Standards Based Education Reform

Largely refuting the findings of differential performance between groups with different income and education characteristics are the beliefs of the standards based education reform movement adopted by most education agencies in the United States by the 21st century. By studying other nations with a national education policy, setting clear, attainable world class standards of performance, using standards based assessment with the incentive of a high school graduation examination, and other student-centered reforms such as whole language, block scheduling, multiculturalism, desegregation, affirmative action, standards-based mathematics and inquiry-based science, it is believed that all students of all races and incomes will succeed. None of these aforementioned reforms have raised student achievement. The No Child Left Behind federal legislation indeed requires as a final goal that all students of all groups will perform at grade level in all tests, and show continual improvement from year to year, or face sanctions, though some have noted that schools with the highest number of poor and minorities generally face the greatest challenges to meet these goals.

In contrast to norm-referenced tests such as IQ tests and the SAT and ACT which are widely condemned, or in the case of IQ tests made illegal for limiting opportunities for minorities, standards based assessment are lauded for being set based on clearly defined criterion-referenced tests which in theory can be passed by all students, and be constructed free from cultural bias.

However, by 2006, the success of this approach was in question in states such as Washington when fully half of all students promise set in 1993 education reform legislation that most or all students would pass the standards when they were made a mandatory graduation requirement. Still, officials such as Superintendent Terry Bergeson persist in their belief that minority students are just as capable as higher scoring groups and only need additional help. Other states such as Massachusetts MCAS demonstrated high graduation rates for all races, however groups such as Fairtest point out many minority students simply dropped out, while under performing minorities would still lag whites and Asians.

While states like Washington cited a narrowing of some gaps, there was no evidence that standards based reforms had actually eliminated any gaps, or changed their rank ordering in the United States, Australia, or anywhere in the world. Charles Murray, one of the authors of the Bell Curve questioned whether reductions in point gaps represented any change in relative improvement at all. Though in theory all groups can and will pass such tests at high rates, in practice such tests are even more difficult to answer open-response items which require significant reading and writing and problem solving as well as mathematical skills. While minorities might score between the 25th or 50th percentile on a rank order test, failure rates for minorities remained at 2 to 4 times the rate for the highest scoring groups throughout most testing years on test such as the WASL and only 1 in 4 minority sophomores had passed the standard needed to get their diploma in 2006.