Sunday, February 16, 2003

Proficiency test: Valuable tools

It is time to end the canard that Ohio's proficiency tests rob students of "real" learning because they force teachers to "teach to the tests."

Such tests help to ensure a broad, general knowledge among students, according to a new study by the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, "Testing High Stakes Tests: Can We Believe the Results of Accountability Tests?"

Ohio's proficiency tests are used to reward or sanction schools for their academic performance, and they're required for high school graduation.

Educators opposed to high-stakes testing complain it forces them to change curricula and teaching methods to get students to pass the test without improving real learning. Because many states, including Ohio and Kentucky, now have such testing, and it's also central to the new federal No Child Left Behind Act, the Manhattan Institute findings are valuable to the national debate on this issue.

The researchers compared results on the Ohio Proficiency and several other high-stakes tests nationwide with results on other, commercially designed tests given in the same school systems to the same students. Because the other tests aren't used for accountability purposes, they're dubbed "low-stakes" tests.

The study examined seven school systems and two states, comprising 9 percent of all public school students. The districts included Fairfield schools in Butler County and Toledo city schools.

They found very strong correlations between results on high- and low-stakes tests. The similar scores indicate that the stakes of the tests do not distort information about the general level students are performing.

Whether or not schools and states cheat, distort and manipulate the test scores is another matter for scrutiny. So is designing accountability systems that fairly address differences in performance influenced by family income, background and other factors. But high-stakes tests are valuable measures of school accountability.

The entire Manhattan report is available online at www.miedresearchoffice.org.

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