Faculty Publications


“Testing While Black”: Standards-Based School Reform and African American Learners

SelectedWorks Author Profiles:

Brenda L. Townsend Walker

Document Type


Publication Date



0741-9325 (print) 1538-4756 (online)


School reform movements sweeping across U.S. schools have made claims of accountability for all students’ learning. The Bush administration has proposed reform strategies so that “no child is left behind” (Department of Education, p. 1). Fueled by the poor test performance of inner-city students, those proposals have given rise to an overreliance on high-stakes testing as a vehicle for accountability. Given the persistent overrepresentation of African Americans in special education classes, conversations about school reform must include African American learners’ needs. School reform proposals predicated on high-stakes testing will ensure that the very child who gets left behind will be African American. This article focuses on the impact of standards-based school reform practices on African American learners, especially those in special and remedial classes. First, a rationale is presented for standards-based school reform that is culturally responsive and not premised on high-stakes, high-pressure assessments. Subsequent to that discussion, current school reform practices will be explored relative to the psychosocial development of African American learners. The focus is on high-stakes testing and African American learners’ development of racial identity, self-concept, and achievement orientation. Finally, recommendations are identified for school reform that focus on accountability while promoting cultural responsiveness to African American learners.