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Friday, March 27, 2015

No Child Left Behind: What Standardized Test Scores Reveal about its Legacy

From The Washington Post Blog
"The Answer Sheet"

By Valerie Strauss
March 10, 2015

NOTE: With Congress now attempting to rewrite the No Child Left Behind law (the current version of the 1965 Elementary and Secondary School Act), it’s a good time to look at what NCLB accomplished and did not accomplish. Here’s one attempt to answer that question, and the post below is another, this one looking entirely at standardized test scores and how “achievement gaps” fared during the NCLB era.

This seems only fair, since modern school reformers have made standardized test scores the chief metric of student achievement and school effectiveness.

Since data is so important to school reformers today, here’s a look at some, by Monty Neill, executive director of FairTest, explains in this post. FairTest, or the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, is dedicated to eliminating abuse and misuse of standardized tests.

PISA (Program for International Student Assessment) Test
Results Show Declines in Reading, Math and Science from 2002-2012

By Monty Neill

No Child Left Behind (NCLB) was signed into law in 2002, the latest version of the long-standing Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). Its provisions, such as testing grades 3-8 annually in reading and math and punitive sanctions, took effect over the next several years. The law is more than seven years overdue for reauthorization by Congress. This year, both the House and Senate are showing strong interest in voting for a new version.

NCLB provided that the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) should be the primary means for evaluating the success of NCLB. (NAEP was long referred to as “the nation’s report card” because it was the only measure of student achievement given periodically to a sampling of students around the nation.) We can also consider evidence such as scores on the SAT and ACT college admissions exams and on the international PISA exams.

Here are key findings, comparing the rate of progress pre- and post NCLB for NAEP and recent trends on SAT and ACT tests:
  • The rate of progress on NAEP at grades 4 and 8 was generally faster in the decade before NCLB took effect than since. That is a consistent trend both overall and for individual demographic groups, including blacks, English Language Learners (ELLs) and students with disabilities.
  • Score gaps in 2012 were no narrower and often wider than they were in 1998 and 1990.
  • The slowdown in math was pronounced, especially at grade 4.
  • In many cases, the rate of gain slowed even more after 2007.
  • Score gains slowed after NCLB for English language learners, while score gaps increased between ELLs and non-ELLs.
  • In three of four grades/tests, scores for students with disabilities flattened or declined, while gaps with whites remained unchanged or widened.
  • Scores for high school students have stagnated. NAEP scores were highest for blacks, and gaps the narrowest, in 1988. Hispanic scores and gaps have stagnated since NCLB.
  • SAT scores declined from 2006 to 2014 for all demographic groups except Asians.
  • ACT scores have been flat since 2010 for all demographic groups.
  • PISA scores have declined from 2002 to 20132.

NCLB’s failure to even raise scores on other standardized exams should be considered in light of widespread evidence of curriculum narrowing and extensive teaching to the test. Other serious problems, such as pushing low-scorers out of school and widespread cheating scandals, are also part of the steep price paid for NCLB’s testing fixation.

The documents and graphs available HERE (by scrolling down) present the evidence in detail.


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