In standards-based reform, testing and assessment are used to collect data on student progress and document educational accountability. To meet the demands of accountability, states have instituted mandatory large-scale testing programs to measure student achievement. These are called standards-based assessments and are developed using content standards (which specify what the students should know and be able to do) created by the states as a basis. They usually measure student knowledge and skills in various core subject areas. A common test is administered at specified intervals, such as fourth, eighth, and eleventh grades (Rivera, Vincent, Hafner, & LaCelle-Peterson, 1997; Shaul, 1999). Most states use group-administered standardized measures in their testing programs. Several states use portfolios, performance tasks, and other forms of educational assessment.
Several reasons exist for using mandatory large-scale testing programs. One reason is the belief that such testing is necessary to improve student performance and ensure that students are making progress toward meeting the standards. Another reason is that large-scale testing will provide data for states and school districts to monitor the advancement of schools and determine a school's position compared to other schools (Tirozzi & Uro, 1997). In addition, these testing data can be used to evaluate school programs designed to facilitate instructional improvement for various student groups (Chase, 1999).
Certain uses of large-scale achievement test scores are called "high stakes" if they carry important educational, financial, or social consequences for students or schools (AERA, 2000). Results from high-stakes tests are used to make crucial educational decisions for students, such as grade promotion, retention, high school graduation, or selection for special programs or services. Results from high-stakes tests can also lead to major consequences for schools. For example, high school–wide scores may bring financial rewards or other incentives to a school or school staff, or low scores may result in a school being taken over by state educational agencies (Erickson et al., 1998).
Policy makers first produced high-stakes tests as a means of targeting children at risk of school failure and identifying students with special needs. Eventually, high-stakes assessments were used to create annual profiles of school accountability and to increase the overall educational attainment of all students (Tapper, 1997). Currently, high-stakes testing is viewed as an efficient way of ensuring the effectiveness of school systems. Legislative and political support is strong for accountability and high-stakes testing and will remain so for the foreseeable future (Braden, 2002).
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