AERA Warns Against High-Stakes Test Use

K-12 Testing

The American Educational Research Association (AERA) has issued a strong Position Statement Concerning High-Stakes Testing in PreK-12 Education. The AERA is a co-sponsor of the Standards for Educational and Psychological Testing (see Examiner, Winter 1999-2000), on which this statement is largely based.


Of particular importance is the section, “Protection Against High-Stakes Decisions Based on a Single Test,” which reads:


“Decisions that affect individual students’ life chances or educational opportunities should not be made on the basis of test scores alone. Other relevant information should be taken into account to enhance the overall validity of such decisions. As a minimum assurance of fairness, when tests are used as part of making high-stakes decisions for individual students such as promotion to the next grade or high school graduation, students must be afforded multiple opportunities to pass the test. More importantly, when there is credible evidence that a test score may not adequately reflect a student’s true proficiency, alternative acceptable means should be provided by which to demonstrate attainment of the tested standards.”


This statement makes clear that allowing a student multiple opportunities to take a test does not justify making a high-stakes decision based on “test scores alone.” Advocates should use this clear statement to hold states and districts accountable for proper test use.


The statement neither encourages nor discourages use of tests as part of decision making. The key limitation of this statement, however, is that it would allow tests to remain central in decision-making with “other relevant information” secondary, the reverse of what should occur. Tests, if used at all, should play a backup role.


Other parts of the position statement say that students should have “Adequate Resources and Opportunity to Learn,” there should be “Full Disclosure of Likely Negative Consequences of High-Stakes Testing Programs,” “the test and the cognitive processes engaged in taking the test should adequately represent the curriculum” and “not be limited to that portion of the relevant curriculum that is easiest to measure,” there must be “appropriate attention” to language differences and to students with disabilities, and “the governmental body that mandates the test should also provide resources for a continuing program of research and for dissemination of research findings concerning both the positive and the negative effects of the testing program.”


The full statement is on the web at