Blank and Langesen (2001) report data on achievement of different ethnic groups from the NAEP. The differences in achievement levels remain disturbingly high. For example, 77 percent of European American students, 32 percent of African American students, and 40 percent of Hispanic students scored at the basic level or above in the 2000 eighth-grade mathematics test. There was an 11 percent reduction in the achievement gap for Hispanic students since 1990. The reduction was 2 percent for African American students.
Kim et al. (2001, pp. 20-23) compared achievement of minority and European American students in science and mathematics. At 14 urban sites, the investigators compared the achievement scores of European Americans and the largest ethnic group over two successive years. In five predominantly Hispanic sites there was a reduction in the average achievement gap of 8 percent in mathematics and 5.6 percent in science. In nine predominantly African American sites there was an increase in the achievement gap of 1 percent in math and 0.3 percent in science.
In summary, the meager evidence in the studies reviewed does not indicate that investment in standards-based practices affects the achievement gap between middle class European Americans and other students. Nationally, the achievement gap between Hispanic and European American students seems to be shrinking, but the data are not strong enough to support the claim that this is due to standards-influenced teaching. It is equally likely to be due to other causes, such as the successful assimilation of Hispanic immigrants into the American economy and culture (Ogbu, 1982). The achievement gap between European Americans and African Americans is largely unchanged.
Overall, the studies reviewed provide weak support for a conclusion that investment in standards-based practices improves student achievement in both mathematics and science. These studies provide no support for the opposite conclusion—that the standards have had negative effects on student achievement. This is an important finding to note, since there are those (e.g., Loveless, 1998) who claim that the evidence shows that “constructivist” standards impede student learning. However, the associations are generally weak, and the studies are generally poorly controlled. The reporting of achievement results is spotty and selective; in many cases the authors had personal interests in reporting positive results. Even in the most carefully controlled studies, the influence of standards is confounded with many other influences on teaching practice and student achievement. The meager evidence in the studies reviewed for this paper does not support a claim that investment in standards-based practices reduces (or increases) the achievement gap between European American and Hispanic or African American students.
It would be nice to know whether investments in standards-based practices have been cost-effective: How does the value added from these investments compare with what we might have gotten from investing the same resources in other improvements? Could it be, for example, that we could have improved student achievement more by using more of our resources to reduce child poverty? These questions, which call for comparisons between what we actually did and the road not taken, are not ones for which we are likely to find data-based answers.
The studies discussed above did not report data on actual classroom teaching practices, so we cannot know, for example, whether the teachers were actually doing what the standards advocate, or how the teachers’ practices were affecting student achievement. In this section I look at the evidence concerning the relationship between teaching practices endorsed by the standards and student learning. In particular, I review studies that address these questions: What evidence do we have about the influence of particular teaching practices endorsed by the standards on student learning? What evidence do we have about the influence of particular teaching practices endorsed by the standards on the achievement of less advantaged students?
I looked for studies that met the following criteria: