students know or are not comparable to scores of students generated under regular testing conditions.
Questions often arise regarding scoring procedures and what it means to “pass” a particular test. For example, some researchers claim that the use of averages in reporting test scores—one of the most common strategies in assessment—is inappropriate, arguing that average scores fail to account for variability within the population (Meyer, 1996). There is evidence that the choice of controlling variables (e.g., socioeconomic status variables, prior achievement) and summary statistics (e.g., mean gain, mean difference) help determine what conclusions are drawn (Linn, 2000; Clotfeler and Ladd, 1996). Factors such as when a test is administered during the school year also affect conclusions about apparent growth in student achievement (Linn, 2000). In addition, there is concern about the validity of what assessment data seem to indicate about student performance. A recurring pattern is evident in the implementation of a new test—a decrease in student performance the first year, followed by sharp increases in achievement in subsequent years— that may overstate actual student growth (Linn, 2000).
Large-scale, high-stakes tests can produce unintended effects. When rewards and consequences are attached to test performance, high scores may become the classroom focus and may well change the nature of instruction (Haertel, 1999; Glaser and Silver, 1994; Linn and Herman, 1997). This in turn may generate inflated scores that are not representative of what students actually know (Koretz, Linn, Dunbar, and Shepard, 1991; Madaus, 1988; Stecher and Barron, 1999; Klein, Hamilton, McCoffey, and Stecher, 2000). A key objective in aligning content and assessment is to help shape instruction and to raise expectations for student performance. Questions arise, however, about whether teachers are focusing on teaching the underlying standards-based content or simply teaching to the test. Some argue that high-stakes tests tend to narrow the curriculum. That is, teachers reduce instructional time devoted to problem-solving and open-ended investigations, and restrict their