National Testing Commission Formed at SOE

(10-1-98) -- Boston College researchers are using a $1 million Ford Foundation grant to embark on a comprehensive study of high-stakes testing in American education.

"There is more oversight for pet food than there is for tests," said Boisi Professor of Education George Madaus, who landed the award for the launch of the new, SOE-based National Commission on Testing and Public Policy.

Standardized tests hold great weight in college and graduate school admissions, and have become flashpoints in debates over the reform of public education. Yet the tests themselves have not undergone as great an examination as they might, said Prof. Walter Haney (SOE), who will be active on the new commission.

"Standardized tests have become instruments of public policy without any independent scrutiny of their technical quality," said Haney, himself involved in a separate project to examine the validity of the recently introduced Massachusetts teacher tests.

Madaus and Haney, colleagues in the Center for the Study of Testing, Evaluation and Educational Policy, were involved in a similar Ford Foundation-funded project at SOE eight years ago that recommended greater accountability in high-stakes testing.

Joining them in the work of the new commission are a pair of new additions to the SOE faculty, CSTEEP Research Prof. Arnold Shore, the commission's executive director, and Prof. Daniel Koretz.

The National Commission on Testing and Public Policy has set an ambitious agenda, according to Shore, who said its first task will be to examine college and graduate school admissions in light of changes in affirmative action. Future plans call for an annual report to the nation on testing, regular reports on specific testing cases, and the formation of what Shore called a "high-profile" board to "draw the nation's attention."

"Tests have increasingly become prominent," Haney said, "to the extent that, in some places, they have become the coin of the academic realm, with attending great consequences for students teachers and schools."

Exams that hold such high stakes for students and teachers ought to be monitored by education analysts in much the same way as pharmaceuticals are by food-and-drug officials, Koretz suggested.

The scholars said their methods will include institutional surveys, quantitative analyses of admissions data, and other forms of research. "We're not looking for controversy," said Shore. "We're looking at issues of adequacy and impact and seeing where they lead us. The aim of what we're doing is to affect the decisions we make as a nation, and the decisions individual students and families make. We want to make sure tests are as technically adequate as can be."

"We think testing serves a very useful function in American society," Madaus said. "We want to try to monitor the impacts and improve the use of tests in American society. One of our main functions will be to educate the American public and its leaders about the strengths and limitations of testing."

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