Keep your eyes peeled for the release tomorrow by the Manhattan Institute of a new study on the effect of high-stakes testing on achievement in low-stakes subjects. The study, led by Marcus Winters and co-authored by me and Julie Trivitt, examines whether achievement in math and reading comes at the expense of science on Florida standardized tests. Because there are meaningful consequences for performance in math and reading, but not for the rest of the curriculum, many people have worried that schools would improve their math and reading results by skimping on science and other subjects.
These concerns are not just coming from the usual critics of school accountability. Even accountability advocates have expressed second thoughts. For example, Chester Finn writes in the National Review Online: “Do the likely benefits exceed the ever clearer costs? Boosting skill levels and closing learning gaps are praiseworthy societal goals. But even if we were surer that NCLB would attain them, plenty of people — parents, teachers, lawmakers, and interest groups — are alarmed by the price. I don’t refer primarily to dollars. (They’re in dispute, too, with most Democrats wrongly insisting that they’re insufficient.) I refer to things like a narrowing curriculum that sacrifices history, art, and literature on the altar of reading and math skills…”
Diane Ravtich has similarly stepped on the high-stakes brakes, expressing concern about the crowding out of other academic subjects and activities: “a new organization called Common Core was launched on February 26 at a press conference in Washington, D.C., to advocate on behalf of the subjects that are neglected by the federal No Child Left Behind legislation and by pending STEM legislation. These subjects include history, literature, the sciences, the arts, geography, civics, even recess (although recess is not a subject, it is a necessary break in the school day that seems to be shrinking or disappearing in some districts). I serve as co-chair of CC with Toni Cortese, executive vice-president of the American Federation of Teachers.”
To find out whether these concerns are supported by the empirical evidence from Florida, tune into the Manhattan Institute web site tomorrow to see the study.