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Effectiveness of treatment. Does performance on the test lead to placements or other decisions that are educationally beneficial and well matched to the student's needs?”
Based on these criteria, the reader is reminded that “blanket criticism of tests is not justified.” However, “it is also a mistake to accept observed test scores as either infallible or immutable” (p. 276).
In addition, the report helps to frame the dilemmas that arise from asking the same test to serve multiple functions and identifies seven distinct purposes of student assessment as a policy instrument (pp. 33–37):
Aid in making instructional decisions about individual students.
Provide information about the status of the educational system.
Motivate change by “shaking people up.”
To hold schools and educators accountable for student performance.
Leverage change in classroom instruction.
To certify individual students as having attained specified levels of achievement.
The report seeks to clarify the relationship between the types and forms of assessment used and the purposes for which the assessment is given. It argues that standards-based approaches and accountability approaches can be compatible or incompatible, depending on what the tests measure, how they are used, and the regulations that govern their implementation and influence.
In making its recommendations, the report provides a clear picture of the tensions that abound on the assessment landscape. The reader is reminded of the tension between the enthusiasm of policymakers and the caution of experts that results in the twin dilemmas that (1) policy and public expectations of testing generally exceed the technical capacity of the tests themselves, and (2) the desire for more fairness and efficiency often conflicts with the impulse to sort and classify students (pp. 30–31).
The committee indicated a “strong need for better evidence on the intended benefits and unintended negative consequences of using high-stake tests to make decisions about individuals” (p. 8).
The report concludes that “large-scale assessments, used properly, can improve teaching, learning, and equality of educational opportunity” (p. 9). But, “when test use is inappropriate, especially in the case of high-stakes decisions about individuals, it can undermine the quality of education and equality of opportunity” (p. 276). Thus assessments have the potential for both help and harm, which should motivate action to ensure that educational tests are used fairly and effectively.