Test Drive

A new law has made test-prep firms the hottest teacher's aid. But are students really getting better?

For the past seven years, Sam Camacho has taught language arts at Robert J. Frank Intermediate School in Oxnard, Calif., an oceanside community an hour north of Los Angeles. He has coached the boys' basketball team for nearly as long. Lately his two roles seem oddly interchangeable.

Camacho began one recent eighth-grade class by brandishing a page of the morning's Los Angeles Times, which listed the latest standardized-test scores of all the schools in the state. "This is a competition," he told his students. "What you see here is like a box score in the sports section." The school had a...

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