Controversial Issues in Test Preparation

Linda Crocker’s (2006) comments on test preparation command the attention of all test developers: “No activity in educational assessment raises more instructional, ethical, and validity issues than preparation for large-scale, high-stakes tests” (p. 115). In general, high-stakes tests are “Tests whose results have important, direct consequences for the individuals, programs, or institutions involved” (AERA et al., 2014, p. 219). Crocker (2005) also called test preparation “one of the flashpoints in the incendiary debate over standardized testing in American public schools” (p. 159). Such emphatic language is common in the test preparation literature and corroborates the importance of this topic for test developers.

Many test developers regard test preparation negatively, believing that too many test preparation activities border on unethical practices or may lead to intellectual property theft through item harvesting (illegally obtaining or sharing test content). Test items are expensive to develop and field-test, making them the most valuable commodity of any test development business. Stolen test content means that test developers have lost substantial resources and additional development time and resources will be required to recover from such a loss.

Increasingly higher stakes are connected to outcomes of large-scale testing in Grades K-12, including student accountability and evaluations of both teachers and schools. In turn, there is significant concern that teachers will constrict instruction so that it aligns with test content, thus sacrificing broader aspects of the curriculum. Teaching to the test is discussed in the following section.

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