Behind the Headline: Standardized Testing Works, Depending On Where You Go To School

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Standardized Testing Works, Depending On Where You Go To School
Boston Globe | 12/2/15

Behind the Headline
When Does Accountability Work?
Education Next | Winter 2016

Kevin Hartnett of the Boston Globe reports on a new study by David Deming and three co-authors that looks at whether standardized testing really promotes outcomes education policy cares about most, like success in college and the job market.

Harnett summarizes

Deming found that standardized tests had different effects depending on the quality of the schools students were attending. In Texas, schools received one of four rankings: Low-Performing, Acceptable, Recognized, and Exemplary. Deming looked at schools that were either on the cusp between Low-Performing and Acceptable or between Acceptable and Recognized. He reasoned that these schools would have felt the effects of standardized testing especially acutely, given pressure to move up a notch in the rankings. At those schools he focused on students who were themselves low-performing, reasoning that how those kids fared on tests was especially crucial for whether their schools advanced in the rankings.

Overall, he found that low-performing kids at low-performing schools did better in long-run measures given an environment of standardized tests. At the same time, low-performing students at high-performing schools (those between Acceptable and Recognized) did worse in the long-run. Deming thinks this is because of the different strategies schools adopted depending on where in the ranking system they fell: Low-performing schools had no choice but to find a way to better educate their many low-performing students, while better performing schools classified their low-performing students as “special education,” removing them from the testing process.

The study, “When Does Accountability Work?” appears in the Winter 2016 issue of Education Next.

— Education Next

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