Making Sense of Test-Based Accountability in Education

Making Sense of Test-Based Accountability in Education

Making Sense of Test-Based Accountability in Education

Making Sense of Test-Based Accountability in Education


Examining the state of the art in achievement testing and how testing and accountabiltiy can be used most effectively to promote positive educational outcomes.


Test-based accountability systems are based on the belief that public education can be improved through a simple strategy: require all students to take standardized achievement tests and attach high stakes to the tests in the form of rewards when test scores improve and sanctions when they do not.

Test-based accountability has achieved broad support as a strategy for improving public education. Standardized achievement tests have been used to measure students' educational progress for nearly a century, but the prevalence of tests, and the number of purposes they are being asked to serve, have grown substantially during the past two decades. In addition to the measurement function for which they were originally designed, large-scale achievement tests have become an essential component of efforts to reform education more broadly. Test-based accountability systems are in place in nearly every state, and advocates of these systems believe that the use of high stakes tests will spur positive change in schools and classrooms.

But the emphasis on test-based accountability raises a number of important questions: Do these high-stakes tests measure student achievement accurately? How can policymakers and educators select the right tests, evaluate the test scores correctly, and attach the right consequences to the results of these tests to make accountability systems work as intended? What are the costs of developing and administering these tests? And what kinds of trade-offs do these policies introduce?

There is an extensive literature on the psychometric properties of achievement test scores and a much smaller, but still substantial, lit-

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