Background Variables, Levels of Aggregation, and Standardized Test Scores

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Abstract

This article examines the role of student demographic characteristics in standardized achievement test scores at both the individual level and aggregated at the state, district, school levels. For several data sets, the majority of the variance among states, districts, and schools was related to demographic characteristics. Where these background variables outside of the control of schools significantly affected averaged scores, and test scores result in high stakes consequences, benefits and sanctions may be inappropriately applied. Furthermore, disaggregating the data by race, SES, limited English, or other groupings ignores the significant confounding and cumulative effects of belonging to more than one disadvantaged group. With these approaches to evaluation being fundamental to the No Child Left Behind mandates, the danger of misinterpretation and inappropriate application of sanctions is substantial.

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How to Cite
Paulson, S. E., & Marchant, G. J. (2009). Background Variables, Levels of Aggregation, and Standardized Test Scores. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 17, 22. https://doi.org/10.14507/epaa.v17n22.2009
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Author Biographies

Sharon E. Paulson, Ball State University

Sharon E. Paulson is a Professor of Psychology—Educational Psychology at Ball State University. She specializes in adolescent development, advocating the importance of understanding developmental principles to teaching and learning. In addition to her work on standardized test scores, her research examines contextual factors related to adolescent achievement.

Gregory J. Marchant, Ball State University

Greg Marchant is a Professor of Psychology—Educational Psychology at Ball State University. His current research focuses on high-stakes testing and the uses and misuses of aggregated test scores in accountability systems. In addition, his work examines the impact of current educational policies on schools, teachers, and students.