (r = 0.63) to the states' 1994–1998 exclusion rates.
The time period 1992–1998. Table 10 also informs us that states implementing
high-stakes tests 1 or more years before 1998 posted gains 1.5 times more often than
losses in comparison to the national trends during the time period 1992–1998. Six states
posted gains, four states posted losses, and three states posted no changes in comparison
to national trends. Thus, only 46% of the states with high-stakes tests posted positive
effects from 1992–1998 on the NAEP grade 4 reading test. The gains and losses may be
considered "real" given that the states' 1992–1998 changes in score were virtually
unrelated (r = 0.11) to the states' changes in 1992–1998 exclusion rates.
In short, in comparison to the national trends, high-stakes tests did not improve the
learning of students as judged by their performance on the NAEP grade 4 reading test.
This was clearest in the time periods from 1992–1994 and from 1992–1998. The
learning effects over these years were unrelated to the rates by which students were
excluded from the NAEP. We note, however, that in 1998 75% of the states with
high-stakes tests had 1998 exclusion rates that were higher than the nation. Given the
typical positive (and substantial) correlation between increased exclusion rates and
increased NAEP scores, states' gains and losses in score need to be carefully evaluated.
If anything, in comparison to national trends, the academic achievement of students in
states with high-stakes testing policies seemed to be lower, particularly for students from
minority backgrounds.
NAEP Cohort Analyses
Another way of investigating growth in achievement on measures other than states'
high-stakes tests is to look at each state's cohort trends on the NAEP.(Note 122) The
NAEP analyses preceding this section gauged the achievement trends of different
samples of students over time, for example, 4th graders in one year compared to a
different group of 4th graders a few years later. There is a slight weakness with this
approach because we must compare students in one year with a different set of students
a few years later. We are unable to control for differences between the different groups
or cohorts of students.(Note 123) To compensate for this we did a cohort analysis, an
analysis of the growth in achievement made by "similar" groups of students over time.
This is possible because NAEP uses random samples of students. Thus the 4th graders in
1996 should be representative of the same population of 8th graders tested four years
later. Random sampling techniques made the groups of students similar enough so that
the achievement effects made by the "same" (statistically the same) students can be
tracked over time.(Note 124) Analyzing cohort trends in the 18 states with high-stakes
tests helped assess the degree to which students increased in achievement as they
progressed through school systems that were exerting more pressures for school
improvement, including the use of high-stakes tests. We examined the growth of these
students by tracking the relative changes in math achievement of 4th graders in 1996 to
8th graders in 2000, and by looking at the reading achievement of 4th graders in 1994 to
that of 8th graders in 1998. The changes we record for each state are all relative to the
national trends on the respective NAEP tests.
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Cohort Analysis of NAEP Mathematics Scores: Grade 4 (1996) to
Grade 8 (2000)
The state of New York was randomly chosen to serve as an example of the analysis we
did for the NAEP mathematics cohort over the years 1996 to 2000 (see Figure 7). The
logic of this analysis rests on the same two assumptions as previous NAEP analyses.
First, that high-stakes tests and other reforms were implemented in all grades at or
around the same time, or soon after high-stakes high school graduation exams were
implemented. Second, that such high-stakes test programs should affect learning in the
different domains of mathematics from which NAEP is derived.
Figure 7. New York by cohort: NAEP math grade 4 1996 to grade 8 2000
New York implemented its 1st high school graduation exam around 1981. Assuming
that the stakes attached to New York's K–8 tests (see Table 1) were attached at or around
the same time or some time thereafter, from 4th grade in 1996 to 8th grade in 2000 New
York gained 1 point on the nation. Trend lines and analytic comments for all other states
are included in Appendix G. A summary of these data across all 18 states is presented as
Table 11.
Table 11
Results from the Analysis of NAEP Math Cohort Trends
State Year in which students
had to pass 1st HSGE
to graduate
Change in score
from grade 4 1996
to grade 8 2000
Change in % excluded
from grade 4 1996 to
grade 8 2000
Overall
Effects
1996–00
Alabama 1985 –2 –2% Negative
Florida 1979 n/a n/a n/a
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Georgia 1984 –2 –1% Negative
Indiana 2000 n/a n/a n/a
Louisiana 1991 –2 –3% Negative
Maryland 1987 +4 +2% Positive
Minnesota 2000 n/a n/a n/a
Mississippi 1989 –6 0% Negative
Nevada 1981 –1 0% Negative
New Jersey 1984 n/a n/a n/a
New
Mexico
1990 –6 –1% Negative
New York 1985 +1 +4% Positive
North
Carolina
1980 +4 +6% Positive
Ohio 1994 n/a n/a n/a
South
Carolina
1990 +1 0% Positive
Tennessee 1986 –8 –2% Negative
Texas 1987 –6 1% Negative
Virginia 1986 +3 +2% Positive
The 1996–2000 cohort. From 1996 to 2000 cohorts of students moving from 4th to 8th
grade in states that had implemented high-stakes tests in the years before 2000 posted
losses 1.6 times more often than gains. In comparison to the national trends five states
posted gains, and eight states posted losses. Said differently, in comparison to the nation,
62% of the states with high-stakes tests posted losses as their students moved from the
4th grade 1996 NAEP to the 8th grade 2000 NAEP. These gains and losses, however,
were partly artificial because gains and losses in score for the cohorts in the various
states were strongly correlated (r = 0.70) with overall exclusion rates. This cohort
analysis finds no evidence of gains in general learning as a result of high-stakes testing
policies.
Cohort Analysis of NAEP Reading Scores: Grade 4 (1994) to Grade 8
(1998)
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The state of Tennessee was randomly chosen to serve as an example of the analysis we
did for NAEP reading cohort over the years 1994 to 1998 (see Figure 8). The logic of
this analysis rests on the same two assumptions made in the previous NAEP analyses.
