U.S. Ed. Dept. Reasserts Test-Misuse Warning

University Testing

Responding to strong pressure from the testing industry and conservative columnists (see Examiner, Summer 1999) the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) has modified the language but not the basic thrust of its controversial “Resource Guide,” The Use of Tests When Making High-Stakes Decisions for Students. The latest revision still concludes that it is improper — and potentially illegal — to use a test score as the single factor to determine retention, graduation, or college admission.


The current OCR draft repeatedly refers to the Standards for Educational and Psychological Testing, often called the “Joint Standards” because of its multi-organizational sponsorship (see related article), and two recent studies by the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences, High Stakes: Testing for Tracking, Promotion and Graduation (see Examiner, Fall 1998) and Myths and Tradeoffs: The Role of Tests in Undergraduate Admissions (see Examiner, Fall 1999). For example, OCR notes, “Both the ‘Joint Standards’ and High Stakes repeatedly state that decisions should not be made solely or automatically on the basis of a single test score, and that other relevant information should be taken into account.”


This means that the growing number of states which require a specific score on a test before a student can be promoted or a diploma awarded, as well as the many colleges that require a minimum SAT or ACT score for admission or scholarship aid, are on shaky legal grounds. They can expect a new wave of challenges based on the carefully cited arguments and case law summarized in the OCR “Resource Guide.”


The revision also includes extended information about fair treatment of English-language learners and disabled students in high-stakes assessments. In addition, there is a very strong glossary, academic bibliography, and summary of relevant legal decisions. All these tools should be of great value to education equity advocates.


The draft will now be submitted to the National Academy of Sciences Board on Testing and Assessment for a final review. Later this year, it will be made available for public comment on the Department of Education’s website. In the meantime, the OCR "Resource Guide" should serve as a stern warning to test mis-users from the White House and governors’ mansions to college admissions offices.


For information about the OCR “Resource Guide.” contact David Berkowitz at (202) 205-5557 or David_Berkowitz@ed.gov.