Monday, June 08, 2009

Keynes' Law of consequential testing 

We wrote a week or so ago about the abandonment of the MCA-II math test as a consequential exam for Minnesota high school students to graduate. Much of the discussion was over whether the test was too hard, given barely more than a third of 11th graders were found to be proficient. But this year that percentage rose to 42%, with 57% meeting the math standard that the state has now abandoned.

Kate Pechacek, a math teacher at Stillwater Area High School, said her district is seeing success.

An increasing number of junior high students have been enrolling in higher-level math courses in the district since Pechacek started teaching there about four years ago. Now, about 50 percent of seventh-graders are enrolled in algebra, she said.

"If we're adhering to the standards, I think that's going to give us the results we're looking for," Pechacek said. "Although the standards have been around for a while, people are paying much more attention to them."

But racial performance gaps persist -- white students pass the test at three times the rate that students of color pass it -- which has pushed for many the desire to stop a consequential comprehensive test and use end-of-year course-specific tests instead. (Noted in the article, all students will have to take Algebra II ... by 2015.)

Most economics students learn Say's Law: supply creates its own demand. But there's also a Keynes' law, which is the reverse. If we demand students pass these tests, there is a reaction from those students that will demand the coursework necessary to learn what is needed to pass them. Why would anyone think that incentive is less for students of color or students from lower-income families than for students without color? There's almost as many programs to improve math skills for students of color as there are colleges of education in America. (Here's ours.) Are they not working? Why not?