Compared to what?

The National Research Council report dissing test-based accountability is misleading, writes Eric Hanushek in Education Next. The report proclaims:

Test-based incentive programs, as designed and implemented in the programs that have been carefully studied, have not increased student achievement enough to bring the United States close to the levels of the highest achieving countries.

The report actually finds evidence that suggests positive impacts for accountability, he writes. OK, it hasn’t turned us into Finland or South Korea. But it’s helped.

Why would we discard an effective program just because it falls short of our hopes of producing the world’s best education?

. . . Nowhere does the report indicate an alternative educational program that leads to as large an improvement in overall U.S. achievement as accountability. Nowhere does the report suggest any single program or package of reforms that would close the achievement gap with the highest performing countries. Nowhere does the report really make the case that alternative reform packages should not include an accountability component.

The report dismisses estimated achievement gains of 0.08 standard deviations as insignificant. Even very small gains have very big pay-offs, Hanushek writes. “If the future follows the patterns we have seen historically, the present value of achievement gains of this magnitude would be over $13 trillion.”

“Existing but imperfect accountability schemes could be modified in order to improve on the first generation of plans,” Hanushek adds, but the NRC panel ignored this possibility.

Test scores should be audited independently to prevent cheating, writes Herbert Walberg in the Washington Times.

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