***************************** From Harvard Education Letter - Research Online, September/October, 2000. See http://www.edletter.org/current/aera.shtml ***************************** American Educational Research Association [AERA]
What the AERA Says About High-Stakes Testing
Pressure to raise test scores can force state- and district-level officials to make decisions that may run contrary to what's best for students, education researchers say. In an effort to provide research-based guidelines to policymakers, test publishers, and school personnel, the American Educational Research Association (AERA) has issued a position statement on the use of high-stakes testing in pre-K-12 education. According to its authors, the statement presents "a set of conditions essential to sound implementation of high-stakes testing programs." The conditions, summarized here, include:
Protection Against High-Stakes Decisions Based on a Single Test
"Decisions that affect individual students' life chances or educational opportunities should not be made on the basis of test scores alone . . ." At the very least, the AERA recommends that students be given multiple opportunities to pass high-stakes tests and that alternative forms of assessment be provided where there is "credible evidence" that a test may not measure a child's true level of proficiency.
Adequate Resources and Opportunity to Learn
Before students, schools, and districts can be "passed" or "failed" by high-stakes tests, they must have access to the materials, curriculum, and instruction to enable them to succeed on such assessments: "When content standards and associated tests are introduced as a reform to change and thereby improve current practice, opportunities to access appropriate materials and retraining consistent with the intended changes should be provided before schools, teachers, or students are sanctioned for failing to meet the new standards."
Validation for Each Separate Intended Use
Tests must only be used for the purposes for which they are valid, and each use of a particular test must be subject to "a separate evaluation of the strengths and limitations of both the testing program and the test itself."
Full Disclosure of Likely Negative Consequences
"Where credible scientific evidence suggests that a given type of testing program is likely to have negative side effects, test developers and users should make a serious effort to explain these possible effects to policymakers," recommends the AERA.
Alignment Between the Test and the Curriculum
The test should reflect the curriculum in both its content and the cognitive process involved: "High-stakes tests should not be limited to that portion of the relevant curriculum that is easiest to measure." To avoid the problem of "teaching to the test," the AERA recommends using multiple test forms "to avoid a narrowing of the curriculum toward just the content sampled on a particular form."
Opportunities for Meaningful Remediation
Students who fail a high-stakes test should be given a second chance, and "remediation should focus on the knowledge and skills the test is intended to address, not just the test performance itself."
Additional conditions for sound testing implementation outlined in the statement include: setting valid and appropriate passing levels; taking into consideration language differences among examinees; paying appropriate attention to students with disabilities; and performing ongoing evaluations of the intended and unintended effects of high-stakes testing.
"These are all criteria that we believe have to be put in place in order for testing to be fair," says AERA president Catherine Snow. "Right now, there's not a state in the union that's abiding by all of them." The full text of the AERA position statement is available online at http://www.aera.net/about/policy/stakes.htm . The AERA website is at http://www.aera.net/ . ---------------- Michael Sadowski ****************************************** -- Jerry P. Becker Dept. of Curriculum & Instruction Southern Illinois University Carbondale, IL 62901-4610 USA Phone: (618) 453-4241 [O] (618) 457-8903 [H] Fax: (618) 453-4244 E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org