of U.S. students will enroll in a postsecondary institution (Education Trust, 1999b; National Center for Education Statistics, 1997a). Consequently, college entrance and placement assessments guide many decisions made by high school students and teachers, as well as decisions about those students made by postsecondary institutions. The most important assessments for those students— customarily the SAT or ACT—affect college admission. Other assessments, including advanced placement tests and those administered by colleges and universities, guide course and program placement. For example, placement tests for introductory mathematics at the college level are used to identify students for remediation or acceleration and may as a result influence the content taught at the secondary level (Hebel, 2001).
The interpretation and consequent influence of assessment as a measure of educational improvement are matters of debate. On the one hand, such assessments can set levels of acceptable performance for all students and provide benchmarks against which teachers, students, and states can view their own educational accomplishments. The assessments may motivate educators to change their practices and decision makers to modify their policies. If politicians and educators believe that full alignment of content, instruction, and assessment will positively affect student outcomes, they may invest considerable effort in trying to ensure that such alignment is in place across all levels of the education system.
On the other hand, researchers and others have raised concerns about using large-scale assessments to monitor student and school performance (Resnick and Resnick, 1992). Large-scale assessments may not provide valid and comparable measures of performance for all students. States or districts may exclude some students from their assessment programs (generally second-language learners), or withhold student test results that are not valid measures of what