Test-bashers always claim that high-stakes tests "hurt" black and Hispanic students, who earn lower scores. The unstated implication is that the minority kids can't possibly pass, so it's kinder to hand them an unearned promotion or an unreadable diploma. But a new study finds high stakes lead to higher scores: Black and Hispanic students benefit the most from what the New York Times calls "do-or-die" tests.

In his study, published next month in Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, a peer-reviewed journal, (Stanford Professor Martin) Carnoy and a colleague, Susanna Loeb, examined whether states with serious test consequences did better on a nationwide math assessment than their counterparts bearing none at all.

While there seemed to be little to no difference in the performance of white students, the study found that the more consequences a state imposed, the better its minority students typically did.

In fact, for every additional layer of sanction or reward placed on schools, teachers and children, about 3.5 percent more black students and 3 to 4 percent more Latinos grasped the basics of eighth-grade math.

Another peer-reviewed study "found that national math scores between 1996 and 2000 rose an average of seven-tenths of 1 percent in states with no consequences, 1.2 percent in those that simply published the results in the newspaper and 1.6 percent in states that either rewarded success or penalized failure."

In a Modesto Bee story on the California graduation exam, a black girl says she flunked the math portion of the exam several times, but doesn't oppose testing.

"If they don't give it to us, they'll never know who deserves to graduate and who doesn't," 17-year-old Jacquelyn said. "But then again, they never taught us this math. At least teach us this math."

Is that so much to ask? Teach her the math.

The Little Black Schoolhouse

What's a mother to do when the local schools are lousy? An increasing number of black parents are home-schooling their children. According to one estimate, five percent of home-schooled children are black, up from only two percent five years ago.

Home schooling lets parents emphasize black heritage, reports the Raleigh News-Observer. They also tend to set high expectations.

Paula Penn-Nabrit, Ohio author of Morning by Morning: How We Home-Schooled Our African-American Sons to the Ivy League, says she believes institutionalized racism is driving the push to home school. She says African-American parents should seek ways to make sure that their children's educational experience is a positive one.

"The thing that black kids are missing across the board is the advantage that white children have, of learning in an environment designed with those children in mind and populated with people who reflect those children," she said. "Black children don't have that opportunity, and it permeates everything, including the level of expectation of performance. I don't think that most black kids experience overt racism, but I think there are a lifetime of subtle messages that are passed along."

Two parents started the National African-American Homeschoolers Alliance in January.

Viking Peace Tourists

Europe? War? Mais, non. Nein. Never. National identity? Niente to see here. European unity evolved naturally, without conflict, according to European history books introduced in the '80s and '90s. Only it's not true.

"Children are not being given the full picture of their history," said Dr Yasemin Soysal, president of the European Sociological Association, who has spent three years researching the issue for the Economic and Social Research Council. "They are being presented with a more peaceful and bland image of European creation than actually took place."

Once depicted as "fierce raiders" in middle-school textbooks, Vikings have turned peaceful: "The Danes and Saxons settled down together and Saxon England became one rich and peaceful kingdom." Napoleon is portrayed as a reformer, not a general who invaded every country in Europe. Saracens, once barbarians, are now "a civilised race which lived in peace and harmony with the crusaders.

". . . There is a general consensus that we need to teach children that Europe evolved naturally through the organic coming-together of a group of sympathetic nations rather than through a series of tense and bloody clashes between a collection of wildly diverse countries," she said.

Oh, there were a few dust-ups: The Norman Excursion; the Hundred Years' Misunderstanding; the Napoleonic Reforms described in Tolstoy's Peace and More Peace; the Franco-Prussian Tiff; World Worry I and World Worry II. But it all led to a group hug.

Praise vs. Performance

Boosting students' self-esteem lowers their grades, according to an American Psychological Association study reported in the Wall Street Journal. A professor sent weekly e-mails with a review question to students who'd blown their first exam.

In addition, one-third of the students, chosen at random, also received a message -- advice to study, for example -- suggesting that how well they did in the course was under their own control. The other third received the review question plus a "You're too smart to get a D!" pep talk aimed at raising their self-esteem, which everyone knows boosts academic performance.

Oops.

Compared with the other e-mail recipients, the D and F students who got the self-esteem injection performed notably worse on later tests.

Apparently, encouraging students "to feel good about themselves regardless of work may remove the reason to work hard -- resulting in poorer performance," says psychologist Roy Baumeister and colleagues in a monograph to be published next month in Psychological Science in the Public Interest.

An APS analysis of more than 200 studies found no evidence that self-esteem programs improve job performance or reduce violence and delinquency. Worse, high self-esteem encourages young people to experiment with sex, drugs and alcohol.

What really seems to improve performance is self-efficacy -- that is, the belief that what you do makes a difference. Work, study, get ahead. Feel good, goof off, get nowhere.

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