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It's a myth: High stakes cause test score inflation

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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.

Published in: Education
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It's a myth: High stakes cause test score inflation

  1. 1. It’s a myth: High stakes cause test score inflation Richard P. Phelps researchED 2017 National Conference 7 October, 2017 Brooklyn, NY
  2. 2. Educational testing in the US: early 1980s researchED, Brooklyn High stakes & test score inflation 7 October, 2017
  3. 3. Student testing with stakes reintroduced late 1970s, early 1980s Debra P. v. Turlington “Truth in testing” laws researchED, Brooklyn High stakes & test score inflation 7 October, 2017 Educational testing in the US: 1980s
  4. 4. Residency in rural, poor Appalachia, 1980s Surprised by claims that state and school district scored “above average” on national tests Investigated, all US states claimed to be “above average” John J. Cannell, M.D. researchED, Brooklyn High stakes & test score inflation 7 October, 2017
  5. 5. “Welcome to Lake Wobegon, where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average.” - Garrison Keillor, A Prairie Home Companion researchED, October High stakes & test score inflation 7 October, 2017
  6. 6. Cannell’s suspects • Lax security • Outdated or invalid norms • Deliberate educator manipulation (i.e., cheating) researchED, Brooklyn High stakes & test score inflation 7 October, 2017
  7. 7. US Education Establishment Responds researchED, Brooklyn High stakes & test score inflation 7 October, 2017
  8. 8. “While supporting Cannell’s general finding … our analyses lead us to conclusions that are different, and certainly less sensational, than the ones he reached.” — Linn, Graue, Sanders , CRESST, 1990 researchED, Brooklyn High stakes & test score inflation 7 October, 2017 “There are many reasons for the Lake Wobegon Effect, most of which are less sinister than those emphasized by Cannell.” — Linn, CRESST, 2000
  9. 9. CRESST’s Lake Wobegon suspects Outdated or invalid norms High stakes, that induce “teaching to the test” (i.e., test coaching) under pressure researchED, Brooklyn High stakes & test score inflation 7 October, 2017
  10. 10. “We know that tests that are used for accountability tend to be taught to in ways that produce inflated scores.” — Daniel Koretz, CRESST, 1992 “Corruption of indicators is a continuing problem where tests are used for accountability or other high-stakes purposes.” — Robert Linn, CRESST, 2000 researchED, Brooklyn High stakes & test score inflation 7 October, 2017
  11. 11. researchED, Brooklyn High stakes & test score inflation 7 October, 2017 CRESST counters Cannell’s Lake Wobegon study with their own, 1991 Students took test a few years. Scores rose. Then took “competing test” district had used before. Scores fell.
  12. 12. researchED, Brooklyn High stakes & test score inflation 7 October, 2017 CRESST 1991 “Generalization” Study Unnamed school district Unnamed tests Neither replicable nor falsifiable A conference presentation; not peer-reviewed.
  13. 13. researchED, Brooklyn High stakes & test score inflation 7 October, 2017 CRESST 1991 “Generalization” Study 3 tests in the study 1.Annual NRT 2.Parallel form 3.A “competing” NRT
  14. 14. researchED, Brooklyn High stakes & test score inflation 7 October, 2017 1991 CRESST “Generalization” Study
  15. 15. researchED, Brooklyn High stakes & test score inflation 7 October, 2017 1991 CRESST “Generalization” Study School district test was only “perceived to be high stakes.”
  16. 16. researchED, Brooklyn High stakes & test score inflation 7 October, 2017 1991 CRESST “Generalization” Study Study’s assumptions 1. Publication of aggregate results = “high stakes” 2. “Competing” NRTs should get same results 3. “Test coaching” improves scores 4. Low-stakes test scores are reliable and can be used to benchmark unreliable high stakes scores 5. High-stakes cause test-score inflation?
  17. 17. Jim Popham “high stakes” definition 1987 ... Such tests include the many statewide achievement tests whose results are reported by local newspapers on a school-by-school or district-by-district basis.” researchED, Brooklyn High stakes & test score inflation 7 October, 2017 1. Publication of aggregate results = high stakes?
  18. 18. Jim Popham “high stakes” definition 1992 A test “subject to legal scrutiny.” Tests such as those used “for employment, licensure, or a high school graduation requirement” researchED, Brooklyn High stakes & test score inflation 7 October, 2017 1. Publication of aggregate results = high stakes?
  19. 19. “High-stakes test. A test used to provide results that have important, direct consequences for examinees, programs, or institutions involved in the testing.” (p.176) “Low-stakes test. A test used to provide results that have only minor or indirect consequences for examinees, programs, or institutions involved in the testing.” (p.178) Standards for Educational and Psychological Testing researchED, Brooklyn High stakes & test score inflation 7 October, 2017 1. Publication of aggregate results = high stakes?
