Harder to "Fly High" than Ed Trust Claims

K-12 Testing
Education Trust has repeatedly argued that there are thousands of schools that post high test scores despite serving harder to educate low-income children. But a recent report from the Great Lakes Center re-evaluated the accuracy of that claim. Author Douglas Harris looked for schools serving low-income youth that had two grades with high scores in two subjects for two consecutive years. The percentage of such schools in the U.S. turned out to be a mere 1.1. And, Harris found, if the schools are both high poverty and high-minority, the percentage of "high flyers" falls to 0.3.


By contrast, Ed Trust defined a high-flying school as one that simply managed to score high in one grade in one subject for one year. On that basis, they estimated 15.6 percent of low-income schools are successful. However, scoring high in one grade one time on one test is often a statistical fluke.


Harris' study found that Education Trust has concocted a misleading story about the ease of raising test scores: "The numbers in [the] reports are being misused in a way that understates the significance of, and need to address, socioeconomic disadvantages." Thus, he concludes, the federal No Child Left Behind law and similar state approaches which focus only on boosting test scores are unlikely to produce significant school improvement - a conclusion reinforced by a recent Harvard Civil Rights Project report (see article this issue). Harris also exposes how Education Trust's approach misuses its "high flyers" list to blame schools for not overcoming the effects of poverty.


Other researchers have conducted similar studies. Stephen Krashen found that Education Trust's definition of a high-poverty school in California included schools with less poverty than the state average (see Examiner, Winter 2001-02).


Many schools make vitally important contributions against great odds. Some that serve low-income youth are indeed superior and should be treated as models. Many changes can and should be made within schools - but these do not include turning classrooms into one-size-fits-all test-prep programs as is occurring more frequently due to high-stakes testing.


More responsible treatments of the issue that ET provides can be found in The Power of Their Ideas, by Deborah Meier; Young, Gifted and Black, by Theresa Perry, Claude Steele & Asa Hilliard; The Good Common School by the National Coalition of Advocates for Students; Rethinking School Reform, by Linda Christensen & Stan Karp (eds.); and the Designs for Change report, The Big Picture, discussed in this issue of the Examiner.


Harris' report, Ending the Blame Game on Educational Inequity: A Study of "High Flying" Schools and NCLB, is at http://www.greatlakescenter.org/docs/Policy_Briefs/Ending%20the%20
or go to http://www.greatlakescenter.org and scroll down. It includes links to ET's reports.