First, that high-stakes tests and other reforms were implemented in all grades at or
around the same time, or soon after high-stakes high school graduation exams were
implemented. Second, that such high-stakes test programs should affect learning in the
different domains of reading from which NAEP is derived.
Figure 8. Tennessee by cohort: NAEP reading grade 4 1994 to grade 8 1998
Tennessee implemented its 1st high school graduation exam in 1982. Assuming that the
stakes attached to Tennessee's K–8 tests (see Table 1) were attached at or around the
same time or some time thereafter, from 4th grade in 1994 to 8th grade in 1998
Tennessee lost 3 points to the nation. Trend lines and analytic comments for all other
states are included in Appendix H. A summary of these data across all 18 states is
presented as Table 12.
Table 12
Results from the Analysis of NAEP Reading Cohort Trends
State Year in which students
had to pass 1st HSGE
to graduate
Change in score
from grade 4 1994
to grade 8 1998
Change in % excluded
from grade 4 1994 to
grade 8 1998
Overall
Effects
1994–98
Alabama 1985 –2 +5% Negative
Florida 1979 –1 –2% Negative
Georgia 1984 +1 +4% Positive
Indiana 2000 n/a n/a n/a
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Louisiana 1991 +6 +6% Positive
Maryland 1987 +3 +3% Positive
Minnesota 2000 n/a n/a n/a
Mississippi 1989 –20 +4% Negative
Nevada 1981 n/a n/a n/a
New Jersey 1984 n/a n/a n/a
New
Mexico
1990 +4 +2% Positive
New York 1985 +5 +4% Positive
North
Carolina
1980 +1 +7% Positive
Ohio 1994 n/a n/a n/a
South
Carolina
1990 +3 +2% Positive
Tennessee 1986 –3 +1% Negative
Texas 1987 +1 –1% Positive
Virginia 1986 +4 +3% Positive
The 1994–1998 cohort. In comparison to national trends, cohorts of students in states
that implemented high-stakes tests in the years before 1998 posted gains 2.3 times more
often than losses from the 4th to the 8th grade on the 1994 and the 1998 NAEP reading
exams. Nine states posted gains, and four states posted losses. These gains and losses
were "real" given that gains and losses in score were unrelated (r = 0) to overall
exclusion rates.
Thus far in these analyses this is the only example we found of gains in achievement on
a transfer measure that meet criteria of acceptability. As their students moved from the
4th grade in 1994 to the 8th grade in 1998, 69% of the states with high-stakes tests
posted gains on the NAEP reading tests. Since these gains and losses were unrelated to
increases and decreases in exclusion rates they appear to be "real" effects. To put these
gains in context we note that in the states that showed increases in scores from 1994 to
1998, the average gain was 52 points. By any metric a 52-point gain is sizeable. But
when these gains are compared to the national trends over the same time period, as
shown in table12, we see that the gains in the states with high-stakes testing policies
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was, on average, only 3 points over the national trend. On the other hand, although fewer
in number, the states that posted losses in comparison to the nation fell an average of 6.5
points. This figure is skewed, however, by the fact that Mississippi lost 20 points more
than the nation did on the 4th to 8th grade reading NAEP from 1994-1998. In sum, these
gains in the reading scores in states with high-stakes testing policies seem real but
modest given the losses shown by other states with high-stakes testing policies.
Advanced Placement (AP) Data Analysis
The Advanced Placement (AP) program offers high school students opportunities to take
college courses in a variety of subjects and receive credits before actually entering
college. We used the AP data(Note 125) as another indicator of the effects of high-stakes
high school graduation exams on the general learning and motivation of high school
students. Using the AP exams as transfer measures and the AP participation rates as
indicators of increased student preparation and motivation for college, we could inquire
whether, in fact, high school graduation exams increased learning in the knowledge
domains that are the intended targets of high-stakes testing programs.
The participation rates and rates by which students passed AP exams that are used in the
following analyses were calculated by the College Board,(Note 126) administrators of
the AP program. Gains or losses were assessed after the most recent year in which a new
high school graduation exam was implemented or after 1995 – the first year for which
these AP data were available.
Table 13 presents for each state the percentages of students who passed AP
examinations with a grade of 3 or better after high school graduation exams were
implemented. As we worked, however, it became apparent that fluctuations in
participation rates were related (r = –0.30) to the percent of students passing AP exams
with a grade 3 or better. If participation rates in a state decreased, the percent of students
who passed AP exams usually increased and vice versa. To judge the effect of this
interaction, and in comparison to the nation, the percent change in students who passed
the AP examination is presented along with the percent change in students who
participated in AP exams during the time period 1995–2000. If an increase in one
corresponded to a decrease in the other, caution in making judgments about the effects is
required.
North Carolina was randomly chosen from the states we examine to be the example for
the AP analysis. That data is presented in Figure 9. Trend lines and analytic comments
for all other states are included in Appendix I and summarized in Table 13.
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Figure 9. North Carolina: Percent passing AP examinations
North Carolina's 1st high school graduation exam first affected the class of 1980. North
Carolina's second exam first affected the class of 1998. From 1995–2000 North Carolina
lost 7.7 percentage points to the nation. From 1997–1998 North Carolina gained .5
percentage points on the nation. From 1997–2000 North Carolina lost 1.3 percentage
points to the nation.
Table 13
Results from the Analysis of AP Scores and Participation Rates
State Year in which
students had to
pass 1st HSGE to
graduate
Change in % of
students passing AP
exams 1995–2000 as
compared to the nation*
Change in % of
students taking AP
exams 1995–2000 as
compared to the nation*
Overall
Effects
Alabama 1985 +9.6% –6.5% Positive
Florida 1979 +3.9% –0.5% Positive
Georgia 1984 +6.8% –1.4% Positive
Indiana 2000 +1.9% –0.4% Positive
Louisiana 1991 +2.6% –4.4% Positive
Maryland 1987 +0.5% +2.3% Positive
Minnesota 2000 +0.6% –1.6% Positive
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Mississippi 1989 –2.4% –4.6% Negative
Nevada 1981 +3.2% –2.7% Positive
New Jersey 1985 +1.7% +2.0% Positive
New
Mexico
1990 –4.1% –1.6% Negative
New York 1985 +7.7% +3.9% Positive
North
Carolina
1980 –7.7% +0.9% Negative
Ohio 1994 –3.3% –2.6% Negative
South
Carolina
1990 –9.8% –3.7% Negative
Tennessee 1986 +5.8% –1.8% Positive
Texas 1987 –10.5% +5.1% Negative
Virginia 1986 –1.6% +3.9% Negative
*(Indiana and Minnesota, 1999–2000)
The time period 1995–2000. In comparison to national trends from 1995–2000, students
in states with high school graduation exams posted gains 1.6 times more than losses in
the percentage of students passing AP exams with a score of 3 or better. Eleven states
posted gains, and seven states posted losses. These gains and losses were partly artificial,
however, given that gains and losses in the percentage of students passing AP exams
were negatively correlated (r = –0.30) with the rate in which students participated in the
AP program. The greater the percentage of students who participated in the AP program,
the lower the percentage of students passing AP exams, and vice versa.
Compared to the national average participation rates fell in 67% of the states with high
school graduation exams since 1995 (and since 1999 for Indiana and Minnesota). In
comparison to the nation participation rates increased in six states and decreased in
twelve states in the time period from 1995–2000.
Overall, 61% of the states with high-stakes tests posted gains in the rate by which
students passed AP exams with a grade of 3 or better from 1995–2000 (1999–2000 in
Indiana and Minnesota). But those increases and decreases in the percent passing AP
exams were negatively correlated (r = –0.30) to whether participation rates increased or
decreased at the same time. If we look at only those states where the participation rates
did not seem to influence the percent passing AP exams(Note 127) as the overall
correlation suggests it typically does, only Maryland (+), Mississippi (–), New Jersey
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(+), New Mexico (–), New York (+), Ohio (–), and South Carolina (–) posted "true"
effects, 57% of which were negative.
The special case of Texas. Texas, as has been mentioned, received attention as one of
two states in which high-stakes tests purportedly improve achievement. Dramatic gains
in the rates of students enrolled in AP courses were among several state indicators of
achievement provided by the state in support of their academic gains. But another
educational policy was put into effect around the same time as the high-stakes testing
program was implemented in that state.(Note 128) The Texas state legislature
substantially reduced the cost of taking AP courses and the accompanying exams.(Note
129) This highly targeted policy may have helped increase enrollments in AP courses in
Texas much more than their high-stakes testing program. So the substantial drop in the
percent passing the test is difficult to assess since many more students took the AP tests.
As we have seen, as a greater percentage of students in a state take the test the scores go
down, and as a smaller percentage of students take the test scores go up. Inferences
about the meaning of test scores become more uncertain when participation rates are not
steady from one testing year to another.
In conclusion, when we use the national data on AP exams as a comparison for state AP
data, and we use the percent of students passing the various AP exams as an indicator of
learning in the domains of interest, we find no evidence of improvement associated with
high-stakes high school graduation exams. When controlling for participation rates there
even appeared to be a slight decrease in the percent of students who passed AP
examinations. Further, in the states under study, high-stakes high school graduation
exams did not result in an increase in the numbers of students preparing to go to college,
as indicated by the percent of students who participated in AP programs from
1995–2000.
Conclusion
If we assume that the ACT, SAT, NAEP and AP tests are reasonable measures of the
domains that a state's high-stakes testing program is intended to affect, then we have
little evidence at the present time that such programs work. Although states may
demonstrate increases in scores on their own high-stakes tests, transfer of learning is not
a typical outcome of their high-stakes testing policy.
The ACT data. Sixty-seven percent of the states that use high school graduation exams
posted decreases in ACT performance after high school graduation exams were
implemented. These decreases were unrelated to whether participation rates increased or
decreased at the same time. On average, as measured by the ACT, college-bound
students in states with high school graduation exams decreased in levels of academic
achievement. Moreover, participation rates in ACT testing, as compared to the nation,
increased in nine states, decreased in six states, and stayed the same in three states. If
participation rates in the ACT program serve as an indicator of motivation to attend
college, then there is scant support for the belief that high-stakes testing policies within a
state have such an impact.
The SAT data. Fifty six percent of the states that use high-stakes high school graduation
exams posted decreases in SAT performance after those exams were implemented.
However, these decreases were slightly related to whether SAT participation rates
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increased or decreased over the same time period. Thus, there is no reliable evidence of
high-stakes high school graduation exams improving the performance of students who
take the SAT. Gains and losses in SAT scores are more strongly correlated to who
participates in the SAT than to the implementation of high school graduation exams.
Moreover, SAT participation rates, as compared to the nation, fell in 61% of the states
with high school graduation exams. If these participation rates serve as an indicator for
testing the belief that high-stakes testing policies will prepare more students or motivate
more students to attend college, then there is scant support for such beliefs. Students did
not participate in the SAT testing program at greater rates after high-stakes high school
graduation exams were implemented.
The NAEP mathematics data. High-stakes testing policies did not usually improve the
performance of students on the grade 4 NAEP math tests. Gains and losses were more
related to who was excluded from the NAEP than the effects of high-stakes testing
programs in a state. However, during the 1992–1996 time period, when exclusion rates
were unrelated to gains and losses in scores, mathematics achievement decreased for
students in states where high-stakes testing had been implemented. High-stakes testing
policies did not consistently improve the performance of students on the grade 8 NAEP
math tests. Gains were more strongly correlated to who was excluded from the NAEP
than to whether or not high-stakes tests were used. If anything, the weight of the
evidence suggests that students from states with high-stakes tests did not achieve as well
on the grade 8 NAEP mathematics tests as students in other states.
