NAACP: Serious Problems With The Proposed Voluntary National Tests of Reading and Mathematics

The Department of Education’s effort to develop and administer Voluntary National Tests in Reading and Mathematics for 4th and 8th grade students creates cause for real concern about harm to children through misuse of the tests if they are developed and implemented under the current proposal.

The tests will be used for high stakes decisions about students’ futures: Testing experts agreed at a recent meeting of the Board on Testing and Assessment of the National Research Council that the tests inevitably will be used for many purposes including retention in grade, ability grouping, tracking, graduation, and possibly teacher assessment. While the Department has said that the tests will be for information purposes for parents, students and teachers, the testing experts agree that they, in fact, will be used to make high stakes decisions for school children and possibly for teachers.

The Department has no plans to validate the tests: The consensus of professional educators and social scientists (as reflected in the “Standards for Educational and Psychological Testing” adopted jointly by the American Educational Research Association, the American Psychological Association, and the National Council for Measurement in Education) is that every separate use of a test instrument must be “validated” — that is, examined scientifically to insure that the test is an appropriate and reliable measure for the specific purpose for which it is being used. Despite the knowledge that tests with the imprimatur of the Federal Government will be used to make critical decisions about educational opportunities for children, the Department has no plan to validate them for these purposes. This means that we are virtually certain that the tests will be misused.

The NAACP Legal Defense Fund (LDF) has just filed, July 29, 1997, a case in North Carolina challenging the misuse of a standardized test to retain children in grade. The widespread misuse of tests has particularly harsh and disproportionate adverse consequences for poor and minority children. These misuses result in the gross overrepresentation of poor and minority children in low-end classes and low curriculum tracks which ultimately limit opportunity and deny the life-long benefits of a quality education.

The Department has no plan to establish any mechanism to enforce traditional testing guidelines prohibiting test misuse: When asked about an enforcement mechanism at the Department to police and enforce guidelines against test misuse, the response given by Department officials is only that no decision has been made on the issue of enforcement.

The reading test for 4th graders is to be offered in English only: As the Nation experiences an increasingly diverse population and children who speak and read in many languages other than English, it is both discriminatory and unwise to treat large segments of the population as non-persons by failing to recognize reading proficiency of young children in languages other than English. The negative stigmatizing effects of “English only” national tests are harmful and inappropriate for a Nation of people of many backgrounds.

The tests are not for diagnostic purposes: The Department has stated that the tests are not for diagnostic purposes. Therefore, the tests are not designed or intended as an aid to teachers who are assessing a student’s skill level or determining an appropriate curriculum to improve the reading or math skills of a particular student.

Parents, students and teachers will not be given any information that will help them determine and/or respond to the factors contributing to a student’s test score: While the stated intent in developing these national tests is to empower parents with information, the failure to give “opportunity to learn” information such as the level of education of the teacher, teacher certification in field, school funding levels, availability of books and other supplies, and pupil/teacher classroom ratios means that the test scores will be of little value for parental action to improve the quality of education offered to their children.

The serious problems that the LDF and others have raised about the proposed Voluntary National Tests have not been answered. LDF is opposed to the Department’s testing initiative as currently designed.

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