In a new article for Education Next, Martin R. West of Harvard University explains that research focused solely on standardized test scores will understate the benefits of school choice programs, since effects on high school graduation and college enrollment are stronger—especially among urban minority students.
The study builds on early research on school choice by James S. Coleman:
The chief beneficiaries of policies that expand parental choice appear to be urban minority students—precisely the group that Coleman argued has the least choice in a public school system in which school assignment depends on where a family lives. And the benefits of school choice for these students extend beyond what tests can measure.
A key paragraph at the conclusion of the article raises questions about overreliance on test scores to evaluate school choice programs:
Policymakers continue to wrestle with the question of how best to regulate systems of school choice. In recent years, charter school authorizers in some cities have taken on a more active role in managing the options available to families—closing some charter schools and allowing others to expand, using student test results as the primary yardstick of success. Meanwhile, some states have required private schools accepting voucher students to participate in state testing systems, blurring what had been a distinction between the two approaches. These efforts aim to produce more consistent quality among both charter and private schools and to equip parents with information to make sound decisions regarding their child’s schooling. Yet such measures, when used to limit the options available to families, assume that overall test score results at a particular school can accurately indicate the long-term benefits for an individual child of attending that school. Increasingly, researchers are casting doubt on that assumption.
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