The NAEP reading data. High-stakes testing policies did not consistently improve the
general learning and competencies of students in reading as judged by their performance
on the NAEP grade 4 reading test. This was clearest in the time periods from 1992–1994
and over the time span of from 1992–1998. The learning effects over these years were
unrelated to the rates by which students were excluded from the NAEP. By 1998,
however, 75% of the states with high-stakes tests had exclusion rates higher than the
national average. These exclusionary policies were probably the reason for the apparent
increases in achievement in several states. As the NAEP tests become more important in
our national debates about school success and failure the effects of the Heisenberg
Uncertainty Principle, as applied to the social sciences, seems to be evident. When these
exclusion rates are taken into account, in comparison to national trends, the reading
achievement of students in states with high-stakes testing policies appeared lower,
particularly for students from minority backgrounds.
The NAEP cohort data. Sixty-two percent of the states with high-stakes tests posted
losses on the NAEP mathematics exams as a cohort of their students moved from the 4th
grade in 1996 to the 8th grade in the year 2000. These gains and losses, however, must
be considered artificial to some extent because of the very strong relationship of overall
exclusion rates to the gains and losses that were recorded. This cohort analysis finds no
evidence of gains in general mathematics knowledge and skills as a result of high-stakes
testing policies.
For the cohort of students moving from the 4th to the 8th grade and taking the 1994 and
the 1998 NAEP reading exams, gains in scores were posted 2.3 times more often than
losses in the states with high-stakes testing policies. Nine states (69%) posted gains, and
four states (31%) posted losses. These gains and losses were "real" given that gains and
losses in score were unrelated to overall NAEP exclusion rates. While not reflecting
unequivocal support for high-stakes testing policies, this is the one case of gains in
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achievement on a transfer measure among the many analyses we did for this report. It is
also true that over this time period many reading curriculum initiatives were being
implemented throughout the country, as reading debates became heated and sparked
controversy. Because of that it is not easy to attribute the gains made for the NAEP
reading cohort to high-stakes testing policies. Our guess is that the reading initiatives
and the high-stakes testing polices are entangled in ways that make it impossible to learn
about their independent effects.
The AP data. High-stakes high school graduation exams do not improve achievement as
indicated by the percent of students passing the various AP exams. When participation
rates were controlled there was a decrease in the percent of students who passed AP
examinations. Further, in the states with high-stakes high school graduation exams there
was no increase in the numbers of students preparing to go to college, as indicated by the
percent of students who chose to participate in AP programs from 1995–2000.
Final thoughts
. What shall we make of all this? At the present time, there is no compelling evidence
from a set of states with high-stakes testing policies that those policies result in transfer
to the broader domains of knowledge and skill for which high-stakes test scores must be
indicators. Because of this, the high-stakes tests being used today do not, as a general
rule, appear valid as indicators of genuine learning, of the types of learning that
approach the American ideal of what an educated person knows and can do. Moreover,
as predicted by the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, data from high-stakes testing
programs too often appear distorted and corrupted.
Both the uncertainty associated with high-stakes testing data, and the questionable
validity of high-stakes tests as indicators of the domains they are intended to reflect,
suggest that this is a failed policy initiative. High-stakes testing policies are not now and
may never be policies that will accomplish what they intend. Could the hundreds of
millions of dollars and the billions of person hours spent in these programs be used more
wisely? Furthermore, if failure in attaining the goals for which the policy was created
results in disproportionate negative affects on the life chances of America's poor and
minority students, as it appears to do, then a high-stakes testing policy is more than a
benign error in political judgment. It is an error in policy that results in structural and
institutional mechanisms that discriminate against all of America's poor and many of
America's minority students. It is now time to debate high-stakes testing policies more
thoroughly and seek to change them if they do not do what was intended and have some
unintended negative consequences, as well.
Notes
1. Haladyna, Nolen, & Haas, 1991.
2. Figlio & Lucas, 2000.
3. Kreitzer, Madaus, & Haney, 1989.
4. Bracey, 1995; Heubert & Hauser, 1999; and Kreitzer, Madaus, & Haney, 1989.
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5. Linn, 2000 and Serow, 1984.
6. U.S. Department of Education, 1983 and Bracey, 1995.
7. U.S. Department of Education, 1983.
8. Berliner & Biddle, 1995.
9. Quality Counts, 2001.
10. McNeil, 2000; Orfield & Kornhaber, 2001; Paris, 2000; Sacks, 1999; and Sheldon &
Biddle, 1998.
11. Madaus & Clarke, 2001 and Campbell, 1975.
12. All of the following statistics come from extensive interviews conducted with
knowledgeable testing personnel throughout the United States, and Quality Counts,
2001.
13. Administrative bonuses, 2001.
14. Neufeld, 2000.
15. Folmar, 2001.
16. Commission on Instructionally Supportive Testing, 2001.
17. California, Delaware, Michigan, Missouri, Nevada, and Ohio give scholarships to
students for high performance on state mandated exams. See Quality Counts, 2001.
18. Durbin, 2001 and Ross, 2001.
19. Thanks to Professor J. Ryan, Arizona State University, for suggesting we investigate
this story.
20. National Governor's Association, 2000; "Civil rights coalition," 2000; and "Using
tobacco settlement revenues," 1999.
21. Heller, 1999. See also Durbin, 2001; Ross, 2001; and Swope & Miner, 2000.
22. "Civil rights coalition," 2000.
23. Heller, 1999.
24. Delaware, Ohio, South Carolina, and Texas have plans to promote students using
test scores by the year 2003. Interview data and Quality Counts, 2001.
