"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Friday, September 16, 2005

The Ethical Use of Testing

Over the past couple of years, I have been working with a very mainstream group of assessment folk to develop a statement on the ethical use of high stakes testing. That statement, found here, was essentially the one adopted by American Educational Research Association, American Psychological Association, & the National Council on Measurement in Education.

Whether or not NCLB survives reauthorization in 2007, I contend that the following slightly-modified version of that statement should be entered into the federal law. I would like to know what readers think.

Any decision about a student's continued education, such as retention, tracking, or graduation, shall not be based on the results of a single testing instrument or other assessment, but should include other relevant and valid information. Likewise, any decision about the organization and/or operations of the public schools attended by students shall not be based on the results of a single testing instrument or other assessment, but should include other relevant and valid information.

When test results substantially contribute to decisions made about student promotion or graduation, or are used to make substantive alterations in the organization or operations of the public schools, there shall be evidence that the test addresses only the specific or generalized content and skills that students have had an opportunity to learn and that teachers have had the opportunity to teach. For tests that will partially determine a student's eligibility for promotion to the next grade or for high school graduation, students will be granted, if needed, multiple opportunities to demonstrate mastery of materials through equivalent testing procedures.

When a school district, state, or some other federal authority mandates a test, the ways in which the test results are intended to be used should be clearly described. It is also the responsibility of those who mandate the test to monitor its impact, particularly on racial and ethnic-minority students or students of lower socioeconomic status, and to identify and minimize potential negative consequences of such testing.

In some cases, special accommodations for students with limited English proficiency may be necessary to obtain valid test scores. If students with limited English skills are to be tested in English, their test scores shall be interpreted in light of their limited English skills. For example, when a student lacks proficiency in the language in which the test is given (students for whom English is a second language for example), the test could become a measure of their ability to communicate in English rather than a measure of other skills.

Likewise, special accommodations will be required to ensure that tests are valid for students with disabilities or students who are disadvantaged by poverty. Students with disabilities or who live in poverty will have their test scores interpreted in light of their physical, emotional, or economic realities. For instance, since family income is one of the most consistent predictors of student test scores, regardless of age, this fact must be taken into consideration when establishing acceptable levels of performance for poor students and students living in poverty. Similarly, tests and other assessments must be designed that are appropriate for students with various disabilities. In short, to treat students equally, we must not treat them all the same.

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