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APA's Public Policy Office is advocating that Congress allocate funding to evaluate the intended and unintended consequences of tests that many schools administer to determine whether students can graduate from high school, be promoted to the next grade or qualify for advanced classes.

The tests, known as high-stakes tests, are currently used by about half of the states to appraise student performance, schools, curricula and teachers. They may also be used to determine how financial resources should be allocated across schools, says Ellen Garrison, PhD, director of public interest policy in APA's Public Policy Office.

Psychologists are interested in determining whether such tests are being used appropriately.

In particular, APA is concerned about the impact these tests may have on the most at-risk and vulnerable children, particularly students with disabilities, low socioeconomic status or limited English proficiency, or ethnic-minority children, Garrison says.

APA is working with the office of Sen. Paul Wellstone (D­Minn.) to amend the comprehensive Elementary and Secondary Education Act (S. 2) to provide up to $5 million for evaluating the impact of high-stakes testing on students, teachers, schools, curricula and districts.

The amendment would authorize the National Research Council's (NRC) Board of Testing and Assessment to gather information from a representative sample of state and local educational agencies on:

  • How the results of high-stakes tests influence overall student academic performance including dropout rates, grade retention, graduation rates and students' success after graduation.

  • Whether course content and teaching practices are being modified to help students improve their test scores.

  • How state education funding levels and resource allocations are affected by test results.

The study would also examine the impact of high-stakes assessments on targeted student populations, including students with disabilities or limited English proficiency, of ethnic or racial minority or low socioeconomic status, and it would build on a 1999 NRC study, "High Stakes: Testing for Tracking, Promotion and Graduation."

--L. RABASCA