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High Stakes for Whom?

Posted By: Paul Bielawski on June 15, 2002
The big issue is the relationship between the standards and the assessments, particularly at the state level. Let’s start with the standards. They must be well enough accepted to be credible and meaningful to educators and the public. Coherent state policies for curriculum, instruction, assessment, teacher preparation, and professional development should provide all students the opportunity to learn. A state accountability system is necessary to identify and assist schools where students are not learning. This is a brief description of the idea of systemic reform. It describes the relationship between standards and assessments, but it does not get to the issue ‘f “high stakes” that was referenced. One way of looking at this is to sort state assessments in terms of the actor that is the subject of high stakes.

One category of state systems place schools and school districts (Local Education Agencies) under public and legal accountability directly related to student achievement. Most states have adopted some variant of this type of system. These systems can be based on student achievement as measured in terms of status, change, and/or growth. The new federal “No Child Left Behind Act” requires a specific model of this form of accountability, and imposes sanctions on schools and school districts as part of the system. These systems put stakes on the school, not necessarily on the student.

Contrast this to states that impose stakes on students for graduation from high school, or for promotion from grade to grade. One reason for high stakes graduation tests is demand from the business community. Additionally, high stakes for students are seen as useful for states to provide student motivation, particularly at the high school level. In Michigan, we have created student motivation through scholarships tied to the assessments. High stakes systems are not mutually exclusive from school accountability systems. Several states use the same assessment for both purposes.

Personally, I hold that there is no necessary systemic connection between stakes for students and stakes for schools. Accountability and assistance ties to the standards and assessments are much more important than high stakes.
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 High-stakes testing and standards by Samantha Murray on April 13, 2002
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