investment proved to be a lever that moved practice in nearly every school in the country.
As a number of reports and studies have concluded, however, this influence was not altogether beneficial. For one thing, despite the dollars spent and the testing requirements imposed, the achievement gap between disadvantaged and more advantaged students persists. In fact, the most extensive study of the program found that Title I failed even to narrow the achievement gap. In the final report of that study, known as Prospects, Puma et al., (1997) found that “where students started out relative to their classmates is where they ended up in later grades.” The researchers caution, however, that this finding does not indicate that Title I was a failure, particularly since funds did reach their intended beneficiaries. It may be, they point out, that the gap would have widened further if not for Title I assistance.
As a number of commentators have suggested, the testing requirements may have contributed to the failure to produce achievement gains for low-income students. According to the Advisory Commission on Testing in Chapter 1 (1993:13), “There is evidence that Chapter 1 testing procedures may indeed be promoting undesirable instructional practices, limiting the kinds of learning experiences to which students are exposed, or reinforcing outmoded ways of teaching disadvantaged students.” In large part, the questionable testing practices came about in response to federal requirements. In particular, the federal government required schools to test Title I students using nationally normed tests, which compare students' performance to that of a nationally representative norming group, in order to permit comparisons across states and districts. But while these tests may provide information that is useful for program monitoring, they are less useful for providing information about students' knowledge and skills that would help guide instruction. And, because Title I was intended as a compensatory education program, the tests usually measured basic skills only, to provide information on how students participating in the program fared on such tasks. The Advisory Commission found, however, that the reliance on norm-referenced tests of basic skills to produce national data on student achievement encouraged schools and teachers to narrow the curriculum to the material tested and to “spend undue time teaching test-taking skills or low-level basic skills, rather than challenging content” (p. 13).
In response to such concerns, the Congress revamped the Title I law substantially in 1994: perhaps the most far-reaching changes were in the assessment arena. Specifically, the law required states to develop challenging standards for student performance and assessments that measure student performance against the standards. Significantly, the law states that the standards and assessments are expected to be the same for all students, regardless of whether they are eligible for Title I. Thus for the first time, the 1994 statute enshrines into law the principle that Title I students are to be held to the same standards as all other students.