Yes: Federal standards are needed to ensure fairness and proper use of test scores.
The food your pet eats is regulated by the federal government to ensure minimum quality. Yet there are no minimum federal standards for the tests that your child takes, even though such tests can decide whether that child is promoted to the next grade, is placed in a special-education or a gifted program, graduates from high school, is admitted to college or receives a "merit" scholarship. As a result, low-quality tests and test misuse both are widespread.
For example, the Chicago Public Schools, or CPS, uses the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills, or ITBS, to decide promotion at grades three, six and eight. Riverside Publishers, creators of the ITBS, says in its Interpretive Guide that one of the "inappropriate purposes" for the tests is "to decide to retain students at a grade level ... a test score from an achievement battery should not be used alone in making such a significant decision."
Similarly, the Standards for Educational and Psychological Measurement, created by leading organizations involved with testing, states: "In elementary or secondary education, a decision ... that will have a major impact on a test-taker should not automatically be made on the basis of a single test score." The National Academy of Science recently released a report, High Stakes, which offers the same caveat.
When education-reform advocates in Chicago challenged Riverside to stop selling the ITBS to CPS, the publisher responded that the city's use "is not inconsistent with the guidelines" because the tests "are not the only criterion used." In fact, a student may be retained because he or she has poor grades or attendance. However, a student with good grades and attendance automatically will be retained if he or she scores below the test's cutoff point, making the test a sole determinant.
Consider Everett, an eighth-grade honor-roll student with perfect attendance who was accepted into the rigorous international baccalaureate, or IB, high-school program. In 1998, as a seventh-grader, he scored a grade-equivalent of 8.7 on the ITBS -- a year ahead of the average score of his peers. However, this year Everett's score dropped to 7.3, one-tenth of a point below the cutoff. As a result, he was not allowed to graduate and was dropped from the IB program. His mother appealed several times and was turned down. Everett was denied the opportunity to take a makeup exam. Parents United for Responsible Education then held a press conference and another parent testified on Everett's behalf at a school-board meeting. The next day, CPS offered Everett a makeup test, on which he scored a 9.9 -- again a year ahead of his peers. He will graduate in August and is participating in summer preparation for next year's IB program.
All's well that ends well? No, because Everett is but one of many. In Chicago, whenever a parent manages to direct media attention to a child's plight and raises the specter of legal action, CPS finds a way to solve the problem. But the chronic test misuse remains, aided and abetted by the publisher, which makes substantial profit from this increasing damage to Chicago's children.
Test abuse continues with college-admission exams. Guidelines for proper test usage circulated by the College Board (the Scholastic Assessment Tests' sponsor), the American College Testing Program, or ACT (the other major college-admissions test-maker) and the National Association for College Admissions Counseling, or NACAC, all warn against using instruments that are not regularly checked for accuracy and specifically enjoin reliance on test scores as the sole factor in determining admission or awarding scholarships. This largely is because college-admission exams are weak predictors of performance -- less valuable than grades, according to the tests' makers.
Unfortunately, abuse of these guidelines is widespread. …