School & District Management

Study Finds Higher Gains in States With High-Stakes Tests

By Debra Viadero — April 16, 2003 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

A forthcoming study by a pair of Stanford University researchers is further stoking the debate over whether states’ high-stakes testing programs can positively affect academic achievement.

Read “High Stakes Research,” from Education Next. (Requires Adobe’s Acrobat Reader.)

Debates over the value of accountability efforts that determine whether students graduate, which teachers win bonuses, and whether schools are taken over by states grew earlier this year after two Arizona State University researchers published a report arguing that such programs may do more harm than good. (“Researchers Debate Impact of Tests,” Feb. 5, 2003.)

The widely publicized report, coming at a time when the federal “No Child Left Behind” Act of 2001 has effectively made such programs the law of the land, drew a spate of critiques and counter- studies for its contentions that high-stakes efforts had failed to improve achievement and were pushing some students off the high school track.

In their new report, scheduled to be published next month in the magazine Education Next, researchers Margaret E. Raymond and Eric A. Hanushek add some strong wording to that chorus of criticism and also offer some new data of their own.

Different Conditions?

The two researchers contend that the biggest problem with the Arizona study is that the authors, drawing on scores for National Assessment of Educational Progress tests, compare the improvements made by students in states with strong accountability programs with the average national test-score gains made over the same time periods.

The better comparison to draw, they argue, would have been with states that have no accountability programs.

“The number-one precept of good analysis is that you examine the condition and then make an observation without the condition to see if it makes a difference,” said Ms. Raymond, who is the director of CREDO, formerly known as the Center for Research in Education Outcomes. The policy-research group is based at Stanford’s Hoover Institution.

When the data are analyzed that way, the Stanford researchers say, the results are reversed: From both 1996 to 2000 and 1992 to 2000, the average gain made by 4th and 8th graders in mathematics was higher in high-accountability states than it was for states that had not yet not attached any consequences for flat or falling test scores.

That trend held up, according to the authors, even when the data were adjusted to account for any changes in the percentages of students who were being excluded from the tests after the new accountability programs were put in place.

For their own analysis of NAEP mathematics data, the authors focused on states that imposed consequences on schools, rather than on students, for failing to raise test scores. They compared those states’ progress against that for states with no such programs.

The pair of researchers examined what happened to students’ growth in achievement as they moved from the 4th to the 8th grade in those states. While the tests were not given to exactly the same students, the authors say, the tests draw from students who were at least in the same age cohort. The researchers also made adjustments in the data to account for changes in state spending on education and in parents’ educational levels during the time frame they studied.

They found that the average percent test- score gain made by a typical student moving from 4th grade in 1996 to 8th grade in 2000—at 1.6 percent—was more than twice as high for states with consequential accountability programs as it was for those without them.

Audrey L. Amrein, one of the researchers who conducted the Arizona State study, called the Raymond-Hanushek criticisms “old hat.”

“I’ve had a lot of people reanalyze our data,” she added, “and each and every one of them have come up with different results. In no way is this analysis the last word.”

Commenting has been disabled on effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Teaching Webinar
What’s Next for Teaching and Learning? Key Trends for the New School Year
The past 18 months changed the face of education forever, leaving teachers, students, and families to adapt to unprecedented challenges in teaching and learning. As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Curriculum Webinar
How Data and Digital Curriculum Can Drive Personalized Instruction
As we return from an abnormal year, it’s an educator’s top priority to make sure the lessons learned under adversity positively impact students during the new school year. Digital curriculum has emerged from the pandemic
Content provided by Kiddom
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Leadership for Racial Equity in Schools and Beyond
While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to reveal systemic racial disparities in educational opportunity, there are revelations to which we can and must respond. Through conscientious efforts, using an intentional focus on race, school leaders can
Content provided by Corwin

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School & District Management 10 Ways to Tackle Education's Urgent Challenges
As the school year gets underway, we ask hard questions about education’s biggest challenges and offer some solutions.
2 min read
Conceptual Image of schools preparing for the pandemic
Pep Montserrat for Education Week
School & District Management Reported Essay Principals Need Social-Emotional Support, Too
By overlooking the well-being of their school leaders, districts could limit how much their schools can flourish.
7 min read
Conceptual Illustration
Pep Montserrat for Education Week
School & District Management From Our Research Center Educator Stress, Anti-Racism, and Pandemic Response: How You're Feeling
A new nationally representative survey offers key takeaways from teachers, principals, and district leaders.
EdWeek Research Center
1 min read
2021 BI COVER no text DATA crop
Pep Montserrat for Education Week
School & District Management Download 8 Tips for Building a Digital Learning Plan That Conquers Chaos
Craft flexible strategies, encourage experimentation with new instructional models, and regularly solicit feedback.
1 min read
onsr edtech tips