Search This Blog


Ending test requirement steps backwards, results show

Louisiana is evolving into a locus of education achievement that hopefully will not be prematurely ended by legislative action.

The Education Trust, a nonprofit organization which seeks to improve educational quality in America and specifically in closing achievement gaps among different demographic groups, recently released a report showing that Louisiana was the only state to show a significant improvement from 1998 to 2007 in black primary and secondary students’ scores relative to white students at both 4th (English) and 8th (math) grade levels (in part, because white students’ achievement did not increase much meaning only minimal absolute progress over all races occurred). In other words, the performance gap decreased substantially between blacks and whites.

Some doubters emerged concerning these encouraging results. One argument was the 2005 hurricane disaster diasporas scattered the lowest-performing black students, presumably from the lowest-income households, away from the state and also from being concentrated, the theory being a mass of low achievers reinforces the tendency to do poorly in learning. But the fact is other states with similar demographics did not see such success, the gains appeared persistently over the period, not discontinuously after 2005, displacement only affected a portion of black students, and substantial gains also were made in the gap between students from higher- and lower-income families (significantly in the case of 8th grade math).

Much more plausibly, it has been Louisiana’s accountability system, more rigorous than just about anywhere else that has worked with its emphasis on high-stakes testing that in part determines pupil progression and institution of remedial actions concerning schools that do not show sufficient achievement or progress towards it. If schools know they have to get achievement up, and students know they have to learn enough to pass the test to move on, the motivation is there for both to work harder to succeed. Black students, having been lower performers in aggregate, had much more potential growth to be tapped by these measures, and that happened.

Yet, at least on the surface, strangely a couple of legislators – black ones, no less – want to get rid of the use of standardized tests for the purposes of pupil progression. HB 179 by state Rep. Charmaine Stiaes and HB 440 by state Rep. Regina Barrow would cancel this key tool that has helped no doubt many of these legislators’ constituents. Coming to grips with mindsets like theirs explains this apparent counterintuitive action.

What has made America an exceptional country that has contributed more to the world’s peace and prosperity than any other in history is no society has placed so much emphasis on meritocracy. Nowhere else does government interfere less in or promote more the translation of achievement into reward, a dynamic that leads to improved life prospects for all in society. But that historic benefit recently has come under attack from Washington with Democrat liberal elites trying to change policy to reflect the discredited notion that “errors” in society and in the economic system somehow “rig” the system in the favor of some that government must “even out” (“share the wealth”) – in other words, “achievement” is illusory and only tangentially related to reward.

True believers in this nonsense see certain groups such as blacks being “unfairly” held back, and this becomes something reflected in things like test scores. Therefore, in their thinking, rather than demand more rigor through a test that is race-neutral that will spur achievement, schools should ease up on “disadvantaged” groups precisely because present society and institutions make them “disadvantaged” in order to compensate.

In reality, the only thing holding anybody back is acceptance of the notion that achievement is unimportant because other things, such as government programs, will still provide benefits. A culture that stresses achievement only can grow and produce success if maintained. It means more and harder work for students and educators, but all concerned will be better off for it. That is the lesson of this report, and bills to undo the process that helps attain higher achievement in learning decidedly represent backwards steps.

No comments: