Education: What Those Soaring Scores Mean

As marks rise, can real learning be far behind?

Students at the Garthar B. Peterson Elementary School in Atlanta used to dread standardized achievement tests. But this spring, when testing time came, their principal staged a pep rally and promised them a trophy and a party if they did well. It worked. When the results came in, the Peterson school had something to cheer about: after years in the doldrums, more than half its students scored above national norms in reading.

Peterson Elementary was not alone. Earlier this year, the Jacksonville school system announced that it now placed fourth in Florida test standings,...

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