No “crowding out” of science learning in sanctioned schools

Students improved performance in science as well as in math and reading at Florida schools that received an F grade sanction the year before, finds a research from the Center for Civic Innovation at the Manhattan Institute. The researchers statistical analysis found no “crowding out” of learning in science as the schools focused on reading and math achievement, a report says.

“These findings suggest that the incentives of Florida’s high-stakes testing program have not led to significant crowding out of student knowledge in the low-stakes subject of science,” says the report, “Building on the Basics:The Impact of High-Stakes Testing on Student Proficiency in Low-Stakes Subjects.”

“There is some evidence to suggest that student science proficiency increased primarily because student learning in math and reading enabled that increase. That is, learning in math and reading appear to contribute to learning in science,” the researchers write.

Schools often achieve gains in reading and math the year after receiving an F grade sanction, the report says. In this study, researchers wanted to see how students performed in science. With accountability focused intensely on reading and math, one of educators’ concerns has been that the time and effort spent on reading and math is “crowding out” learning in other subjects.

Previous research in Chicago found that the high-stakes testing system led to “significant learning gains in the low-stakes subjects of science and social studies”, the authors say. Their study of Florida schools drew a similar conclusion in science only. In fact, students in Florida made slightly greater gains in science than they did in math.

After one year, the F-grade sanction resulted in a gain in student science proficiency of about a 0.08 standard deviation, similar to the gain in reading and somewhat greater than the gains in math.

Another possible reason for the gain in science may be that accountability testing in reading and math could lead schools to adopt reforms that improve their overall quality. For example, a school could more effectively motivate its students, or it could improve relations with its teachers.

Beginning in the 2002–03 school year, Florida public schools were required to test for proficiency in science when they administered the state’s math and reading exams. The science part of the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT), is currently administered to all public school students in grades 5, 8, and 11. The results of the science exam have now been incorporated directly into the accountability program; but during the years of analysis, they did not count in the schools’ ratings.

Building on the Basics:The Impact of High-Stakes Testing on Student Proficiency in Low-Stakes Subjects by Marcus A. Winters, et al, Center for Civic Innovation at the Manhattan Institute, Civic Report, , Number 54, July 2008.

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