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NCLB Outrages

Unintended Consequences of High-Stakes Assessment Undermine Education Reform

Dave Stratman Comment: I am astonished that reputable people would put their names to this crap.

Do Laitsch and Molnar really think that these negative developments are "UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES OF HIGH-STAKES ASSESSMENT?" And do they really think that education reform as represented by NCLB and the many business-sponsored state-level reform plans would have positive effects were it not for their use of high-stakes testing? Or that these plans were intended to have positive consequences, but have just somehow gone awry?

I can't believe these two researchers are such utter fools. I can only think that either they hold some fatuous illusions--that they are going to change policy- makers' minds with these preposterous claims--or they are afraid that their funding sources would dry up if they told the truth: that the disastrous consequences of high-stakes testing and of corporate-led reform were not only predicted but fully intended by their Business Roundtable sponsors.

Dave Stratman http://www.newdemocracyworld.org



CONTACT: Dan Laitsch 778-782-7589 (email) dlaitsch@sfu.ca or
Alex Molnar (480) 965-1886 (email) epsl@asu.edu

TEMPE, Ariz. (Monday, Nov. 27, 2006) - High-stakes assessment systems for schools have a number of unintended consequences that undermine their goal of reforming public education, according to a new policy brief from the Education Policy Studies Laboratory at Arizona State University.

Instead of promoting comprehensive, effective school reform, reports Dan Laitsch, of Simon Fraser University, "the stress on rewards and punishments based on test scores forces schools to consider the data generated as evaluative rather than as useful for informing instruction. The result is a system that appears coordinated, but results in a number of unintended-although not unpredictable-negative consequences."

Laitsch sets forth his argument in the report "Assessment, high stakes, and alternative visions: Appropriate use of the right tools to leverage improvement," released today by the EPSL.

Laitsch identifies a wide range of audiences who each have an interest in the outcome of school reform efforts. Internal stakeholders include associations of educators, administrators and policy makers; external stakeholders include parents, businesses, and think tanks.

"Each group has members with diverse ideas about public education's goals and about how to judge a school's effectiveness," Laitsch writes. "In contrast, the current high-takes system assumes that it is self-evident that all schools should pursue increased test scores as their dominant goal and that those scores offer the most reliable evidence of how well a school is performing."

The federal No Child Left Behind act has helped promote the high-stakes model of assessment, in which test scores are used to make decisions affecting both individual students and the schools they attend-up to and including whether those schools will remain open.

Negative consequences, Laitsch writes, include:

* Narrowed curriculum and instructional strategies, so that "students experience an impoverished academic experience."
* Efforts to bypass high-stakes tests, undermining their efficacy; disparate impacts on minorities and other disadvantaged subgroups of students.
* Reallocation of services away from high- and low-achieving students and disproportionately toward those whose scores are closest to the cutoff between passing and failing for a particular test: "Students likely to pass the tests easily are left to manage on their own, as are students who are so far from passing the test that it is exceptionally unlikely that they will succeed."
* Negative impact on students as a result of testing errors that improperly categorize them.

"In effect, high-stakes systems may result in practitioners changing their behavior from what they consider ethical best practice to altered, undesirable behavior in order to achieve the mandated outcomes and avoid punitive consequences," Laitsch writes.

Yet, as Laitsch points out, there are a variety of other models of assessment, some incrementally different from NCLB while others represent a radical departure from the high-stakes assessment model.

The report recommends refocusing reform emphasis toward building school capacity and imposing professional accountability; abandoning high-stakes accountability systems, "which produce not only questionable improvement in student learning but also unintended, significant negative consequences";
aligning new assessment systems with professional guidelines for their ethical use; and broadening data collection methods "to better evaluate the multiple purposes of education."

Find this document on the web at:

Dan Laitsch, Professor
Simon Fraser University

— Dan Laitsch
Education Policy Studies Laboratory


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