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Volume 18, Number 3
May/June 2002

Preparing for the Coming Avalanche of Accountability Tests

We can't get rid of high-stakes tests—but we can replace harmful ones with those that support both accountability and instruction


American educators will soon find themselves inundated by a profusion of state-level achievement tests soon to be spawned by the recently enacted No Child Left Behind Act. Signed into law by President Bush in January, this significant new federal statute calls for a dramatic expansion of state-level achievement testing in math and reading at grades 3-8. Such increased assessments, if appropriate, could help our nation's children learn what they ought to be learning. It is more likely, however, that this enlargement of statewide achievement testing will only heighten the harmful effects that most of today's state-level achievement tests are having on children.

Crucial Months Ahead

Whether the new, federally mandated achievement tests turn out to have a positive or negative impact on students will depend almost totally on the types of tests that educational decisionmakers choose to install. If traditionally constructed achievement tests are used—tests akin to those now widely employed—then we will surely witness a continued test-triggered erosion of educational quality. In contrast, if more suitable state-level achievement tests are installed, then their impact on instruction could be quite positive.

Even now, as a state's educational leaders are awaiting federal guidance regarding how to implement No Child Left Behind, preliminary decisions are apt to be made regarding what sorts of achievement tests should be adopted. Those early-on decisions will have a powerful influence on the kinds of statewide achievement tests ultimately employed.

This is an excerpt from the Harvard Education Letter. Subscribers can click here to continue reading this article.


For Further Information

For Further Information

Building Tests To Support Instruction and Accountability: A Guide for Policymakers by the Commission on Instructionally Supportive Assessment. October 2001.

W.J. Popham. Classroom Assessment: What Teachers Need to Know (3nd Ed.). Boston: Allyn & Bacon, 2002.

W.J. Popham. Modern Educational Measurement: Practical Guidelines for Educational Leaders (3rd Ed.). Boston: Allyn & Bacon, 2000.

W.J. Popham. Testing! Testing! What Every Parent Should Know About School Tests. Boston: Allyn & Bacon, 2000.

W.J. Popham. The Truth About Testing: An Educator's Call to Action. Arlington, VA: ASCD, 2000.