  20. 20. researchED, Brooklyn High stakes & test score inflation 7 October, 2017 “...tests taken to obtain admission to an educational program or taken during and at the conclusion of a program to obtain a qualification.” “…high-stakes decisions, such as whether a student will move on to the next grade level or receive a diploma.” 1. Publication of aggregate results = high stakes?
  21. 21. A high-stakes test is a test with important consequences for the test taker. Passing has important benefits, such as a high school diploma, a scholarship, or a license to practice a profession. Wikipedia researchED, Brooklyn High stakes & test score inflation 7 October, 2017 1. Publication of aggregate results = high stakes?
  22. 22. 2. Research: Comparability of different tests Scores Comparable ? Scores Not Comparable NRTs Freeman, Kuhs, Porter, Floden, Schmidt, Schwille (1983); Debra P. v. Turlington (1984); Cohen, Spillane (1993); La Marca, Redfield, Winter, Bailey, and Despriet (2000); Wainer (2011) Standards Archbald (1994); Buckendahl, Plake, Impara, Irwin (2000); Bhola, Impara, Buckendahl (2003); Phelps (2005) CRTs Massell, Kirst, Hoppe (1997); Wiley, Hembry, Buckendahl, Forte,Towles Nebelsick-Gullett (2015) researchED, Brooklyn High stakes & test score inflation 7 October, 2017
  23. 23. 3. Research: Effects of test coaching It works Significant score increase from learning format tricks Aldeman & Powers (1980) Samson (1985) Scruggs (1985) Roznowski & Bassett (1992) McMann (1994) Holmes, Keffer (1995) Camel & Chung (2002) Filizola (2008) researchED, Brooklyn High stakes & test score inflation 7 October, 2017
  24. 24. 4. Research: Low-stakes test reliability Reliable “no incentive to manipulate scores” Kipliinger, Linn (1992) O’Neil, Sugre, Baker (1995) * Hout, Elliot (2011) * 1 of 2 groups Not reliable student effort varies; scores easy to manipulate Rothe (1947); Jennings (1953); Uguroglu, Walberg (1979); Taylor & White (1981); Arvey, et al. (1990); Schmit, Ryan (1992); Brown & Walberg (1993); Kim, McLean (1995), Wolf, Smith (1995), Wolf, Smith, DiPaulo (1996); Schiel (1996); Sundre (1999), Sundre, Moore (2002), Sundre, Wise (2003); DeMars (2000), Wise (2006ª, 2006b), Wise, DeMars (2005, 2005, 2006, 2010), Wise, et al., (2009); Hoyt (2001); Eklof (2006, 2007, 2010); ….....etc. researchED, Brooklyn High stakes & test score inflation 7 October, 2017
  25. 25. researchED, Brooklyn High stakes & test score inflation 7 October, 2017 “…for consequential exams, the average score on the motivation scale was quite high with a low standard deviation. Essentially, most of the students were displaying uniformly high levels of motivation (i.e., ceiling effect). However, for the nonconsequential groups, motivation played an important role in predicting test performance. The overall motivation scores for the no consequence groups were lower than the motivation for the consequential groups, with much greater variability.” —Cole, Bergin, Whittaker (2008), p. 612 4. Research: Low-stakes test reliability
  26. 26. 5. High stakes cause test score inflation? researchED, Brooklyn High stakes & test score inflation 7 October, 2017 Then, why no score inflation with certification and licensure tests?
  27. 27. More left-out- variable bias CRESST’s Linn (2000) cites higher gains on a federal anti-poverty program’s pre- post testing over 9 months than over 12 as evidence of inflation researchED, Brooklyn High stakes & test score inflation 7 October, 2017
  28. 28. Cannell found score inflation in elementary school tests in dozens of states – none of those tests had high stakes. Cannell also found score inflation in secondary school tests in dozens of states – only one had high stakes. researchED, Brooklyn High stakes & test score inflation 7 October, 2017 Test Score Inflation Occurs where Security is Lax
  29. 29. Cannell’s test categorizations confirmed researchED, Brooklyn High stakes & test score inflation 7 October, 2017
  30. 30. Confusions from misinformation 1. Tests sample from larger domains 2. Campbell’s Law 3. “Teaching to the test” & “Narrowing the curriculum” 4. Incentives and causes 5. Educators face many incentives; “high stakes” only one 6. Today’s tests have much higher stakes than past tests 1. No one wants to be responsible for test security researchED, Brooklyn High stakes & test score inflation 7 October, 2017
  31. 31. 1. Tests only sample larger domains "Tests are about making a measurement, and generally, tests are trying to measure something huge." — Daniel Koretz researchED, Brooklyn High stakes & test score inflation 7 October, 2017 TRUE of many tests, e.g., NRTs, aptitude, IQ tests NOT TRUE of well-done standards-based tests
  32. 32. 2. Campbell’s Law — a truism researchED, Brooklyn High stakes & test score inflation 7 October, 2017 "The more any quantitative social indicator is used for social decision- making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor." Social indicators can be beneficial: - for understanding - monitor progress - benchmarking - setting goals - process improvements
  33. 33. 3. Teaching the test; Narrowing the curriculum researchED, Brooklyn High stakes & test score inflation 7 October, 2017
  34. 34. 4. Incentives and causes researchED, Brooklyn High stakes & test score inflation 7 October, 2017 Question: Do high stakes present an incentive to cheat on tests? Answer: Of course they do
  35. 35. 5. Educators face many incentives researchED, Brooklyn High stakes & test score inflation 7 October, 2017 Incentives of test “stakes” is just one
  36. 36. 6. Today’s tests have higher stakes researchED, Brooklyn High stakes & test score inflation 7 October, 2017 Exactly the opposite is true. Koretz: States in 1980s and 1990s were “chicken feed” compared to today’s tests.
