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Topic: High Stakes Testing Study
Replies: 2   Last Post: May 16, 2002 9:35 PM

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Nancy Buell

Posts: 8
Registered: 12/3/04
High Stakes Testing Study
Posted: May 6, 2002 12:10 AM
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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).

Full study available at


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


programs were affecting student learning, the intended outcome of

high-stakes testing policies promoted throughout the nation. Scores on

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

forth. Student learning was measured by means of additional tests

some of the same domain as each state's own high-stakes test. The

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

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

state's imposition of a high-stakes test we considered that evidence

student learning in the domain and support for the belief that the

high-stakes testing policy was promoting transfer, as intended.

The uncertainty principle is used to interpret these data. That

states "The more important that any quantitative social indicator

in social decision-making, the more likely it will be to distort and

corrupt the social process it is intended to monitor." Analyses of

data reveal that if the intended goal of high-stakes testing policy is

increase student learning, then that policy is not working. While a


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

The success of a high-stakes testing policy is whether it affects

learning, not whether it can increase student scores on a particular

If student learning is not affected, the validity of a state's test is


Evidence from this study of 18 states with high-stakes tests is that


but one analysis, student learning is indeterminate, remains at the

level it was before the policy was implemented, or actually goes down

high-stakes testing policies are instituted. Because clear evidence

increased student learning is not found, and because there are

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

transformation of current high-stakes testing policies.

The authors wish to thank the Rockefeller Foundation for support of

research reported here. The views expressed are those of the authors


not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Rockefeller


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