From Gatekeeper To Gateway: Transforming Testing in America
America must revamp the way it develops and utilizes human talent, and to do that educational and employment testing must be restructured.
America can no longer rely on an abundant, largely unskilled labor supply. Instead, the nation is facing a shrinking entry-level workforce increasingly composed of linguistic, racial, and ethnic minorities, whose talents are often underdeveloped and under- utilized.
Yet in a global economy that is becoming more competitive and interdependent, we need more than ever the talents of all our people. Developing that resource is the province of our educational institutions.
From the outset, American education has had the dual goal of creating a skilled workforce and a knowledgeable citizenry. This report deals with the role of testing in pursuit of those goals.
We recognize that in the past testing has helped to reduce unfairness in allocating opportunities and directing resources to the economically disadvantaged, and has been useful for making decisions. However, the growing overreliance on testing over the past several decades deprives the nation of all the talent it needs and sometimes conflicts with the nation's ideals of fairness and equal opportunity.
This report summarizes our findings on the problems of testing and offers recommendations for its restructuring.
Current testing, predominantly multiple choice in format, is overrelied upon, lacks adequate public accountability, sometimes leads to unfairness in the allocation of opportunities, and too often undermines vital social policies. Tests may mislead as indicators of performance.
Test scores are at best an estimate of someone's knowledge or ability, and can be affected by numerous outside factors. Inevitably, some who could perform successfully will "fail" tests and thus risk being misclassified and erroneously denied opportunity.
Testing can result in unfairness. All tests are to some extent culturally dependent; nor has society yet been able to extend educational opportunities to all -- hence the score gap between minority and majority groups. Differences in performance on other indicators such as grades and ratings are generally much smaller than test score differences. Thus when test results alone are used in selection, misclassification falls disproportionately on minority groups.
There is too much educational testing. Mandatory testing consumes some 20 million school days and the equivalent of $700 to $900 million in direct and indirect expenditures annually -- an enormous cost and use of classroom time that could be spent on skill development.
Testing practices can undermine social policies. We cannot test our way out of our educational problems; the opposite is true. As teaching turns into test preparation, test results cease to reflect what examinees really know or can do. Thus our fixation on test results deflects attention from fundamental educational problems and so hinders reform.
Tests are subject to insufficient public accountability. Rarely are many important tests and test uses adequately scrutinized; standards for their development and use lack adequate enforcement mechanism; and truth-in-testing laws exist in only two states. Thus the industry whose products regulate access to opportunities is itself unregulated and unaccountable.
To help promote greater development of the talents of all our people, alternative forms of assessment must be developed and more critically judged and used, so that testing and assessment open gates of opportunity rather than close them off.
This Commission proposes that testing policy and practice be restructured to help people develop their talents and become productive citizens, and to help institutions become more productive, accountable, and just. To that end, we offer eight recommendations.
In conclusion, the Commission recognizes that testing is useful and inevitable: we must know how our institutions are doing, what our children are learning, and who will make the most of opportunities not available to all.
But to direct testing along a more constructive course, we would draw richer, more direct evidence of knowledge and skill from information sources beyond multiple-choice tests.
The design of assessments would differ with their purpose -- e.g., to inform instruction or to evaluate school performance. And test use would be monitored continuously.
The role of assessment information should be a supportive one; low test scores should never brand anyone as a failure or permanently restrict opportunities.
The shift we envision will be difficult to accomplish. New attitudes and policies cannot guarantee human development. But with resources and national resolve, we can bring testing policies and practices into line with our most important goals and most deeply held convictions.
Excerpted with Permission from the National Commission on Testing and Public Policy.