Inequities also can exist at a broader level. Differences in performance across groups (e.g., gender, ethnic, or geographic groups) can be confounded with differences in access to curriculum, instruction, and resources. Performance differences from school to school may be confounded with differences in the quality of education, such as the number of advanced course offerings and the quality of educators (American Educational Research Association, American Psychological Association, and National Council on Measurement in Education, 1999). When assessments have high stakes for teachers, inequities with regard to teacher quality may increase; for example, teachers of high quality may choose not to teach in low-performing schools because of the possibility that negative consequences associated with low school performance will affect their careers. Thus, students in these schools, who are typically poor or are members of other subgroups that have been disadvantaged in the past, would not have equal access to high-quality teachers.
In this report we have described assessment strategies that ask students to create responses, rather than choose among a defined set of options. While performance assessments can capture a broad range of complex thinking and problem-solving skills, they are useful only when instruction has provided opportunities for students to be engaged in the kind of skills that are targeted by the assessment. Similarly, assessments that require students to use laboratory materials or other hands-on materials are useful only when students have used comparable materials in the classroom. If innovative item formats are used in the assessment, they should be related to instruction that has provided students with the opportunity to engage in problem solving with these formats. Thus, information about the nature of the instructional program in which each student has been enrolled is an important part of understanding assessment results.
NCLB requires that all students be included in assessments and that accommodations be offered to students with disabilities and to English language learners as appropriate. States are permitted to provide alternate assessments for students who cannot participate for a variety of reasons in exactly the same assessment as other students. These alternate assessments are either aligned with the same standards as the regular assessments, or, for students who cannot be held to the same standards as other students because of severe cognitive disabilities, are based on alternate achievement standards (U.S. Department of Education, 2004, p. 50).
The challenge for states is complex. Although states are required to provide appropriate accommodations to these two groups of students, the effects of ac-