High stakes testing leads to under-serving or mis-serving all students, especially the most needy and vulnerable, thereby violating the principle of “do no harm.” The American Evaluation Association opposes the use of tests as the sole or primary criterion for making decisions with serious negative consequences for students, educators, and schools. The AEA supports systems of assessment and accountability that help education.
Recent years have seen an increased reliance on high stakes testing (the use of tests to make critical decisions about students, teachers, and schools) without full validation throughout the United States. The rationale for increased uses of testing is often based on a need for solid information to help policy makers shape policies and practices to insure the academic success of all students. Our reading of the accumulated evidence over the past two decades indicates that high stakes testing does not lead to better educational policies and practices. There is evidence that such testing often leads to educationally unjust consequences and unsound practices, even though it occasionally upgrades teaching and learning conditions in some classrooms and schools. The consequences that concern us most are increased drop out rates, teacher and administrator deprofessionalization, loss of curricular integrity, increased cultural insensitivity, and disproportionate allocation of educational resources into testing programs and not into hiring qualified teachers and providing sound educational programs. [i] The deleterious effects of high stakes testing need further study, but the evidence of injury is compelling enough that AEA does not support continuation of the practice.
While the shortcomings of contemporary schooling are serious, the simplistic application of single tests or test batteries to make high stakes decisions about individuals and groups impede rather than improve student learning. Comparisons of schools and students based on test scores promote teaching to the test, especially in ways that do not constitute an improvement in teaching and learning. Although used for more than two decades, state mandated high stakes testing has not improved the quality of schools; nor diminished disparities in academic achievement along gender, race or class lines; nor moved the country forward in moral, social, or economic terms. The American Evaluation Association (AEA) is a staunch supporter of accountability, but not test driven accountability. AEA joins many other professional associations in opposing the inappropriate use of tests to make high stakes decisions. [ii]
Violations of AEA Guiding Principles and Other Professional Standards
Evidence of the impact of high stakes testing shows it to be an evaluative practice where the harm outweighs the benefits. Many high stakes testing programs
Expectations for Improved Evaluation Practice
Recognizing that the assessment of student achievement requires policy makers, practitioners, legislators, test publishers, evaluators, media personnel, and citizens to meet high technical and ethical standards, the American Evaluation Association posits
The most serious problem with high stakes testing is its insistence that education be evaluated in a narrow way. The practice of high stakes testing in America is an effort to treat teaching and learning in a simple and fair manner, but in a world where education is hugely complex with inequitable distribution of opportunity. When we increase the standardization of education, we need challenges from multiple viewpoints as to the costs and benefits for the children in our schools. Education requires decisions as to how children, teachers, and schools will be sustained, improved and promoted, but high stakes testing oversimplifies the decisions to be made. We declare our obligation to follow the principle of "do no harm," and that requires us to examine consequences in real situations for all people affected, not just authorities. Current high stakes testing policies and practices fail to provide the mechanisms of review, meta-evaluation, and validation demanded by our professional standards.
Process used in developing this statement:
This statement is the result of more than a year’s work in which a Task Force on High Stakes Testing in K-12 Education was appointed by the American Evaluation Association President James Sanders to explore the need for and to draft such a statement for the approval of the Association’s Board of Directors. The Task Force began its work with a town hall meeting at the AEA annual meeting in 2000 with several presentations on the issues in high stakes testing and discussion by those present. Over the next year the Task Force members debated, drafted, debated and redrafted the statement. Another town hall meeting was held at the AEA annual meeting in 2001 to solicit feedback. At this same time a draft was shared with the Board of Directors for their feedback but not formal approval. Immediately after that meeting, a notice seeking feedback was posted to the AEA listserv EVALTALK. With the feedback from these sources the statement was once again revised. The AEA Board of Directors approved the position statement as submitted by the Task Force in February 2002.
Task Force members endorsing the statement are:
Linda Mabry, Sandra Mathison, James Sanders, Robert E. Stake, Daniel Stufflebeam, and Charles Thomas
Funding and support:
Development of this position statement was partially supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF) under NSF grant number 0130605. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this statement are those of the American Evaluation Association and do not necessarily reflect the official views, opinions or policy of the NSF.
[i] There is a large and growing body of research on high stakes testing much of which illustrates its deleterious effects. However, the research is not univocal. To provide the reader with more information about the state of our knowledge please refer to the High Stakes Testing in K-12 Schools Annotated Bibliography, available at here.
[ii] AEA joins many other professional associations, teacher unions, parent advocacy groups in opposing the inappropriate use of tests to make high stakes decisions. These include, but are not limited to the American Educational Research Association, the National Council for Teachers of English, the National Council for Teachers of Mathematics, the International Reading Association, the College and University Faculty Assembly of the National Council for the Social Studies, and the National Education Association.
[iii] Evaluations of and research on high stakes testing practices and policies that focus on both intended and unintended outcomes should be routinely conducted. To this end, we offer the following incomplete list of issues, those that may be neglected, as ones that should be considered in research and evaluation studies.