25. Florida implemented its first minimum competency test for the class of 1979, North
Carolina implemented its first minimum competency test for the class of 1980, and
Nevada implemented its first minimum competency test for the class of 1981.
26. U.S. Department of Education, 1983.
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27. States that currently use high school graduation exams to grant or withhold diplomas
are Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Louisiana, Maryland, Minnesota, Mississippi,
Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, South Carolina,
Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia. Hawaii used a test until 1999 and has plans to
implement a different exam in 2007.
28. States that are developing high school exit exams are Alaska, Arizona, California,
Delaware, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Utah, Washington, and Wisconsin.
29. Data illustrated in this chart were collected through telephone interviews and
cross-checked with information provided in Quality Counts, 2001. States are counted the
year the first graduating class was (or will be) affected by the state's first high school
high-stakes graduation exam. For example, since the class of 1987 was the first class
that had to pass the TEAMS in Texas, Texas was defined as a state with a high school
exit exam in 1987.
30. Percentages were calculated using 1997 National Center for Education Statistics
finance data available: http://nces.ed.gov/. . Data were adjusted for cost of living.
31. See Elazar's classification of state's governmental traditions of centralism and
localism in Elazar, 1984. Hawaii and Alaska were not included in his analyses so were
not included in these calculations.
32. These numbers were calculated using 2000 Census Bureau data available:
http://www.census.gov/.
33. Ibid.
34. In the West, Nevada has a high school graduation exam and Alaska, California,
Utah, and Washington have exams in progress (5/10 western states).
35. These numbers were calculated using 1999 Census Bureau data available:
http://www.census.gov/.
36. New Mexico, Louisiana, California, Mississippi, New York, Alabama, Texas,
Arizona, Georgia, South Carolina and Florida are among the 16 states with the highest
degrees of poverty that have or have plans to implement high school graduation exams.
For child poverty levels see 2001 Kids Count Data Online available:
http://www.aecf.org/kidscount/kc2001/.
37. Ohanian, 1999.
38. Goodson & Foote, 2001.
39. McNeil, 2000.
40. Clarke, Haney, & Madaus, 2000.
41. The most influential research we found that substantiated the effectiveness of
high-stakes testing policies came from Grissmer, D., Flanagan, A., Kawata, J., &
Williamson, S., 2000. Using NAEP data, researchers in this study recommended
duplicating the high-stakes testing programs in North Carolina and Texas, although
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concrete evidence that high-stakes testing programs caused the achievement gains noted
in those states was lacking. Only a few other studies have substantiated the positive
effects of high-stakes testing. See Carnoy, Loeb, & Smith, 2000; Muller & Schiller,
2000; Scheurich, Skrla, & Johson, 2000; and Schiller & Muller, 2000.
42. Sacks, 1999 and Kohn, 2000b.
43. The attachment of accountability measures to high academic standards has enjoyed a
full measure of bipartisan support for the last decade or more. Eilperin, 2001 and
Valencia, Valenzuela, Sloan & Foley, 2001.
44. Haney, 2001; Haney, 2000; Neill & Gayler, 1999; and Sacks, 1999.
45. Firestone, Camilli, Yurecko, Monfils & Mayrowetz, 2000; Goodson & Foote, 2001;
Haney, 2000; Heubert & Hauser, 1999; Klein, Hamilton, McCaffrey, & Stecher, 2000;
Kohn, 2000a; Kossan & González, 2000; Kreitzer, Madaus, & Haney, 1989; McNeil,
2000; McNeil & Valenzuela, 2001; Reardon, 1996; Sacks, 1999; Thomas & Bainbridge,
2001; and Urdan & Paris, 1994.
46. Chiu, 2000.
47. Robelen, 2000.
48. Sacks, 1999.
49. Salzer, 2000.
50. Kossan, 2000.
51. Domench, 2000.
52. Gardner, 1999, p. 16.
53. Shorris, 2000; and Shorris, 1997.
54. "high-stakes tests," 2000.
55. Ibid.
56. Ibid.
57. Heubert & Hauser, 1999.
58. Linn, 2000, pg. 14.
59. Heubert & Hauser, 1999, pg. 75.
60. Heubert & Hauser, 1999.
61. McNeil & Valenzuela, 2001, pg. 133.
62. McNeil & Valenzuela, 2001, pg. 134.
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63. Wright, (Forthcoming).
64. This listing of "stakes" is not exhaustive. For example, local school districts and
local schools may attach additional stakes to the consequences written into state test
policies.
65. In 2004, grade promotion decisions in grades 3, 5, and 8 will be contingent upon
student performance on Georgia's new Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests.
Eventually, all Georgia students will have to pass promotion tests at each grade level.
66. Beginning in the fall of 2000, grade promotion became contingent on grades 4 and 8
performance on the new Louisiana Educational Assessment Program (LEAP 21) tests.
Louisiana became the first state to retain students in grade using test scores.
67. Grade promotion in grade 8 is contingent on a combination of CTBS/5 test scores,
student classroom performance, and classroom assessments.
68. A grade promotion "gateway" exists at grade 5. Beginning in 2002, promotion
gateways will exist at grades 3 and 8.
69. Teachers in schools that perform poorly and are identified as low-performing by the
state face the possibility of having to take a teacher competency test. Jones, Jones,
Hardin, Chapman, Yarbrough, & Davis, 1999.
70. In 2002, promotion to the 5th grade will depend on a student's 4th grade reading
score on the Ohio Proficiency Reading Test. Plans to make more grades promotion
gateways are in progress.
71. In 2002, promotion to the 5th grade will depend on a student's 4th grade test scores.
Plans to make more grades promotion gateways are in progress.
72. In 2003 students must pass the grade 3 reading test to be promoted to the 4th grade.
In 2005 students must pass the grade 5 reading and math tests to be promoted to the 6th
grade. In 2008 students must pass the grade 8 reading and math tests to be promoted to
the 9th grade.
