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The myth is popular among education insiders who oppose high-stakes or externally mandated tests, but based on just two studies conducted without controls and employing an obscure definition of “high stakes”. Both studies actually used low-stakes tests that were administered without security protocols. Meanwhile, many controlled studies of the hypothesis have come to the opposite conclusion.
The talk will:
compare the methods and results of these studies;
describe the historical origin of the concepts in the 1980s Debra P v Turlington case in US federal courts and the “Lake Wobegon Effect” scandal; and
summarize the harms caused by belief in the myth, which include:
diverting attention from a widespread problem (at least in the US) of lax security in standardized test administration;
encouraging ineffective and detrimental test preparation procedures (e.g., excessive drilling on format, practice tests);
spawning numerous research studies using a low-stakes test score trend to “audit” a high-stakes test score trend; and
justifying the use of value-added measures, calculated from student low-stakes test score trends, to judge teacher performance.
An abundance of research reveals low-stakes test scores and trends to be unreliable. Student effort varies systematically by a number of background factors, and is easily manipulated.