Evaluation, Placement, and Progression: Three Sites of Concern for Student Achievement

Samuel R. Lucas

Schools are complex organizations that serve as the primary official location for the socialization of children in the United States. Given the centrality of this institution, many theoretical frameworks are usefully applied to their study. Regardless of the framework used, however, three focal features of schools stand out—evaluation, placement, and progression. Students are evaluated, they are placed in curricular locations, and they progress through a system of such placements on their march to adult status. Each one of these features is a site of potential concern to researchers and policy-makers, for the nurturance of every student’s capacities, and more specifically for nurturing the capacities of minority students. Considering three illustrative manifestations of these features—testing, tracking, and transitions—in some depth can reveal complexities that attend the educational attainment process. After considering these three illustrative cases, it will be possible to weave together their implications for all students, highlighting the ramifications for talented minority students in schools.


Lucas, S. R. (2004). Evaluation, placement, and progression: Three sites of concern for student achievement (RM04192). Storrs: University of Connecticut, The National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented.

Evaluation, Placement, and Progression: Three Sites of Concern for Student Achievement
Samuel R. Lucas


  1. If a criterion-reference test is sound, then when students learn to succeed with respect to the test they will also likely learn important skills; whereas norm-referenced tests need not be based on a theory of what is important to learn.
  2. Well-designed criterion-referenced tests with benchmarks to acceptable levels of performance do have the advantage of conveying to key constituencies what children need to be taught and need to learn to reach heights of academic accomplishment.
  3. Subtle, taken-for-granted practices, coupled with greater knowledge about when and how to navigate the systems account for the way socioeconomically (and racially) advantaged members translate their out-of-school advantages into advantageous in-school placements and post-school outcomes for their children.
  4. Rather than attempt to lower the ability of middle class parents to act on their children’s behalf, it may be more effective to raise the ability of non-middle class parents and their advocates to act for poor and minority children.
  5. Placement officials who know general distribution of scores by student race as provided by dominant evaluation approaches may, over time, come to regard lower Black achievement as normal and perhaps even to expect lower Black achievement.
  6. School personnel are too often bombarded with information constructed out of a process that aims primarily to rank rather than convey the profile of students’ strengths and weaknesses.