73. The state also uses student or school test results to evaluate teachers. Georgia has
similar teacher accountability plans underway.
74. Quality Counts, 2001.
75. Information included has been pooled from the state department web sites and
multiple telephone interviews with state testing personnel.
76. States with an asterisk (*) do not collect the percent of students who do not graduate
or receive a regular high school diploma because they did not meet the graduation
requirement at the state level. Almost 50% of the states do not collect this information.
For these states, a rough percent was calculated by taking the number of 12th graders
who on their last attempt before the intended graduation date did not meet the graduation
requirement divided by the total 12th grade enrollment that year.
77. This percentage does not account for students who dropped out, who enrolled in
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alternative or GED programs, or who transferred out of state.
78. Mississippi does not collect the percent of students who do not graduate or receive a
regular high school diploma because they did not meet the graduation requirement and
does not collect any data on the test after the test is first administered. The number of
12th graders who took, failed, or passed the test was therefore unavailable so rough
estimates were impossible to calculate.
79. New York's graduation exam requirement consists of a series of end-of-course
exams. Students take the end-of-course tests as early as the 7th grade or when students
complete each Regents course.
80. Students in North Carolina take the competency tests only if they did not pass a
series of similar, end-of-grade tests taken at the end of the 8th grade.
81. Mehrens, 1998.
82. Neill & Gayler, 2001, pg. 108.
83. Fisher, 2000, pg. 2.
84. As cited in Haney, 2000.
85. Klein, Hamilton, McCaffrey & Stecher, 2000.
86. Schrag, 2000.
87. Heubert & Hauser, 1999, pg. 132.
88. NAEP data are not collected at the high school level by state. As such, NAEP scores
will not be used as direct indicators of how high school students have been affected by
high school graduation exams. However, if a state has a high school graduation exam in
place it has appropriately been defined as one of the states with high-stakes written into
K–12 testing policies. Accordingly, gains over time as compared to the nation will
indicate how more general high-stakes testing policies have improved each state's
system of education.
89. Judd, Smith, & Kidder, 1991 and Smith & Glass, 1987.
90. Fraenkel & Wallen, 2000; Glass, 1988; and Smith & Glass, 1987.
91. Information included was pooled from the state department web sites, multiple
telephone interviews with state testing personnel, and Quality Counts, 2001. State
testing personnel in all states but Florida and Virginia verified the information before it
was included in this chart.
92. In 39% (7/18) of the high-stakes states – Georgia, Maryland, Mississippi, New York,
South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia – students will take end-of-course exams
instead of high school graduation, criterion-referenced tests once they complete courses
such as Algebra I, English 1, Physical Science, etc. ... End-of-course exams seem to be
the new fad, replacing high school graduation exams.
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93. Since the 1960s student performance on New York's Regents Exams determined the
type of diploma students receive at graduation – a Local Diploma or a Regents Diploma.
94. The competency tests are only given to 9th graders who did not pass the
end-of-grade tests at the end of the 8th grade.
95. In 1983 students did not have to pass the Texas Assessment of Basic Skills to
receive a high school diploma.
96. Glass, 1988 and Smith & Glass, 1987.
97. Glass, 1988, pg. 445–446.
98. Campbell & Stanley, 1963; Glass, 1988; and Smith & Glass, 1987.
99. From 1959 to 1989 the original version of the ACT was used. In 1989 an enhanced
ACT was implemented but only scores back to 1986 were equated to keep scores
consistent across time. This explains the slight jumps from 1985–1986 that will be
apparent across all states. Although scores from 1980–1985 have not been equated, the
correlation between scores from the original and enhanced ACT assessments is high: r
=.96
100. See footnote #99 to explain the large increase illustrated from 1985–1986.
101. Smith & Glass, 1987.
102. ACT composite scores (1980–2000) were available on–line at http://www.act.org.
or were obtained through personal communications with Jim Maxey, Assistant Vice
President for Applied Research at ACT. We are indebted to him for providing us with
these data.
103. SAT composite scores (1977–2000) were available on-line at
http://www.collegeboard.com. or were provided by personnel at the College Board. We
thank those at the College Board who helped us in our pursuit of these data.
104. Kohn, 2000a.
105. Trends were defined in the short term, as defined by the difference in score one year
after the point of implementation, and in the long term, as defined by the difference in
score the number of years from one point of intervention to the next or 2001 as
compared to the nation.
106. Changes in participation rates as compared to the nation (1994–2001) are listed in
parentheses.
107. Correlation coefficients represent the relationship between changes in score and
changes in participation or exclusion rates for participating states with high-stakes tests.
Only states with high-stakes tests were included in the calculations of correlation
coefficients hereafter. Coefficients were calculated separately from one year to the next
for the years for which data and participation rates were available.
108. These correlation coefficients were calculated using changes in score and changes
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in participation rates for the years in which data and participation rates were available.
109. Within states colleges may change their policies regarding which tests are required
of enrolling students. This may affect participation and exclusion rates hereafter.
110. Changes in participation rates as compared to the nation (1991–1997 and
2000–2001) are listed in parentheses.
111. State NAEP composite scores (1990–2000) are available on–line at
http://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard.
112. For more information on the NAEP, for example its design and methods of
sampling see Johnson, 1992.
113. For further discussion see Neill & Gayler, 2001.
114. See Grissmer, Flanagan, Kawata, & Williamson, 2000 and Klein, Hamilton,
McCaffrey & Stecher, 2000.
115. Johnson, 1992.
116. Neill & Gayler, 2001.
117. See the NAEP website at http://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard.
118. Haney, 2000.
119. This figure represents the r-square of each correlation coefficient that was
calculated by squaring the correlations between change in score and change in exclusion
rates year to year.
120. Changes in exclusion rates are listed next to changes in score hereafter. Scores and
exclusion rates were calculated as compared to the nation.
