Paris, Lawton, Turner, and Roth (1991) state that "high-stakes decisions are those that have potentially profound consequences for those affected. Test scores may be used to determine districts' funding, teachers' promotion, and students' assignment to educational programs" (p. 12).
No current tests are a valid basis for all these purposes. (See standards for technical qualities in construction, administration, and use.) Yet group means on standardized achievement tests have been invoked as a basis for deciding funding for some district programs and for evaluation of teachers. Individual children's achievement test scores have been used to determine their placement in "regular" or specialized programs (such as special needs, remedial, or preventive).
High-stakes tests for young children are tests whose results are used to classify, retain, or promote students. With references to Madaus (1988), Meisels (1989, pp. 17-18) cites three specific characteristics of high-stakes tests: (1) they lead to perceptions that a particular test has significance that transcends the purpose it was designed to meet; (2) they exert strong influence on teachers' decisions about how and what to teach, despite the educational system's explicit curriculum; and (3) they transfer the determination of curriculum from school and classroom-based educators to whatever agencies have designed the test.
High-Stakes Decisions Affecting Young Children
Meisels (1989) notes that inappropriate use of tests can lead to retention or extra-year programs for young children:
"In increasing numbers, school districts are adding an additional year at the outset of children's school careers, instituting extensive policies of kindergarten retention, and establishing prekindergarten 'readiness' programs and pre-first grade 'transition' programs for children deemed 'not ready' for traditional school-entry programs. Typically, the decisions to place children in these programs are based on the inappropriate use of tests." (p. 16)