kindergarten, these same children may thrive. This is a particular concern for children from minority and disadvantaged backgrounds. And since schools and programs differ, the fundamental requirement in every evaluation of a child’s school readiness should be that the assessment is grounded in direct relevance to the criterion, namely, functioning in that school or program.
These considerations have led many to conclude that readiness tests are not suited for use in child placement and promotion decisions, although they may have value for purposes of instructional planning (Meisels, 1987, 1989a, 1989b; Stallman and Pearson, 1990).
Tests and assessment results are increasingly used as a basis for important policy decisions in education. Large-scale testing programs generate data that inform about which schools or programs should be funded, which should be closed, who should be rewarded, what types of programs should be developed, and who should be informed that improvement is required if further assistance is to be forthcoming. Public reporting of assessment data by district or by school has become commonplace, as has the use of these data for rewards and potential sanctions. These types of decisions are known as high-stakes decisions (see Madaus, 1988; National Research Council, 1997).
High-stakes testing also refers to the use of assessment data to make decisions about individual students or teachers. The use of readiness tests to make decisions about enrolling a child in kindergarten provides one illustration. Other uses include retention, promotion, tracking, placement in special education, and selection into advanced programs (Madaus, 1988; Meisels, 1989a, 1989b; National Research Council, 1999a).
High-stakes testing is closely tied to the notion of accountability, so that poor scores on such examinations will result in negative sanctions of one sort or another. It is widely believed that tangible rewards or punishments will provide strong incentives for schools, teachers, and children to improve their performance.
The use of assessment to support policy decisions is much