Is Testing Only Good for Poor Kids?

A new analysis of state testing data by the Council of the Great City Schools finds that many of the nation's urban schools are posting significant gains in math and reading and reducing achievement gaps between white and minority students. Twenty-three urban districts are making faster gains in math than the state average in at least half the grades tested, and 17 cities posted reading gains that exceeded the state average. The report highlights three urban districts that have produced impressive gains-Charlotte-Mecklenburg (NC), Houston, and Sacramento-and notes that they are aggressively pursuing sound standards-based reform strategies.

Meanwhile, parents in Scarsdale and other affluent areas are protesting state tests and the whole idea of a "one-size-fits-all" curriculum. Are we then to conclude that standards-and-accountability is a reform strategy that helps poor kids but hurts schools in wealthier communities? Or are affluent parents driven by other motives to reject standards and tests?

A story in the March 2001 issue of The Washington Monthly examined how urban districts in Massachusetts have seized upon that state's demanding achievement tests "their ticket to higher expectations, tougher standards, and better results," while white, affluent communities are up in arms over it. "Yet for all of the noise these activists have made about the MCAS," reporter Georgia Alexakis writes, "when pressed to show some evidence that suburban students are really suffering, they come up empty. Some of the reasons behind suburban resistance to MCAS, it seems, are ideological. It's a bit of postmodernism mixed in with upper-class snobbery--the notion that our kids are special, and therefore don't need the standardized tests given to the masses, combined with the idea that there is no such thing as one right answer or one definition of 'well educated'." Well, there's one hypothesis.

Beating the Odds, by Mike Casserly and Sharon Lewis, Council of the Great City Schools can be ordered from the Council for $20 plus $5 shipping by calling 202-393-2427. The executive summary and a press release, but not the complete report, are available on the website of the Council of the Great City Schools (http://www.cgcs.org).

"Test Prep: What Bush Can Learn from a Tryout of School Reform in Massachusetts," by Georgia Alexakis, The Washington Monthly, March 2001.