The Impact of Socioeconomic Status on High Stakes Testing Reexamined

Article excerpt

High-stakes testing plays a critical role in education today in the United States. Every state uses a high-stakes test to comply with the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) mandate. While many believe high-stakes testing is an acceptable and accurate way to measure students' learning, one has to ask whether high stakes testing is an effective measurement tool for all children. Researchers continue to debate the effectiveness of high stakes testing and need to continually reexamine the possible impacts it may have on children from differing socioeconomic (SES) backgrounds especially disadvantaged youth.


In 2002, President George W. Bush signed the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which made standardized (high-stakes) testing the measurement tool for educational accountability. In an attempt to measure the effectiveness and impact the Elementary and Secondary Education Act has had on our children, Horn (2003) analyzed data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). Horn found that increased high-stakes test scores do not equate to increased learning. Marchant, Paulson, and Shunk (2006) also analyzed data from the NAEP to determine if states' high-stakes policies contributed significantly to student NAEP achievement beyond what could be predicted based on the demographic characteristics of test-takers. They concluded that the reading test portion of the NAEP revealed that schools with high-stakes testing policies in place had a lower proportion of students reaching Proficient than did those schools without high-stakes testing policies. The percentage of families in high-stakes states with low income was higher as well. The percentage of parents with a college education was lower than schools without high-stakes testing policies and the percentage of Black and Hispanic students was higher than schools without high-stakes testing policies. Trends from other analyses suggested the addition of parent education would weaken the effects of high stakes testing. The study also found that having high-stakes policies was related to lower outcomes. The researchers were not able to determine whether or not the high-stakes indicators would have remained significant however trends from other analyses indicate that years of high stakes testing and the high stakes index were related to higher achievement outcomes.

Attempted Equality through Increased Funding

The results of the above research suggest that a child's SES may play an important role in his/her learning and high-stakes test performance. The United States federal government attempted to solve this imbalance by providing additional Title I funding to schools that serve a large low SES population. There still appears to be a large gap between Title I funded schools and non-Title I schools that additional monies cannot fix. Researchers have tried to explain the existing possible gaps between the better funded Title I and non-Title I schools. Lee and Wong (2004) attribute this gap to the stagnancy of the United States federal government's policies regarding education in the 1990's when the large achievement gaps did not widen or lessen. Rouse and Barrow (2006) analyzed data from the National Education Longitudinal Study (NELS) to calculate educational outcomes by family SES to determine why family background is so strongly linked to education. The results indicated that more advantaged parents expected their children to complete more education than less advantaged parents. Children could face higher psychological costs if lower parental expectations cause children to have less confidence in their own ability. Children from lower SES backgrounds tend to obtain different information than children from more privileged families about the costs and benefits of more schooling. These differences may be driven by differences in access to quality schools. Rouse and Barrow also stated that descriptive statistics and other analysis suggest that school quality is positively correlated with family background. …


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