transition services. A similar pattern was observed at grade 2. In this instance, disproportionate retention rates stemming from selective test use constitutes evidence of test invalidity (National Research Council, 1982).

In addition, there may be problems with using a test as the sole measure of the effectiveness of retention or other interventions (summer school, tutoring, and so on). This concern is related to the fact that the validity of test and retest scores depends in part on whether the scores reflect students' familiarity with actual test items or a particular test format. For example, there is some evidence to indicate that improved scores on one test may not actually carry over when a new test of the same knowledge and skills is introduced (Koretz et al., 1991).

The current reform and test-based accountability systems of the Chicago Public Schools provide an example of high-stakes test use for individual students that raises serious questions about "teaching to the test." Although Chicago is developing its own standards-based, course-specific assessment system, it is committed to using the Iowa Test of Basic Skills as the yardstick for student and school accountability. Teachers are given detailed manuals on preparing their students for the tests (Chicago Public Schools, 1996a, 1996b). Student test scores have increased substantially, both during the intensive summer remedial sessions—the Summer Bridge program—and between the 1996–1997 and 1997–1998 school years (Chicago Public Schools, 1997b, 1998b), but the available data provide no means of distinguishing true increases in student learning from artifactual gains. Such gains would be expected from the combined effects of teaching to the test, repeated use of a similar test, and, in the case of the Summer Bridge program, the initial selection of students with low scores on the test.16

Alternatives to Retention

Some policymakers and practitioners have rejected the simplistic alternatives of promoting or retaining students based on test scores. Instead, they favor intermediate approaches: testing early to identify students whose performance is weak; providing remedial education to help such students acquire the skills necessary to pass the test; and giving

16  

In the Chicago Public Schools, each retest is based on an alternative form of the Iowa Test of Basic Skills.



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