Date: Sept. 3, 1998
Contacts: Dan Quinn, Media Relations Officer
Dumi Ndlovu, Media Relations Assistant
(202) 334-2138; e-mail <firstname.lastname@example.org>EMBARGOED: NOT FOR PUBLIC RELEASE BEFORE 5 P.M. EDT THURSDAY, SEPT. 3Caution Urged in Developing and Using Educational Tests
WASHINGTON -- As education officials rely more heavily on test results to guide school reform efforts, caution is needed to ensure that tests are properly designed and used in ways that will spur improvements in education and not harm students, according to three new, congressionally mandated reports from the National Research Council. The reports released today outline steps needed to refine the development and use of large-scale tests in education, including "high-stakes" tests used by schools for tracking, promotion, or graduation, and national tests proposed by the U.S. Department of Education to assess fourth-grade reading and eighth-grade mathematics.High Stakes: Testing for Tracking, Promotion, and Graduation
says that test results should not be the only basis for deciding which classes a student takes or what curriculum to teach, whether a student will advance to the next grade, or whether the student will be able to graduate. Other factors -- including grades and teacher recommendations -- also should be considered. Moreover, the report says, schools should eliminate "low-track" classes that typically do not provide challenging instruction and often are led by the least-experienced teachers.Evaluation of the Voluntary National Tests: Phase 1
says that the National Assessment Governing Board (NAGB) is on the right track in developing questions for the Department of Education's voluntary national tests, but recommends that NAGB move quickly to reach decisions about how to score the tests, and in what form scores will be given to students, parents, and other users. NAGB also should move quickly to address the inclusion of students with disabilities and students who are English-language learners, both issues which have important implications for test design and accuracy.Uncommon Measures: Equivalence and Linkage Among Educational Tests,
a follow-up to an interim report by the Research Council released in June, concludes that one proposed alternative to national testing -- linking the results of existing commercial and state tests and providing comparable information about achievement of students taking different tests in different parts of the country -- is generally not feasible.
A summary of each report follows.Educational Improvement: A Shared Responsibility
At the local level, schools have turned to large-scale standardized tests to help them place students in curriculum "tracks" -- in which students are assigned to specialized schools, programs, or classes. Tests also are used in decisions about whether a student will advance to a higher grade or be retained in the same grade, and about whether a student will be permitted to graduate from high school. When used appropriately, such high-stakes tests can help promote student learning and equal opportunity in the classroom by defining standards of student achievement and by helping school officials identify areas in which students need additional or different instruction. When used inappropriately, however, these tests can undermine the quality of education and lower opportunities for some students, especially if test results are misinterpreted or misused, or students are relegated to a low-quality educational experience as a result of their scores, according to High Stakes: Testing for Tracking, Promotion, and Graduation.
High standards cannot be established and maintained simply by imposing them on students, the report says.
Students, parents, educators, public officials, school districts, and states share responsibility for improving the quality of education. If test results are going to be used to make high-stakes decisions about individual students, school districts seeking to improve student performance should first improve the content and methods of classroom instruction, and they should test students only for knowledge and skills that reflect closely what has been taught in the classroom. Schools also must guard against teaching that is narrowly tailored to performing well on a particular test, rather than focused on the broader set of skills and knowledge a test is intended to measure. School officials must ensure that what is taught extends beyond any particular test, and that students are not given help that undermines the integrity of the test as a reliable gauge of student learning.
The report also says that:
> Students who are placed in typical "low-track" classes are worse off than if they had been placed elsewhere. Such low-track classes should be eliminated. Neither test scores nor any other form of evaluation should be used to place students in these settings.
> Efforts must be made to ensure the participation of students who are not yet proficient in English and students with disabilities in high-stakes testing programs, while maintaining the comparability of their test scores with those of other students.
> Schools must ensure that tests used to determine eligibility for graduation are adequately focused on material that actually has been taught in the school. Students at risk of not graduating should be advised of their situation well in advance, and should be provided with appropriate instruction to cover the material on which they will be tested.
> Large-scale tests should not be used to make high-stakes decisions about students who are younger than 8 years or below third grade.
