No Child Left Behind Assessment:
An Exercise in Reporting Contraditions
January 1, 1970
The President of the United States of America has declared his prize contribution to education, the No Child Left Behind (NCLB), a success. In a speech on March 2, 2007 (posted on the White House website) he said, “Fourth graders are reading better. They've made more progress in five years than the previous 28 years combined” and “In math, 9-year-olds and 13-year-olds earned the highest scores in the history of the test.”
Yet, not all observers believe that “The Test” is infallible.
“Under the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), the federal government has mandated that all 91,000 public schools in the United States be rated on the basis of standardized test scores. The new law's unmistakable message is if it's not on a test, it's not worth knowing,” said Stan Karp in Rethinking Schools Online in 2004.
As a vehicle for delivering the “facts” of NCLB, the article at http://www.rethinkingschools.org/special_reports/bushplan/test191.shtml
has a downloadable, self-directed, multiple-choice test for you, should you feel the urge to rediscover that old feeling.
But fast-forwarding again to March 2, the President also said, “One thing we need to do is to make sure that we align our high school graduation requirements with college readiness standards….” There are some who believe the national government has overstepped when it comes to mandating curriculum.
And, perhaps having heard that the taxpayers are dissatisfied with sending money to Washington, only to be told that they must earn it back, the President acknowledges that the money from the Federal Government actually comes from the people in the first place.
Even so, he has continued his performance-driven approach to problem-solving in the public schools.
“I strongly believe that there needs to be consequences when there's failure,” the President of the United States said. “You know, in Washington, D.C. we've got a terrible problem there in the public school system because it's not meeting standards. They're just simply not getting the job done in too many instances.”
The President was not seeking input from the taxpayers in this session. He was simply making an announcement, “And in my strong opinion, the reauthorization of No Child Left Behind is right for the country. And that's what I've come to New Albany to tell you. God bless.”
For the entire speech, go to: http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2007/03/20070302-8.html
But, this is not the end of the discussion. On June 14, 2006, the Civil Rights Project of Harvard University released the results of its federal study on NCLB. The report states, “No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) hasn't improved reading and mathematical achievement or reduced achievement gaps” (http://www.civilrightsproject.harvard.edu/news/pressreleases/nclb_report06.php).
If understanding a problem is a requisite for solving it, one wonders why the President did not reference this prestigious study in his speech.
Comparing the NCLB results to the National Assessment of Education (NAEP) outcomes, there is a peculiar conflict.
“The report demonstrates how over the past few years since the NCLB's inception, state assessment results show improvements in math and reading, but students aren't showing similar gains on the NAEP—the only independent national test that randomly samples students across the country,” the Harvard study says. This suggests that when No Child tests itself, it can claim success, but not when evaluated by an unbiased entity.
State University of New York at Buffalo, Jaekyung Lee, the study’s author, who was commissioned by the Civil Rights Project at Harvard, is a specialist in educational accountability and equity. He suggests that money may be a key factor in the current stated outcomes in the stated successes from the self-assessors of No Child. "What we are seeing is, the higher the stakes of the assessment, the higher the discrepancies in the results. Based on the NAEP, there are no systemic indications of improving the average achievement and narrowing the gap after NCLB."
Furthermore, the Harvard study reports that “federal accountability rules have little to no impact on racial and poverty gaps. The NCLB act ends up leaving many minority and poor students, even with additional educational support, far behind with little opportunity to meet the 2014 target.”
Following are excerpts from the Harvard report:
* NCLB did not have a significant impact on improving reading and math achievement across the nation and states. Based on the NAEP results, the national average achievement remains flat in reading and grows at the same pace in math after NCLB than before.
* The racial and socioeconomic achievement gap in the NAEP reading and math achievement persists after NCLB. If the current trend continues, the proficiency gap between advantaged White and disadvantaged minority students will hardly close by 2014.
* …first and second generation states failed to narrow NAEP reading and math achievement gaps after NCLB.
* The higher the stakes of state assessments, the greater the discrepancies between NAEP and state assessment results. These discrepancies were particularly large for poor, Black and Hispanic students.
For the full discussion and contact information for those associated with the Harvard study, go to:
The study by the Civil Rights Project at Harvard on the No Child Left Behind program leaves questions about how the President gleaned his sincerely stated claims of success. There is other research to consider.
The way that information is gathered can sway the outcomes, so I decided to research the subject, starting with the data provided by the No Child Left Behind agency. I went to the U. S. Department of Education website to find out how the agency was evaluating NCLB. I was confounded, running in circles, as I did searches for assessment, evaluation, measurement, and the like. All I could locate were ways the federal program would measure states, schools, and student success, but not its own program.
Fortunately, an acting official, in charge of California for the U. S. Department of Education, posted a defense of the No Child Left Behind act in a Ventura newspaper. I have sent him my list of questions and requested that he let me know where on the government website the answers are located. I will share his response with you. That way, each of us will be free to conduct our own inquiry and arrive at informed conclusions.
In the meanwhile, there is a conflict in the NCLB discussion, a conflict we shall monitor with great interest.
La Vergne Rosow