Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Testing Regimes block school improvement

High-Stakes Testing and Student Learning
No Child Left Behind
“The Department of Education has recently claimed that No Child Left Behind
(NCLB) reforms have resulted in landmark improvements in student achievement, in
both reading and math, and for African Americans as well as Hispanics, as evidenced by
the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).56 Despite these broad claims
of success, other researchers have argued that there was no change in average reading
scores on the NAEP between 2002 (before NCLB effects would likely be measured) and
2006, and only a small increase in math scores.57 Thus, the Administration’s claims of
great success may be overstated. “ Laitsch


High-stakes assessment systems for schools have a number of unintended consequences that undermine their goal of reforming public education, according to a new policy brief from the Education Policy Studies Laboratory at Arizona State University.

Instead of promoting comprehensive, effective school reform, reports Dan Laitsch, of Simon Fraser University, "the stress on rewards and punishments based on test scores forces schools to consider the data generated as evaluative rather than as useful for informing instruction.
The result is a system that appears coordinated, but results in a number of unintended-although not unpredictable-negative consequences."

Laitsch sets forth his argument in the report "Assessment, high stakes, and alternative visions: Appropriate use of the right tools to leverage improvement," released today by the EPSL.

Laitsch identifies a wide range of audiences who each have an interest in the outcome of school reform efforts. Internal stakeholders include associations of educators, administrators and policy makers; external stakeholders include parents, businesses, and think tanks. 

"Each group has members with diverse ideas about public education's goals and about how to judge a school's effectiveness,"
Laitsch writes. "In contrast, the current high-takes system assumes that it is self-evident that all schools should pursue increased test scores as their dominant goal and that those scores offer the most reliable evidence of how well a school is performing."

The federal No Child Left Behind act has helped promote the high-stakes model of assessment, in which test scores are used to make decisions affecting both individual students and the schools they attend-up to and including whether those schools will remain open.

Negative consequences, Laitsch writes, include:

* Narrowed curriculum and instructional strategies, so that "students experience an impoverished academic experience." 
* Efforts to bypass high-stakes tests, undermining their efficacy; disparate impacts on minorities and other disadvantaged subgroups of students.
* Reallocation of services away from high- and low-achieving students and disproportionately toward those whose scores are closest to the cutoff between passing and failing for a particular test: "Students likely to pass the tests easily are left to manage on their own, as are students who are so far from passing the test that it is exceptionally unlikely that they will succeed."
Negative impact on students as a result of testing errors that improperly categorize them.

"In effect, high-stakes systems may result in practitioners changing their behavior from what they consider ethical best practice to altered, undesirable behavior in order to achieve the mandated outcomes and avoid punitive consequences," Laitsch writes.

Yet, as Laitsch points out, there are a variety of other models of assessment, some incrementally different from NCLB while others represent a radical departure from the high-stakes assessment model.

The report recommends refocusing reform emphasis toward building school capacity and imposing professional accountability; abandoning high-stakes accountability systems, "which produce not only questionable improvement in student learning but also unintended, significant negative consequences";
aligning new assessment systems with professional guidelines for their ethical use; and broadening data collection methods "to better evaluate the multiple purposes of education."

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