High Stakes Testing

Fast Facts #2
High Stakes Testing


What is high stakes testing?

High stakes testing occurs when test results are used to make decisions that have substantial consequences for those affected. Using test scores to determine whether a student is accepted in a class or program, promoted to the next grade, or allowed to graduate are examples of high stakes testing impacting students. In a similar manner, using test results in an individual school building to determine whether students are demonstrating sufficient academic achievement is a way of holding all faculty accountable for student learning. (See Fast Facts #1 – The Rule for Determining Academically Deficient Schools).

An example of high stakes testing that impacts school districts occurs in the Missouri School Improvement Program. With the current and future emphasis on performance criteria, the results of the Missouri Assessment Program have significant consequences for school districts. Districts can be designated as “accredited with distinction," "provisionally accredited" or “unaccredited” primarily based on performance criteria. In short, any time test results are used to determine rewards and sanctions for students, teachers, administrators and school districts, high stakes are involved.

Shouldn’t students, teachers, administrators and school districts be held accountable through high stakes testing?

Missouri NEA recognizes the need for ongoing comprehensive evaluation of student progress and school improvement. We recognize that each group (students, parents, teachers and administrators) has a role in determining test results. High stakes testing can be fairly administered if the process involves each of the stakeholder groups in understanding the testing system, prepares each group for the testing process, uses multiple methods for demonstrating learning, and uses two or more testing systems to measure results.

Doesn’t the Missouri Assessment Program (MAP) provide for those conditions?

Missouri educators are still learning about the MAP. Educators statewide are aligning curriculum, adjusting their teaching methods and providing performance assessment experiences for their students. While the MAP includes multiple choice, short answer and extended response questions for students to answer, the MAP is still one test. The issue is whether students, parents, schools and districts believe that one measurement is sufficient and fair. Since the MAP is administered three times (for the four core subjects) during a student’s K-12 school experience, increased attention is placed primarily on those scores.

Are students being denied promotion or graduation based on MAP?

A provision from SB 319 (effective August 2001) requires that certain public school students receive summer school reading instruction. Local school districts are required to select a reading assessment mechanism and to assign third-grade and older students who are reading below grade level to be assessed for summer school placement. Third-grade students who read below the second grade level shall be required to complete at least thirty additional hours of reading instruction or practice outside the regular school day during the fourth grade and may also be required to attend summer school.

Students who complete required summer school instruction shall be reassessed. Students not meeting reading standards after summer school following fourth grade shall not be promoted to fifth grade. Students between grades four and six who transfer to the school district are also required to be assessed if not reading at or above grade level. If a student is reading below the fifth-grade level at the end of sixth grade, a notation will be made in the student's record that he or she is reading below minimal levels. This law applies to students beginning with the 2001-2002 school year, with the first retention requirement effective at the end of the 2002-2003 school year. We will be monitoring the impact of this law on students, teachers and districts.

No law tying student performance on the MAP to graduation has been passed in Missouri. Discussions regarding high stakes testing issues are likely to occur in the current legislative session. To provide a basis for Missouri NEA members in discussing this topic with colleagues, friends and legislators, the Missouri NEA Teaching and Learning Committee researched the topic of high stakes testing and presented a position paper for delegates to the Representative Assembly to consider. The RA adopted the following position.

Statement of the Problem: Missouri NEA recognizes the need for ongoing comprehensive evaluation of student progress. However, high stakes decisions involving tracking, grade promotion, admission to dual-credit courses and graduation based on a single testing event present major educational and motivational challenges. Additionally, tests do not always measure what they purport to measure.

Position: While Missouri NEA believes that testing is a necessary part of the educational process, we also believe that a single testing event does not provide a multi-faceted picture of the student as a motivated learner and a member of society.

MNEA believes that students should be held accountable for their learning. However, a single test is an extremely limited method of demonstrating student proficiency. MNEA believes that assessment of student learning should include, but not be limited to, achievement tests, portfolios, grades, teacher recommendations, attendance, extra curricular activities, community involvement, 504 plans and IEP goals. Taken together, these means of evaluating student performance and accomplishments create a more complete picture of student achievement as well as a greater level of motivation in students.

MNEA supports high standards, curriculum alignment to those standards, tests which measure what they purport to measure and professional development for teachers to incorporate these academic standards.


  • Consider the impact that high stakes testing may have on your career, your students’ opportunities and your district’s future.
  • Be aware of the performance status of your school, participate in supporting school improvement efforts and document your instructional support for student learning.
  • Understand the testing programs used within your school and district, and advocate to ensure that multiple measures for demonstrating learning and accountability are used.
  • Read 'Helping students pass high-stakes tests'

For further information on this issue or any professional development issue, contact MNEA Teaching and Learning Director Dee Ann Aull at Missouri NEA headquarters at 1-800-392-0236.

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