"How to Improve High-Stakes Test Scores Without Really Improving"
"How to Improve High-Stakes
Test Scores Without Really Improving"
by Richard L. Allington, Ph.D., University of Florida,
in Issues in Education: Contributions from Educational Psychology.
Adapted by CalCARE and FairTest.
Here are twelve strategies that have been used to improve
test scores without improving achievement, as reported in research
reports and media accounts:
1. Alter the answer sheets (cheat). Change kids' wrong answers
to right ones. Or tell kids to only answer the questions they
know and leave the rest blank. Then fill in the right answers
2. Encourage some kids to stay home or send them on a field trip.
3. Expel, push out, or encourage dropping out by low-achieving
4. Identify low-achieving students as pupils with disabilities.
In many states their scores won't be counted, but to be doubly
sure, specify in their IEPs that they take alternative assessments,
or take the tests with accommodations or not at all.
5. Use "non-approved" test accommodations with pupils
with disabilities. For instance, read the reading passages of
the reading test aloud (and the answer choices) to kids. Have
someone take student dictation for writing tests (preferably someone
who will clean up run-on sentences and punctuation). While these
accommodations might be approved for a social studies test, they
alter reading and writing assessments so as to make results meaningless.
But they do make the school look more effective.
6. Target resources away from certain groups of students (triage).
Assume that high-scoring students will score high, and low-scorers
will score low, so focus exclusively on those who might push the
school over the benchmark.
7. Segregate students by achievement (track). Concentrate the
low-scoring, hard-to-teach, troublesome students in one class,
so the rest of the school can move faster through the material.
8. Invest in test prep which may raise scores but has no demonstrated
effect on actual competence.
9. Flunk lots of kids. Despite this strategy being the most expensive
approach for "closing the achievement gap," and despite
its damage to the flunked kids, it is effective short-term in
raising test scores because it removes low-scorers from any given
10. Change the school year. Move "summer" vacation back
into the spring and start school in the summer so there's more
time in school before the tests.
11. Make the test easier. This can be done openly, as in California,
or covertly, as has happened in Texas.
12. Lower the cut-off scores. This does not lead to score gains,
but does provide a false impression of improvement since more
students pass the test.
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