Katy Reckdahl of The Hechinger Report takes a look at Louisiana's new approach to using standardized test results:
The proportion of overage students — those who have been retained for at least one grade — hovers around 40 percent for New Orleans high school students, according to an analysis of 2014 data by researchers at Education Research Alliance for New Orleans, which is based at Tulane University ... after realizing that academic stragglers who were retained frequently didn’t receive the support they needed, the state is changing course ... In the mid-2000s, Louisiana implemented high-stakes tests known as Louisiana Educational Assessment Program, or LEAP, which required fourth and eighth graders to show that they were grade-level proficient. Students who fell short were assigned mandatory summer-school classes, after which they took the test again. If that second attempt wasn’t successful, students couldn’t move on to fifth or ninth grade.
Reckdahl looks at a lot of data and talks to a bunch of students, so you should read the whole article. While the lopsided retention numbers make the high-stakes testing policy seem counterproductive in hindsight, the issues that drove retention aren't likely to go away just because the practice has been curbed. Students can still coast through schools without meeting grade level standards. Large-scale retention was not a great solution to that problem, but the challenge persists despite the eradication of an unpopular policy.
To extend this argument a bit, I suspect that we are on the verge of a similar, unsatisfying national reckoning on the broader question of standardized testing. Accountability enthusiasts pitched high-stakes standardized tests as something close to a panacea for our nation's educational inferiority. Fast forward to the present, and not only have our vast inequities persisted over the two decades of the accountability era, but the idea of testing has become toxically unpopular in the process.
Testing's biggest haters will take a victory lap on behalf of "the restoration of the great American public school system" if and when the use of high-stakes testing ebbs ... but the rollback will have solved none of the challenges that accountability hoped to mitigate.
I truly hope that some smart people are working on a better solution to correcting testing's imperfections than just jettisoning two decades of technical progress.
Speaking of the eradication of half-baked policy solutions, Phillip Atiba Goff is in The New York Times with some wise words about what we should do now that "stop-and-frisk" policing has been debunked:
Police reformers have long argued that ending stop-and-frisk would help communities, not harm them. But in objecting to the policy, we did not point to the negative long-term psychological or social effects this practice had on a generation of young black and Latino men — because we don’t really know what they are. It is urgent that social scientists, police departments and advocates measure the social costs, because burdensome and disparate policing happens all around the country. We should start by listening to targets of these policies.
You can go ahead and just apply that last sentence to literally every important social policy in America.
Goff's broader point is worth considering, which is that the criminal justice system ought to be attending to long-term outcomes beyond the narrow concept of "crime." If public safety - and not punishment - is the ultimate goal of crime reduction, then we ought to be considering broader measures of social well-being than homicide rates when we evaluate the efficacy of our approach to policing.
Elsewhere in criminal justice reform, Monique Judge of The Root calls out an important moment for the issue at the federal level:
Sens. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) were appointed to the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday. This is only the second time in the 201-year history of the committee that anyone black has served on it, and the first time there have been two black people on the committee at once ... Booker’s appointment comes just one year after he testified against the appointment of then-Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), who was awaiting confirmation for the position of U.S. attorney general. It is apropos that the Judiciary Committee is directly responsible for overseeing the U.S. Department of Justice.
Representation matters. The fact that our country's approach to policing and imprisonment disproportionately affects Black Americans is hard to separate from the fact that the levers of power in our country are disproportionately controlled by people who are not black. Does having Senators Booker and Harris on the Judiciary Committee solve these problems? No. But it's hard to see a pathway to solution without their leadership.
Have a great day!