The PSSA does not impact student grades, promotion, placement, or college admission. (see post)
For our teachers, student test scores do not have a detectable influence on the outcome of the teacher evaluation system, nor on teacher pay, employment, or individual reputation. (see post)
And for school districts, the PSSA impacts neither finances nor the level of state involvement in local school governance. (see post) The PSSA does impact the reputation of a school community, through the School Performance Profile. But school districts have always had reputations, and parents have always sought out good school districts in which to raise their kids. If the evidence demonstrates that the PSSAs are low stakes tests, why does the "high stakes" label continue to be used? (Examples here and here and here.) What is going on? What's in a Name? That which we call a "high stakes test" by any other name is but a ...
generic definition of any high-stakes test, including those outside education, is hard to argue with:
A high-stakes test is a test with important consequences for the test taker. Passing has important benefits, such as a high school diploma, a scholarship, or a license to practice a profession. An oft-cited 2000 journal article offers a definition that is also quite sound:
high-stakes testing ... links the score on one set of standardized tests to grade promotion, high school graduation and, in some cases, teacher and principal salaries and tenure decision. The definition above accurately reflects the historical rise of the term "high stakes" when Louisiana implemented testing for to combat 'social promotions'. Fairtest.org, an advocacy group that opposes most standardized testing, has broadened the definition a bit, they nevertheless remain faithful to the original meaning and maintain a high bar:
Tests are called "high-stakes" when they used to make major decisions about a student, such as high school graduation or grade promotion. To be high stakes, a test has to be very important in the decision process or be able to override other information (for example, a student does not graduate if s/he does not pass the test regardless of how well s/he did in school). However, others (especially advocacy groups) have tampered with the definition. EdGlossary.org, for example, lowers the bar:
A high-stakes test is any test used to make important decisions about students, educators, schools, or districts, most commonly for the purpose of accountability—i.e., the attempt by federal, state, or local government agencies and school administrators to ensure that students are enrolled in effective schools and being taught by effective teachers. In general, “high stakes” means that test scores are used to determine punishments (such as sanctions, penalties, funding reductions, negative publicity), accolades (awards, public celebration, positive publicity), advancement (grade promotion or graduation for students), or compensation (salary increases or bonuses for administrators and teachers)
As part of the accountability movement, stakes are also deemed high because the results of tests, as well as the ranking and categorization of schools, teachers, and children that extend from those results, are reported to the public.