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High-stakes testing is a significant aspect of educational assessment in much of the developed world. The phrase indicates that test results are being used to judge the quality of schools and teachers. Such judgments may have serious consequences for the individuals and institutions concerned.

Many feel that such a function for assessment is just one manifestation of an “audit culture” increasingly prevalent in contemporary society, where a variety of agencies and individuals are mistrusted and are believed to require intensive scrutiny to prevent them from “failing.” The accountancy metaphor captures many fields, including health care, university research, and social services; they are “audited” by focusing on certain kinds of performance data. Critics argue that high-stakes testing corrupts learning and distorts the curriculum. In contrast, its supporters ...

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