Selecting school tests a matter of competence
...What's missing in these discussions about testing is a clear understanding about what...certain tests can and cannot do.
...College entrance exams such as the ACT and SAT help colleges and universities decide whom to admit [but they] do not reflect any particular level of knowledge... rather where each student ranks in relation to others. Ranking makes the selection process easier.
Problems arise when a test designed for one purpose is used for another. ... tests like the ACT and SAT are labeled "instructionally insensitive." If instruction helps most students answer a question correctly, then that question is removed from the test, for it no longer serves its purpose. Even if the question asks about a vitally important concept, it no longer differentiates students and is eliminated.
This is why scores on selection tests are more strongly related to social and economic factors than are scores on competence tests. Aspects other than those influenced by instruction often account for the differences among students. It is also why it makes little sense to use a selection test like the ACT or SAT as a measure of the quality of instructional programs. Doing so would be analogous to using a ruler to measure a person's weight.
Having all students take a selection test such as the ACT or SAT may help some realize that they rank high enough to get into a college or university. That would be a good thing, especially for non-traditional students and those who come from disadvantaged backgrounds.
But to use the results of an "instructionally insensitive" selection test to assess the quality of instructional programs is educational sacrilege. No testing expert would agree to it -- and neither should any legislator or policy-maker.