improve student learning (Mehrens, 1998). Furthermore, compared with other interventions, standardized tests are inexpensive. Now required by all three levels of government, tests have become a central feature of American public schooling.
At the same time, some testing experts and others concerned about the effects of inappropriate test use caution against using tests to promote broader policy goals. They warn that, if test scores are used to bestow rewards or impose sanctions, there are several risks: widening the gap in educational opportunities between haves and have-nots, narrowing the curriculum, centralizing educational decision making, and deprofessionalizing teachers (Haertel, 1989; Airasian, 1987).
The tension between the enthusiasm of policymakers and the caution of experts is symptomatic of two fundamental dilemmas posed by standardized tests when they are used as policy strategies. First, policy and public expectations of testing generally exceed the technical capacity of the tests themselves. One of the most common reasons for this gap is that policymakers, under constituent pressure to improve schools, often decide to use existing tests for purposes for which they were neither intended nor adequately validated. So, for example, tests designed to produce valid measures of performance only at the aggregate level—for schools or classrooms—are used to report on and make decisions about individual students. In such instances, serious consequences (such as retention in grade) may be unfairly imposed on individual students. That injustice is further compounded if the skills being tested do not reflect or validly measure what students have been taught.
Policymakers sometimes acknowledge these problems and the need for more research. Nevertheless, they often choose to rely on an available test because they see only a fleeting opportunity for action, or because they believe that, even with imperfect tests, more good than harm will be done. From this perspective, technical constraints are problems that should be remedied to the extent possible, but in an iterative fashion simultaneous with the implementation of the test-based policy (McDonnell, 1994).
In one recent case in point, Paul G. Vallas, the chief executive officer of the Chicago Public Schools, decided to continue use of the nationally norm-referenced Iowa Test of Basic Skills (ITBS) to identify low-performing schools and students, even though it has not been validated for