> All high-stakes testing programs should include a well-designed evaluation component, so policy-makers can monitor both their intended and unintended consequences, such as their effect on students' graduation rates or future employment prospects.
> The proposed voluntary national tests are being designed to help students and parents gauge academic progress against national standards, and they should not be used for decisions on student tracking, promotion, or graduation.Progress in National Test Development
Clinton administration's plan for national tests of fourth-grade reading and eighth-grade mathematics stipulates that the federal government would develop the tests for states and local schools, but not require them to be taken. The new tests are intended to tell individual students, parents, and teachers where students stand relative to high national standards, and in mathematics, how students compare to those in other countries. The proposed tests are not intended or designed for use in high-stakes decisions about tracking, promotion, or graduation of students.Evaluation of the Voluntary National Tests: Phase I
concludes that the National Assessment Governing Board (NAGB) has established reasonable specifications for the new tests and has made good progress in developing an adequate number of high-quality test questions. The board's plans for completing the development and evaluation of the questions are sound, and the plans to conduct pilot and field tests also appear to be adequate.
NAGB now needs to make important decisions about how the tests will be scored and how the results will be reported, and, based on these decisions, complete its development and evaluation plans. The board plans to use achievement levels developed for the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) in reporting results, so it must ensure that the questions included in the new tests are closely linked to the descriptions that have been established for these achievement levels. It is important for the test developers to try to achieve broad consensus on these tests and their uses, the report says.
NAGB has made little progress so far in developing procedures to ensure that students with disabilities or with limited English proficiency are included in comparable examinations and that their scores can be compared with those of other students. Plans for including and accommodating these students -- a major goal of the national testing program -- are still sketchy and do not break new ground. The report recommends that the board speed up its work to increase these students' participation and improve the ability of the tests to compare results among all U.S. students.Test Diversity Limits Feasibility of Linkage
As an alternative to new national tests, Congress asked the National Research Council whether it is feasible to link the results of existing state and commercial tests and compare an individual student's achievement with national and international benchmarks and with that of students taking different tests in other school districts or states.Uncommon Measures: Equivalence and Linkage Among Educational Tests
says that tests administered currently at the state and local level are too diverse -- in terms of their content, format, difficulty, and intended uses -- to allow the results to be compared meaningfully to one another or to national or international standards. Linkages can be computed in some limited cases -- where the tests and their uses are very similar -- but it is generally not possible to link even small subsets of tests to make valid comparisons of student performance. Unless tests are closely aligned in content and format with the National Assessment of Educational Progress, attempts to link test results with NAEP and to report results in terms of the NAEP performance levels are likely to be unreliable and potentially misleading.
The studies were funded by the U.S. Department of Education. Rosters of the authoring committee members and investigators follow. The National Research Council is the principal operating arm of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering. It is a private, non-profit organization that provides advice on science and technology under a congressional charter granted to the National Academy of Sciences.
Read the full text of High Stakes: Testing for Tracking, Promotion, and Graduation; Evaluation of Voluntary National Tests: Phase 1; and Uncommon Measures: Equivalence and Linkage Among Educational Tests
for free on the Web, as well as more than 1,800 other publications from the National Academies. Printed copies are available for purchase from the National Academy Press Web site
or at the mailing address in the letterhead; tel. (202) 334-3313 or 1-800-624-6242. Reporters may obtain a pre-publication copy from the Office of News and Public Information at the letterhead address (contacts listed above).
