Why Do the Achievement Gaps Exist?
Testing Has Its Limits: What, and How, Tests Should
The Center on Education Policy cautions about the limits of
using tests for measuring progress and offers suggestions on
how best to use them.
This reports some of the ideas
and findings from the following source:
Kober, N. (2001).It takes more than testing: Closing
the achievement gap.Center on Education Policy.
Retrieved April 4, 2002 from
http://www.ctredpol.org/improvingpublicschools/ closingachievementgap.pdf (Adobe® Reader® PDF).
To see other reports that originated from this same
citation, go to the bibliography.
Tests are undeniably useful—they provide information
about which students are not doing well and how far they are
from proficiency. Yet testing has its limitations as well.
Nancy Kober, author of the Center on Education Policy’s
report,It Takes More Than Testing: Closing the
Achievement Gap, identifies three important areas where
testing has to be handled carefully.
Tests should be gauged to what students are actually
learning in the classroom.
High-stakes testing must be implemented so as not to
disadvantage minority students.
Tests should only be used for the purposes they were
Tests Should Measure Learning
Kober cautions that teachers and school officials
need to keep in mind that tests are not measures of
ability but of achievement. An ability is something
inherent in a person; achievement is what a person
can accomplish through work and dedication.
Testing standards should also be based on a coherent
curriculum. Adopting standards without developing the
curriculum to help students meet those standards is
only piecemeal reform. Students should not be tested on
subjects for which they have not been prepared.
High-Stakes Testing Must Be Fair
Kober argues that high-stakes testing must be fair for racial
and ethnic minorities.
Improper use of test scores for high-stakes
decisions (such as college admissions) can reinforce
racial or ethnic inequalities. According to Kober,
there is the danger of further disadvantaging
minority students by not promoting them because of
lower test scores. Since these lower scores are a
result of a variety of social factors, they are not
fair measures of a student’s achievement.
When tests are used for high-stakes decisions,
policymakers have a special responsibility to ensure
that such tests are not culturally biased. The author
recommends that setting standards, and creating tests
to measure those standards, should be accompanied by
close monitoring of consequences and by support to help
all students pass the tests.
Use Tests for the Purposes They Were Designed
When setting new standards, policymakers have
sometimes used old tests to measure the new
standard. Kober views this practice as undermining
the purpose of testing. Using tests to measure
things they were not designed to measure can
compromise both test reliability and test validity
as well as the test's results, Kober argues.
Based upon expert advice, Kober also recommends that
multiple measures should be used in making decisions
rather than just a single test. Particularly since
such decisions can have major consequences on a
students’ future, multiple measures are likely
to be more accurate and fair, she suggests.
High-stakes testing should not encourage ineffective
instructional practices. For instance, in some
school districts teachers devote a great deal of
time to developing students’ test-taking
skills. While this may raise scores on high-stakes
tests for a few years, Kober argues, it does not
actually produce real gains in student knowledge.
Moreover, skills that are useful but not tested
(such as being able to lead a class discussion) may
Nancy Kober and the Center on Education Policy conclude that
the best way to respect these limitations of testing is to
develop better, appropriate, accurate tests and educate
people about how to interpret and use the tests.
Research Design: The report surveys test
score data from the National Assessment of Educational
Progress (NAEP), as well as from the SAT and ACT college
entrance exams. Policy suggestions are taken from studies of
school districts in North Carolina, Texas, Michigan, Indiana,
Maryland, Connecticut, Delaware, and Rhode Island.