« Iraq and Al Qaeda | Main | mapping work »

December 3, 2003

lessons from Houston

According to today's New York Times, the Houston school "miracle" was illusory. After the state imposed a strict regime of standards and high-stakes assessment, students in Houston dramatically improved their performance on a specific Texas test. However, scores on the national Stanford Achievement Test did not rise much (no faster than in other cities) and actually fell in 9th-11th grade. Moreover, gaps by race disappeared on the Texas exam but remained unchanged on the Stanford Achievement Test.

The argument for standards-and-accountability runs like this: Students' general aptitude can be measured with standardized tests. The higher their scores, the better prepared they are for college or work. Any responsible test should generate roughly the same results. Forcing students and schools to score well on tests will spur them to improve their aptitude. Instead, we find that raising the stakes can cause students to do much better on one test while not budging their results on another exam. In principle, the reason could be that either the Texas exam or the Stanford test was flawed. More likely, teachers learned to prepare their students for the particular instrument that would determine their fates: in this case, the state test. Scores on that instrument rose. But students' "aptitude" or general educational preparation (if such a thing can be measured at all) did not rise significantly.

This finding will not surprise the many critics of No Child Left Behind, the federal law passed in 2002 that is transforming American education. But for friends of NCLB, the Houston results should be deeply troubling.

December 3, 2003 9:50 AM | category: none


Site Meter