121. The exclusion rate for the nation in 1990 was not available. The exclusion rate was
imputed by calculating the average exclusion rate for all states that participated in the
1990 8th grade math NAEP.
122. For a similar study see Camilli, 2000. Camilli tested claims made by Grissmer et
al., 2000, that large NAEP gains made by students from 1992 to 1996 in Texas were due
to high-stakes tests. Camilli found, however, that the cohort of Texas students who took
the NAEP math as 4th graders in 1992 and then again as 8th graders in 1996 were just
average in gains. Camilli analyzed cohort gains in Texas on the NAEP 1992 and 1996
math assessment only, however. This section of the study will expand on Camilli's work
to include all states with high-stakes tests. Further, randomly sampled cohorts of
students who took the NAEP math as 4th graders in 1996 and as 8th graders in 2000 and
cohorts of students who took the NAEP reading as 4th graders in 1994 and as 8th
graders in 1998 will be examined.
123. Toenjes, Dworkin, Lorence & Hill, 2000.
124. Klein, Hamilton, McCaffrey & Stecher, 2000.
66 of 74
125. AP data (1995–2000) were available in the AP National Summary Reports
available on-line at http://www.collegeboard.org/ap.
126. Participation rates were calculated by dividing the number of AP exams that were
taken by students in the 11th and 12th grade by each state's total 11th and 12th grade
population. Grades received on the exams were calculated by dividing the number of
students who received a grade of 3 or above, a grade of 3 being the minimum grade
required to receive college credit, by the total number of 11th and 12th grade
participants.
127. "Controlling" for participation rates was possible only in this analysis. Years for
which we had participation rates matched the years for which we had the percentages of
students who passed AP exams.
128. "Fisher," 2000.
129. "Advanced placement," 2000.
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About the Authors
Audrey L. Amrein
College of Education
Arizona State University
Division of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies
PO Box 872411
Tempe, AZ 85287-2411
Email: audrey.beardsley@cox.net
Audrey L. Amrein is an Assistant Research Professional in the College of Education at
Arizona State University in Tempe, Arizona. Her research interests include the study of
large-scale educational policies and their effects on students from racial minority,
language minority, and economically disadvantaged backgrounds. Specifically, she is
interested in investigating the effects of high-stakes tests, bilingual education, and
charter school policies as they pertain to issues of equity.
David C. Berliner
Regents' Professor of Education
College of Education
Arizona State University
Tempe, AZ 85287-2411
Email: berliner@asu.edu
David C. Berliner is Regents' Professor of Education at the College of Education of
72 of 74
Arizona State University, in Tempe, AZ. He received his Ph.D. in 1968 from Stanford
University in educational psychology, and has worked also at the University of
Massachusetts, WestEd, and the University of Arizona. He has served as president of the
American Educational Research Association (AERA), president of the Division of
Educational Psychology of the American Psychological Association, and as a fellow of
the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences and a member of the National
Academy of Education. Berliner's publications include The Manufactured Crisis,
Addison-Wesley, 1995 (with B.J. Biddle) and The Handbook of Educational
Psychology, Macmillan, 1996 (Edited with R.C. Calfee). Special awards include the
Research into Practice Award of AERA, the National Association of Secondary School
Principals Distinguished Service Award, and the Medal of Honor from the University of
Helsinki. His scholarly interests include research on teaching and education policy
analysis.
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Copyright 2002 by the Education Policy Analysis Archives
The World Wide Web address for the Education Policy Analysis Archives is epaa.asu.edu
General questions about appropriateness of topics or particular articles may be
addressed to the Editor, Gene V Glass, glass@asu.edu or reach him at College
of Education, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ 85287-2411. The
Commentary Editor is Casey D. Cobb: casey.cobb@unh.edu .
EPAA Editorial Board
Michael W. Apple
University of Wisconsin
Greg Camilli
Rutgers University
John Covaleskie
Northern Michigan University
Alan Davis
University of Colorado, Denver
Sherman Dorn
University of South Florida
Mark E. Fetler
California Commission on Teacher Credentialing
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Thomas F. Green
Syracuse University
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York University
Arlen Gullickson
Western Michigan University
Ernest R. House
University of Colorado
Aimee Howley
Ohio University
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Craig B. Howley
Appalachia Educational Laboratory
William Hunter
University of Calgary
Daniel Kallós
Umeå University
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University of Manitoba
Thomas Mauhs-Pugh
Green Mountain College
Dewayne Matthews
Education Commission of the States
William McInerney
Purdue University
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MGT of America (Austin, TX)
Les McLean
University of Toronto
Susan Bobbitt Nolen
University of Washington
Anne L. Pemberton
apembert@pen.k12.va.us
Hugh G. Petrie
SUNY Buffalo
Richard C. Richardson
New York University
Anthony G. Rud Jr.
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Dennis Sayers
California State University—Stanislaus
Jay D. Scribner
University of Texas at Austin
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University of Illinois—UC
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Brigham Young University
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Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México
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Universidad de Cádiz
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Centro de Investigación y Docencia
Económica-CIDE
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Universidad Nacional Autónoma de
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canalesa@servidor.unam.mx
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Arizona State University
casanova@asu.edu
José Contreras Domingo
Universitat de Barcelona
Jose.Contreras@doe.d5.ub.es
Erwin Epstein (U.S.A.)
Loyola University of Chicago
Eepstein@luc.edu
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Arizona State University
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Universidad de Málaga
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OISE/UT, Canada
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Fundação Instituto Brasileiro e Geografia
e Estatística
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Jurjo Torres Santomé (Spain)
Universidad de A Coruña
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Carlos Alberto Torres (U.S.A.)
