Effective schools — as measured by raising test scores — don’t raise students’ cognitive abilities, concludes a study of 32 Boston schools. Instead, these schools help students achieve at higher levels than their cognitive abilities predict, write the researchers in Education Next.
The study evaluated state test scores and measures of “fluid cognitive skills” for 1,300 8th graders attending traditional public schools, exam schools that admit only academically talented students and charter schools.
Charter schools with wait lists (and lotteries) showed the strongest results. “Each year of attendance at an oversubscribed charter school increased the math test scores of students in the sample by roughly 50 percent over the progress typical students make in a school year, but had no impact on their fluid cognitive skills.”
State tests measure “crystallized knowledge,” which “matters a great deal for success in school and beyond,” the researchers write.
But it’s possible that students who do well in these schools but falter in college suffer from limited cognitive skills. Effective schools should experiment with ways to raise students’ “processing speed, working memory, and fluid reasoning skills,” researchers conclude.