Report Highlights Testing Errors

K-12 Testing

A report by the National Board on Educational Testing and Policy based at Boston College, Errors in Standardized Tests: A Systemic Problem, highlights the nature and extent of human mistakes in educational testing over the past 25 years. In contrast to random measurement error expected in all tests, human error is unexpected and brings unknown, often harmful consequences for students and schools, including:


• Preventing high school seniors from receiving a diploma (Minnesota 2000, see Examiner, Fall 2002);
• Creating “worst school” lists (Pennsylvania 1996, Nevada 1999, Ohio 2002);
• Erroneously assigning students to remedial classes or retaining them in grade (New Jersey 1993, New York City 1999, Maryland, 2001);
• Barring qualified college applicants from attending their chosen universities (Scotland 2000, England 2002);
• Denying qualified applicants access to professional credentials (Alabama 1981-85, New York 1981, Oklahoma 2000).


The report, written by Kathleen Rhoades and George Madaus, points out that these errors occur in an industry whose activities are largely unregulated, an environment where mistakes are difficult to detect. As the amount of testing has increased, the industry has been spread thin and testing errors have risen. With implementation of the federal No Child Left Behind law, the mandated increase in testing is likely to cause a larger jump in the number of errors in designing tests, setting passing scores, establishing norm groups, scoring exams, and reporting results.


The report demonstrates that testing is a fallible technology, subject to internal and external errors. With errors an unavoidable problem, basing important educational decisions on the outcome of one test can put children and schools at risk due to foul-ups that may never be caught or remedied.