Commission on Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education
Board on Testing and AssessmentCommittee on Appropriate Test UseRobert M. Hauser*(chair)Vilas Research and Samuel A. Stouffer Professor of SociologyCenter for DemographyUniversity of WisconsinMadisonLizanne DeStefanoAssociate Professor of Educational Psychology, andDirector, Bureau of Educational ResearchCollege of EducationUniversity of IllinoisUrbana-ChampaignPasquale J. DeVitoDirectorOffice of AssessmentRhode Island Department of EducationProvidenceRichard P. DuranProfessorGraduate School of EducationUniversity of CaliforniaSanta BarbaraJennifer L. HochschildProfessor of Politics and Public AffairsWoodrow Wilson School of Public and International AffairsPrinceton UniversityPrinceton, N.J.Stephen P. KleinSenior Research ScientistRAND Corp.Santa Monica, Calif.Sharon LewisDirector of ResearchCouncil of the Great City SchoolsWashington, D.C.Robert L. Linn (ex-officio)Distinguished ProfessorSchool of EducationUniversity of ColoradoBoulderLorraine M. McDonnellProfessor of Political Science and EducationDepartment of Political ScienceUniversity of CaliforniaSanta BarbaraSamuel MessickDistinguished Research ScientistEducational Testing ServicePrinceton, N.J.Ulric Neisser*Professor of PsychologyDepartment of PsychologyCornell UniversityIthaca, N.Y.Andrew C. PorterDirector, Wisconsin Center for Education Research;Co-Director, National Institute for Science Education; andProfessor of Educational PsychologyDepartment of PsychologyUniversity of WisconsinMadisonAudrey L. QuallsAssociate Professor of Educational Measurement and StatisticsIowa Testing ProgramUniversity of IowaIowa CityPaul R. SackettProfessor of PsychologyDepartment of PsychologyUniversity of MinnesotaMinneapolisCatherine E. SnowHenry Lee Shattuck Professor of EducationGraduate School of EducationHarvard UniversityCambridge, Mass.William T. TrentAssociate Chancellor, andProfessor of Educational Policy Studies and SociologyCollege of EducationUniversity of IllinoisUrbana-ChampaignRESEARCH COUNCIL STAFFJay P. HeubertStudy Director_________________________________________(*)Member, National Academy of Sciences
Commission on Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education
Board on Testing and AssessmentProject on Evaluation of the Voluntary National Tests: Phase 1 ReportRobert M. Hauser* (co-principal investigator)Vilas Research and Samuel A. Stouffer Professor of SociologyCenter for DemographyUniversity of WisconsinMadisonLauress L. Wise (co-principal investigator)PresidentHuman Resources Research OrganizationAlexandria, Va.RESEARCH COUNCIL STAFFMichael J. Feuer, Director, Board on Testing and AssessmentCommittee on Equivalency and Linkage of Educational TestsPaul W. Holland (chair)Professor, Department of Statistics and Graduate School of EducationUniversity of California, BerkeleyRobert C. CalfeeProfessor and DeanSchool of EducationUniversity of California, RiversideJohn T. GuthrieProfessor, Department of Human DevelopmentUniversity of Maryland, College ParkRichard M. JaegerNationsBank Professor of Educational Research Methodology, and Director, Center for Educational Research and EvaluationUniversity of North Carolina, GreensboroPatricia Ann KenneyResearch AssociateLearning Research and Development CenterUniversity of PittsburghVonda L. KiplingerAssessment SpecialistStudent Assessment ProgramColorado Department of Education DenverDaniel M. KoretzSenior Social ScientistRAND Institute on Education and TrainingWashington, D.C., andProfessor of Educational Research, Measurement, and EvaluationBoston CollegeFrederick C. Mosteller*Professor Emeritus of StatisticsHarvard University, andDirector, Technology Assessment ProgramHarvard School of Public HealthCambridge, Mass.Peter J. PashleyDirector of PsychometricsLaw School Admission CouncilNewtown, Pa.Doris RedfieldEducational ConsultantAppalachia Educational LaboratoryRichmond, Va.William F. TateAssociate Professor of Mathematics EducationDepartment of Curriculum and InstructionUniversity of Wisconsin, MadisonDavid ThissenProfessor of Psychology, and Director, Graduate Program in Quantitative PsychologyUniversity of North Carolina, Chapel HillEwart A.C. ThomasProfessor of PsychologyDepartment of PsychologyStanford UniversityStanford, Calif.Lauress L. WisePresidentHuman Resources Research OrganizationAlexandria, Va.RESEARCH COUNCIL STAFFMichael J. Feuer, Study Director_________________________________________(*)Member, National Academy of Sciences