University of California, Los Angeles
torres@gseisucla.edu
... However, given the rich literature as well on how people change their behavior based on being evaluated and incentivized (Espeland and Sauder 2007;Espeland and Stevens 1998;Lamont 2012), such organizational adaptations should not come as surprise. In a way, the importance ascribed to a quantitative indicator may lead to distortions and perversions of the social process initially intended to be monitored (Amrein and Berliner 2002;Campbell 1979). Thus, the measure becomes problematic, given how school staff focus on the quantification rather than the process or product it measures. ...
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In school systems around the world, countless reform strategies have focused on school and teacher accountability-the process of evaluating schools' performance on the basis of student measures. Policy and education research has been dominated by debates on its effectiveness, where advocates highlight the positive effects on achievement while critics emphasize the negative consequences on pressure, morale, and autonomy. Yet the question is not so much whether to have accountability, but what form it should take. To answer this, sociologists contribute through their study of accountabil-ity's organizational and ecological dynamics-key facets that are sidelined when researchers only focus on quantitative program evaluation. An organizational perspective highlights the meaning-making school actors and the general public have of the policy, viewing it through technical-rationalist and institutional-performative lenses. An ecological perspective highlights how the form of accountability is a negotiated outcome of larger macrosocial forces, and how accountability is itself contributive to larger social changes. This review suggests a broader conceptualization of accountability regimes, and the unique contribution of critical, organizational, and sociological perspectives to the study of public policies.
... Test fairness A notable finding in psychological testing is that scores on many cognitive tests differ among various groups of individuals (Roth et al., 2001). This is of particular concern when scores are substantially lower for individuals of a protected group (based on sex/gender, race, ethnicity, etc.) and in high-stakes testing, in which the examinee's test scores are likely to have significant and direct personal consequences (Amrein & Beliner, 2002;Burgoyne et al., 2021;Nunnally, 1964). As such, not only should standards of test reliability and validity be higher when tests are used in high-stakes situations (Nunnally, 1964), but practitioners need to be especially cognizant of the extent to which their measures may be inequitable for certain populations (Ceci & Papierno, 2005). ...
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Working memory capacity is an important psychological construct, and many real-world phenomena are strongly associated with individual differences in working memory functioning. Although working memory and attention are intertwined, several studies have recently shown that individual differences in the general ability to control attention is more strongly predictive of human behavior than working memory capacity. In this review, we argue that researchers would therefore generally be better suited to studying the role of attention control rather than memory-based abilities in explaining real-world behavior and performance in humans. The review begins with a discussion of relevant literature on the nature and measurement of both working memory capacity and attention control, including recent developments in the study of individual differences of attention control. We then selectively review existing literature on the role of both working memory and attention in various applied settings and explain, in each case, why a switch in emphasis to attention control is warranted. Topics covered include psychological testing, cognitive training, education, sports, police decision-making, human factors, and disorders within clinical psychology. The review concludes with general recommendations and best practices for researchers interested in conducting studies of individual differences in attention control.
... While this is clearly a generalized and exaggerated image, it caused me to consider who was likely excluded from the event by virtue of its location in an overwhelmingly white community. Although research has suggested time and time again that high-stakes testing policies are deeply flawed and have negative consequences, particularly for students of color (Amrein & Berliner, 2002, 2003Au, 2011;Vasquez Heilig & Darling-Hammond, 2008), this event exemplified a larger disconnect between some movement organizers, many of whom are white, and communities of color who might not have the means to shop in that mall. There is a certain amount of privilege that is imbued in the act of shopping in a mall, and it is a fitting metaphor for the focus of this study, wherein I argue that the opt-out movement in New York State, while focused on a worthy cause, has been largely dominated by white privilege and power resulting from a lack of critical self-reflection on issues of race and racism. ...
Article
Background Part of a special issue on the high-stakes testing opt-out movement, this article focuses its analysis on the movement within New York State, and examines white privilege and power within one specific organization, the NYS Allies for Public Education (NYSAPE). Specifically, I examine how the public-facing work of NYSAPE addressed (or ignored) race and/or racism in their efforts to resist high-stakes testing. I also ask, in what ways do their public stances affirm and reinforce white privilege and power? Purpose I explore the opt-out movement in New York State, and argue that it is a movement that has been largely dominated by white privilege and power. Employing critical race theory as analytical and methodological tools, I briefly examine the development and policy positions of NYSAPE, a coalition of grassroots parent, educator and community organizations. Research Design This qualitative case study focuses on NYSAPE and employs critical race theory as a methodological and analytical framework, with specific emphasis on whiteness as property (power) and interest convergence. Conclusions/Recommendations The paper aims to engage the opt-out movement in considering how its (in)actions are shaped by racism, a deeply entrenched element in our society, and pushes the movement to take a more liberatory stance for all children. Leaders within the opt-out movement, particularly in predominantly white and middle- to upper-class communities, have to examine their complicity in perpetuating racial inequities.
... Furthermore, their "high stakes" application, or the practice of using them to confer rewards, overextends their original purpose (as student achievement assessments), and may ultimately distort the outcomes. 190 On the other hand, assessments have also been very enlightening. Due to mandatory data collection and required analysis on all subgroups, we are now able to identify schools that may be high performing overall, but are failing to educate low income or African American students. ...
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... There is no evi dence that test-based sanctions lead to better learning and better behavior. Moreover, sanc tions undermine the validity of psychological tests and, therewith, impede their useful ness for improving therapy and education (Amrein & Berliner 2002;Ravitch 2013;Koretz 2017). When used for high-stakes testing, tests wear out within a few years and must be substituted by new content. ...
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... It perhaps goes without saying, but large assessment companies are a huge source of social power and financial domination, whose actions reflect the ongoing social inequalities that exist in and outside of schools (Amrein & Berliner, 2002;Nichols & Berliner, 2007). From what is assessed to how those questions are deployed into classrooms to how the students' responses are interpreted, high-stakes assessments represent a significant contribution to the creation of inequity in education (Au, 2009). ...
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