Proponents of the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law have charged critics with creating "myths" about the law and have issued their own "facts." It's time to look at the evidence for a reality check on NCLB's claims of success.
THE CLAIM:Proponents say higher test scores prove NCLB is working.
A multiple-choice test usually has dozens of questions or "items." For each question, the test- taker is supposed to select the "best" choice among a set of four or five options. (They are sometime called "selected-response tests.") For example:
What causes night and day?
A. The earth spins on its axis. B. The earth moves around the sun. C. Clouds block out the sun's light. D. The earth moves into and out of the sun's shadow. E. The sun goes around the earth.
Criterion-referenced tests (CRTs) are intended to measure how well a person has learned a specific body of knowledge and skills. Multiple-choice tests most people take to get a driver's license and on-the-road driving tests are both examples of criterion-referenced tests. As on most other CRTs, it is possible for everyone to earn a passing score if they know about driving rules and if they drive reasonably well.
Human beings make tests. They decide what topics to include on the test, what kinds of questions to ask, and what the correct answers are, as well as how to use test scores. Tests can be made to compare students to each other (norm-referenced tests) or to see whether students have mastered a body of knowledge (criterion or standards-referenced tests). This fact sheet explains what NRTs are, their limitations and flaws, and how they affect schools.
Standardized tests have historically been used as measures of how students compare with each other (norm-referenced) or how much of a particular curriculum they have learned (criterion-referenced). Increasingly, standardized tests are being used to make major decisions about students, such as grade promotion or high school graduation, and schools. More and more often, they also are intended to shape curriculum and instruction.