learners, such disproportions are logical: one would not expect to find native English speakers in classes designed to teach English to English-language learners. In other circumstances, such disproportions raise serious questions. For example, grade retardation among children cumulates rapidly after age 6, and it occurs disproportionately among males and minority group members. These disproportions are especially disturbing in view of other evidence that, as typically practiced, grade retention and assignment to low tracks have little educational value. For example, assignment to low tracks is typically associated with an impoverished curriculum, poor teaching, and low expectations. It is also important to note that group differences in test performance do not necessarily indicate problems in a test, because test scores may reflect real differences in achievement. These, in turn, may be due to a lack of access to a high-quality curriculum and instruction. Thus, a finding of group differences calls for a careful effort to determine their cause.

Recommendations

The committee offers more detailed recommendations in Chapter 12 about the appropriate uses of tests. Those recommendations cover cross-cutting issues that affect testing generally; specific issues and problems pertaining to the uses of tests in tracking, promotion, and graduation; and the inclusion of students with disabilities and students who are English-language learners. The organization of the recommendations in Chapter 12 follows the logic of the chapters in this report. In this executive summary, we present overarching recommendations and discuss the possible use of the proposed voluntary national tests for high-stakes decisions about individual students.

  • Accountability for educational outcomes should be a shared responsibility of states, school districts, public officials, educators, parents, and students. High standards cannot be established and maintained merely by imposing them on students. Moreover, if parents, educators, public officials, and others who share responsibility for educational outcomes are to discharge their responsibility effectively, they should have access to information about the nature and interpretation of tests and test scores. Such information should be freely available to the public and should be incorporated into teacher education and into educational programs for principals, administrators, public officials, and others.


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