Corey A. DeAngelis
Standardised test scores have long been treated as the end-all-be-all of education. Researchers and the public at large generally use math and reading test scores to gauge education quality across countries, schools, and interventions. But a growing body of empirical evidence suggests that we have probably gotten it all wrong. Here’s why.
A study recently released by the American Enterprise Institute found that standardised test scores are weak predictors of long-term success. Specifically, the authors collected 34 studies that evaluated the effects of school choice programs on both test scores and high school graduation. The study found that 61 percent of the effects on math test scores — and 50 percent of the effects on reading test scores — did not successfully predict effects on high school graduation. Similarly large divergences were found between choice programs’ effects on student test scores and their effects on college enrollment.
But that’s not all. Standardised test scores do not appear to be strong predictors of other long-term outcomes either. I have compiled more evidence of these divergences that exist in the most-rigorous private school choice literature. My search revealed 11 disconnects between private schools’ effects on test scores and their effects on other arguably more important educational outcomes.
Focusing too much on test scores could compromise the character development necessary for true lifelong success.
For example, an experimental evaluation of a private school voucher program in Washington, D.C. found that winning the lottery to attend a private school had mixed effects on test scores, but over a 50 percent increase on students’ tolerance of others. Another rigorous evaluation of a voucher program in Milwaukee found no effects on reading test scores after four years. On the other side of the equation, my coauthor and I followed the same sample of students until they were around 22 to 25 years old and found that the Milwaukee program reduced the likelihood that they committed crimes as adults by over 50 percent. Other studies found significant divergences between test scores and outcomes such as charitable giving, political participation, effort, and happiness in school.
And divergences exist outside of the school choice literature as well. At least five studies that I know of using rigorous value-added methodology find disconnects between teachers’ effects on student test scores and their effects on student character skills such as behavior and effort. For example, Northwestern University professor Kirabo Jackson finds that teachers’ effects on student behavior are much stronger predictors of high school graduation than their effects on student test scores. Indeed, Jackson finds that teachers’ effects on student behavior are over 8 times as influential for high school graduation as effects on student test scores.
Of course, we cannot ignore the fact that some studies do find a link between test scores and long-term outcomes. For instance, prominent education scholars - Chetty, Friedman, and Rockoff — found that teachers that improve student test scores also tend to have positive effects on earnings later on in life. But that does not at all mean that their effects on test scores caused the effects on earnings. It is more likely that — in their sample — teachers that were good at shaping test scores were also good at shaping the non-cognitive skills necessary for success in the long-run, on average.
In other words, teachers that are good at improving standardised test scores can also be good at motivating students to work hard and to treat others with respect. Hard work and respect may be the skills that influence long-run outcomes such as earnings. But it is nearly impossible to accurately measure soft skills, which could be why we have found so many divergences in the literature.
Either way, what appears clear is that focusing too much on test scores could compromise the character development necessary for true lifelong success.Corey DeAngelis is an education policy analyst at the Cato Institute’s Center for Educational Freedom, Washington DC.
In recent weeks President Trump has invoked his power to impose tariffs on national security grounds to launch a trade war with several U.S. allies. In response to the reckless abuse of this authority, a number of senators are attempting to apply a much-needed course correction by demanding that such tariffs be subject to congressional authority. The effort to pass such a bill, however, appears to face an uphill climb, underscoring the need for senators who grasp the importance of free trade.
While Mitt Romney has not weighed in on this dispute between Congress and the executive branch, previous rhetoric from the candidate suggests an unsettling alignment with the White House’s overall trade stance.
During the launch of his campaign Romney stated that Utah had a lot to teach the politicians in Washington, with the former Massachusetts governor and 2012 Republican presidential nominee crowing that the Beehive State “exports more abroad than it imports” — something he said that those in the nation’s capital had “backwards.”
The last thing Washington needs is another politician who subscribes to discredited theories about trade.
This message is mistaken in several respects, not least of which is the implication that his mercantilist views constitute a fresh approach in Washington. Such thinking certainly mirrors that of Trump, who regularly blasts bilateral U.S. trade deficits with various countries and claims that the overall trade imbalance “hurt[s] the economy very badly.”
Regrettably, too many U.S. political leaders misinterpret the trade account as an income statement, mistaking exports for earnings and imports for spending. The story of international trade, however, is much more complex.
Rather than driving Americans into debt, dollars sent abroad to purchase imports and foreign assets return to the United States as purchases of U.S. goods, services, and assets. China, blasted by Romney during the 2012 presidential campaign as a trade bogeyman, serves as a useful example.
The third-largest market for U.S. exports, China uses the dollars received from American imports to purchase vast amounts of goods, from Boeing airplanes to soybeans to over $54 billion worth of services in 2016 alone. Dollars also find their way back from China through a variety of other means including foreign direct investment .
This dynamic is repeated across the range of U.S. trading partners, with foreigners consuming over $2.2 trillion of U.S. goods and services and injecting over $373 billion worth of FDI into the United States in 2016 alone. Beyond the jobs provided by exports, such investment is estimated to provide employment for 6.8 million U.S. workers including over 42,000 Utahns.
That trade deficits and imports do not detract from the economy is also evidenced by the lack of a correlation between the trade balance and economic performance. The current economic expansion, for example, has correlated with an expanding trade deficit. In contrast, the trade gap dramatically tightened during the country’s last recession as the sputtering economy led to a severe drop in U.S. demand for imports.
While on the campaign trail, Romney should consider visiting auto parts manufacturer Autoliv. Employing over four thousand Utahns, the Sweden-headquartered company’s ability to invest millions in Utah is in large part made possible by the dollars it has obtained through Americans’ purchase of its products. The company’s ability to stay competitive, meanwhile, is no doubt bolstered by the approximately $600 million worth of intermediate goods it imports produce its finished products.
If Romney truly wishes to distinguish himself from the rest of the political pack he should start by discarding his misguided rhetoric and touting the virtues of international trade in all its dimensions — imports as well as exports.
The last thing Washington needs is another politician who subscribes to discredited theories about trade and sees salvation in the imposition of new tariffs. Of such legislators the nation’s capital is already running a large surplus.Colin Grabow s an analyst at the Cato Institute’s Herbert A. Stiefel Center for Trade Policy Studies.