Our intern Jacob Dagger writes:

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Back in December, the Houston school system was confronted with allegations of cheating on standardized tests -- not by students, but by teachers and administrators. When the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills exams were monitored more closely last month, Houston scores declined, which seemed to confirm that cheating had taken place. Many attribute the alleged cheating to pressure caused by strict performance requirements under No Child Left Behind (NCLB); low test scores could cost schools federal funding.

It's just the latest in a string of such scandals, but its location is particularly ironic: the success of the Houston school system was presented as strong evidence in support of President Bush's 2001 NCLB Act.

For a more innovative (and effective) solution, we'd suggest the Houston school board hop on I-45 and take a drive up to Dallas.


Dallas's ArtsPartners program, rather than taking the test-prep approach to grades, has integrated arts into the classroom, providing training to teachers, sponsoring museum visits that relate to subjects studied, and bringing artists into the schools. It receives funding from the school district, the city, the federal government and private grants. And by many measures, it is working:
"In Texas, there's almost as much pressure for teachers to boost test scores as there is for coaches to win football games," says Larry Groppel, who was named interim superintendent when Moses resigned to take a university job last summer. "Here in Dallas there's probably more. If somebody wants to criticize ArtsPartners as fluff, they should look at the test scores."

Indeed, initial analyses of standardized tests administered throughout the district show that students make bigger strides in literacy, particularly writing, when their teachers book performances, artist residencies, and other cultural activities through ArtsPartners. The effect is greatest in schools that receive help integrating these activities into their lesson plans. The scores of students who received the greatest exposure to ArtsPartners' programs rose 10 points in a statewide reading test between 3rd and 4th grade compared to a three-point rise for a control group. What is more, the program seems to benefit students of every ethnic, socioeconomic, and academic grouping.
To be fair to Houston, some Dallas schools were caught up in the test-score scandal as well. To them, we'd say, back to the drawing board, literally.

NOTE: Minor edit 9:29 p.m. 3-28-05