Unintended, but consequential

Talk about your unintended consequences. The No Child Left Behind Act made performance test scores transparent so that parents could make good decisions about their children's education and could put pressure on schools to pay attention to the needs of all of their students. The law's writers couldn't have foreseen pupils using the test scores to berate one another. That has happened at Alhambra High School in California. When the school's assistant principal informed student leaders that the gap between Asians and Latinos was closing, a columnist for the student newspaper, Robin Zhou, asked why the gap existed in the first place. His conclusion? The school's Latinos were "not pulling their weight." Asian parents push their children harder to achieve, he reasoned; "Hispanic parents are well-meaning but less active." This didn't go down well in the Landeros household. Both Anastasia, a student, and her mother were incensed, so Anastasia fired off her own letter. But instead of the school debate devolving into an ugly war of words, it became a learning tool. The school's principal arranged two meetings between Zhou and Latino students. Though tense, the youngsters began coming up with their own solutions for closing the gap. The Spring 2005 standardized test scores showed the percentage of Latinos passing exams in both English and math was up. The principal thinks the article had something to do with it. "For some students, there was a sense of pride.... 'I don't want people to think this way about me, and I'll work harder on the test in the future.'"

"Morphing Outrage into Ideas," by Jia-Rui Chong, Los Angeles Times, October 12, 2005