Officials at the Department of Education’s office for civil rights have expanded a controversial draft guide outlining the proper use of high-stakes tests in an effort to better detail the legal principles involved and ways in which such issues will affect students.
The office is accepting comments on the new version of the document, titled “Nondiscrimination in High-Stakes Testing: A Resource Guide,” which was released last month to a handful of education and business leaders. It follows a previous draft completed last May. (“Beware of Misusing Test Scores, ED Draft Advises,” May 26, 1999.)
“Although we have made many changes to the guide, our objective and foundations remain the same,” Arthur L. Coleman, the deputy assistant secretary for the OCR, said in a Dec. 8 letter to education groups. “Our objective is to provide educators and policymakers with a useful, practical tool that will assist in their planning and implementation of policies relating to the use of tests as conditions of conferring educational opportunities to students.”
The guide aims to clarify practices allowed and prohibited by Title IV of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, but is not intended as a legal document.
Standardized tests should be “educationally justified” if used to award high school diplomas, promote students to the next grade, or play a part in college admissions, without discriminating against students on the basis of race, national origin, sex, or disability, the new draft states.
Mr. Coleman’s letter notes that the current version offers “a more detailed discussion of measurement and legal principles related to good and nondiscriminatory test-use practices, in the context of specific frequently made high-stakes decisions.” It also expands on issues related to students with disabilities.
The document is clearer and more informative than its predecessor, said Julie Underwood, the general counsel for the National School Boards Association.
Many leaders of education groups had complained that the earlier document could have been misinterpreted as legally binding and have had the effect of intimidating administrators into ending their use of standardized tests.
“The current draft goes a long way toward meeting many of our concerns,” said Sheldon E. Steinbach, general counsel for the American Council on Education, a Washington-based organization that represents colleges, universities, and associations.
The OCR will accept comments on the revised guide until Jan. 18, Mr. Coleman’s letter stated. The draft will then be submitted to the National Academy of Sciences Board of Testing and Assessment for review.
A version of this article appeared in the January 12, 2000 edition of Education Week as OCR Issues Revised Guidance On High-Stakes Testing