  37. 37. 7. No one inside education wishes to be responsible for test security researchED, Brooklyn High stakes & test score inflation 7 October, 2017 … including test development firms.
  38. 38. Large-scale test, tight security researchED, Brooklyn High stakes & test score inflation 7 October, 2017
  39. 39. Large-scale test, lax security researchED, Brooklyn High stakes & test score inflation 7 October, 2017
  40. 40. Harms of disinformation 1. Acceptance of low standard for research as valid 2. Unfairly discredits useful evaluation tool 3. Test security (in U.S.) remains shoddy 4. Teachers given mixed messages 5. Now spreading worldwide 6. Corruption of Test Standards barely averted researchED, Brooklyn High stakes & test score inflation 7 October, 2017
  41. 41. 1. Acceptance of very low quality standard for popular research results researchED, Brooklyn High stakes & test score inflation 7 October, 2017 CRESST studies: - no controls - secret test - secret location - secret definitions Non-replicable, Non-falsifiable
  42. 42. 2. Uniquely useful evalution tool is discredited researchED, Brooklyn High stakes & test score inflation 7 October, 2017 …and, in the US, the only objective measure available to the public (i.e., not under the control of insiders).
  43. 43. 3. Test security (in U.S.) remains shoddy researchED, Brooklyn High stakes & test score inflation 7 October, 2017 ACT, SAT, PARCC, SBAC now administered statewide by schools, on varying dates. Tests save money, hassle, gain customers by outsourcing (or, ignoring) test security.
  44. 44. 4. Teachers given mixed messages researchED, Brooklyn High stakes & test score inflation 7 October, 2017 “Teaching to the test” is unethical; Don’t do it! Teach content beyond the standards. “Teaching to the test works! You and your students will be better off if you do it!
  45. 45. 5. Standards corruption barely averted researchED, Brooklyn High stakes & test score inflation 7 October, 2017
  46. 46. 6. Disinformation spreading worldwide researchED, Brooklyn High stakes & test score inflation 7 October, 2017
  47. 47. • Motive alone is not sufficient if test security is tight. • Means and opportunity exist only in the absence of security measures and form and item rotation. Artificial test score gains (score inflation) are caused by lax security; they require means and opportunity. researchED, Brooklyn High stakes & test score inflation 7 October, 2017
  48. 48. Test Security in South Carolina: “Unlike their other two tests, … teachers are allowed to look at test booklets, … teachers may obtain test booklets before the day of testing, … booklets are not sealed, and … testing is not routinely monitored by state officials. … Outside test proctors are not used, … test questions have not been rotated every year, and … answer sheets have not been scanned for suspicious erasures or analyzed for cluster variance. … There are no state regulations that govern test security and test administration for norm-referenced testing done independently in the local school districts.” researchED, Brooklyn High stakes & test score inflation 7 October, 2017 Cannel’s score-inflated test
  49. 49. Test Security in South Carolina: “South Carolina also administers a graduation exam and a criterion referenced test, both of which have significant security measures. … Teachers are not allowed to look at either of these two test booklets, … teachers may not obtain booklets before the day of testing, … the graduation test booklets are sealed, … testing is routinely monitored by state officials, … special education students are generally included in all tests, … outside test proctors administer the graduation exam, and … most test questions are rotated every year on the criterion referenced test.” researchED, Brooklyn High stakes & test score inflation 7 October, 2017 Tests not in Cannell’s study
  50. 50. Lessons Learned If terms can be defined arbitrarily, and not specified, any research result is possible. Cleverly-disguised falsehoods and obfuscation can be well- rewarded in US education schools (e.g., with endowed professorships at Harvard and Stanford). researchED, Brooklyn High stakes & test score inflation 7 October, 2017 US education: Research quality standards extremely low for popular results; impossibly high for unpopular results
  51. 51. http://nonpartisaneducation.org/Review/Articles/v6n3.htm researchED, Brooklyn High stakes & test score inflation 7 October, 2017 richard@nonpartisaneducation.org

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