As the number of states and local school districts requiring high-stakes testing grows, controversy intensifies around the issue of the impact of such testing on the quality of instruction and on the education of the students who ostensibly are its intended beneficiaries (National Research Council, 1999; Sadowski, 2000). Many parents, students, and educators express concerns about the emphasis on improving the passing rates on high-stakes tests (Rose & Gallup, 2000; Schrag, 2000). They fear that such a focus militates against good instruction and tends to reduce the scope of the curriculum to that which is tested. Implicit in these concerns is the assumption that getting good results on the tests requires repetitive drill and practice on isolated skills and content to the exclusion of what might be termed teaching for meaning. These concerns also assume that teaching for meaning will result in poorer performance on the tests.
Particularly troubling is the effect on those students who experience difficulty with learning, live in high-poverty conditions, and represent a diversity of cultural and linguistic backgrounds. Educators use various terms to describe these students (at risk, educationally disadvantaged, marginal, etc.) to capture the disconnection between students and the conditions designed for their learning. Typically, although attention may be directed to their needs, little effort has been expended to identify and build on the assets that they bring with them from their diverse backgrounds (Levin, 1987).
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