Upgrading high-stakes assessments

Albert Oosterhof describes current research into the effectiveness of a new assessment strategy

HIGH-STAKES ASSESSMENTS have existed for many years; for instance, the ordinance that created the Regents examination system in New York State was passed in 1864. The use of high-stakes assessments has become widespread in recent years, and in the U.S. their prevalence increased with passage of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. As the term “high stakes” suggests, students’ performance on these assessments can result in significant actions directed at students, teachers, and/or schools.

What we know
● If assessments de-emphasize particular types of competencies, what is learned also will be de-emphasized.
● For practical reasons, high-stakes tests de-emphasize complex skills. It may be practical to assess these skills if samples of students are used.
● Because tests involve only samples of tasks, students’ performance may not generalize to what would have been observed had different, equally appropriate tasks been used.

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June 2011