For example, although the grade placement of 6-year-olds is similar among boys and girls and among racial and ethnic groups, grade retardation among children cumulates rapidly after age 6, and it occurs disproportionately among males and minority group members. Among children 6 to 8 years old in 1987, 17 percent of white females and 22 percent of black males were enrolled below the modal grade for their age. By ages 9 to 11, 22 percent of white females and 37 percent of black males were enrolled below the modal grade for their age. In 1996, when the same children were 15 to 17 years old, 29 percent of white females and 48 percent of black males were either enrolled below the modal grade level for their age or had dropped out of school (U.S. Bureau of the Census, Current Population Reports, Series P-20). These disproportions are especially disturbing in view of other evidence that grade retention and assignment to low tracks have little educational value.

The concentrations of minority students, English-language learners, and low-SES students among those retained in grade, denied high school diplomas, and placed in less demanding classes raise significant questions about the efficacy of schooling and the fairness of major educational decisions, including those made using information from high-stakes tests.

The committee sees a strong need for better evidence on the benefits and costs of high-stakes testing. This evidence should tell us whether the educational consequences of particular decisions are educationally beneficial for students, e.g., by increasing academic achievement or reducing school dropout. It is also important to develop statistical reporting systems of key indicators that will track both intended effects (e.g., higher test scores) and other effects (e.g., changes in dropout or special education referral rates). For example, some parents or educators may improperly seek to classify their students as disabled in order to take advantage of accommodation in high-stakes tests. Indicator systems could include measures such as retention rates, special education identification rates, rates of exclusion from assessment programs, number and type of accommodations, high school completion credentials, dropout rates, and indicators of access to high-quality curriculum and instruction.

Recommendation: High-stakes testing programs should routinely include a well-designed evaluation component. Policymakers should monitor both the intended and unintended consequences of high-stakes assessments on all students and on significant subgroups of students, including minorities, English-language learners, and students with disabilities.

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