NCLB Education: Reality-Testing (page 2)
Proponents of the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law have charged critics with creating "myths" about the law and have issued their own "facts." It's time to look at the evidence for a reality check on NCLB's claims of success. 
THE CLAIM: Proponents say higher test scores prove NCLB is working.
THE REALITY: Rising test scores are primarily the result of repetitive drilling for the narrow content the exams cover, not real educational improvements. Groups that have long struggled, like special education and English language learners and many low-income minority students, continue to do so - in fact, they may be falling further behind.
- Some state test scores have risen, but reading scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) have not. (NAEP math scores began rising prior to NCLB's passage.) Most test experts agree that score gains on one test mean little if there are not parallel improvements on tests that are not taught to, such as NAEP.  Instruction in reading and math increasingly resembles test preparation, which is why scores often rise on state tests, but not on NAEP.
- Texas is the NCLB model state. Due to a decade of intensive teaching to the TAAS test, scores rose dramatically and the racial score gap narrowed. But the gains were not confirmed and the racial gap did not close on NAEP or on the state's college admissions exam. In fact, Texas colleges reported in-state high school graduates needed more, not less, remediation after high-stakes testing was introduced.
- Study after study has found that a focus on reading and math tests causes schools to downplay science, history, art, physical education and even recess in order to boost scores.
THE CLAIM: Education Trust and other NCLB proponents say, "[E]arly evidence from states at the forefront of implementing rigorous accountability and instructional support systems demonstrates beyond any reasonable doubt that public schools are capable of meeting the expectations in the law."  Supporters also point to an increase in the number of schools that made "adequate yearly progress" (AYP) under NCLB as evidence of success.
THE REALITY: Based on recent NAEP trends, testing expert Robert Linn says that it would take 166 years for all 12th graders to attain proficiency in both reading and math. Across the nation, researchers and state officials predict 70 to 100 percent of all schools will, sooner or later, fail to make AYP.
- The major reason why more schools made AYP this year was a series of one-time changes in the way AYP is calculated. These "improvements" do not necessarily represent real learning gains.
- Due to requirements that all demographic groups make AYP, schools with integrated student bodies are far more likely to fail and be punished than schools that lack diversity.
- Even NCLB proponents such as Education Trust acknowledge that gains on state tests in the first few years are not fast enough to meet the law's requirements. Most states' NCLB compliance plans require much greater annual score increases in the coming years.
THE CLAIM: President Bush says that tests are needed to diagnose children's difficulties so problems can be caught early and addressed by teachers: "My attitude is, is that in order to know, in order to diagnose a problem, you have to measure it in the first place. You cannot solve a problem until you measure in the first place." 
THE REALITY: Catching learning difficulties early is essential. However, one-shot state exams are not good diagnostic tools.
- To find out whether a child is having trouble in a particular area, such as multiplying fractions, a few questions on a state test do not provide enough information.
- Children struggle academically for a variety of reasons. State tests do not provide any useful information on why an individual child may be having trouble, so the tests cannot help teachers figure out what to do differently to help that child.
THE CLAIM: NCLB proponents say the law holds schools accountable to parents and empowers them with useful data about their schools' performance.
THE REALITY: NCLB actually reduces local control and increases the control of distant bureaucrats. Because it reduces the gauge of school improvement to standardized test scores in reading and math, NCLB can't answer the main questions on most parents' minds: How is my child doing overall, and does my child's school offer what he needs to be well educated, happy and successful?
- Many parents receive contradictory information about the quality of their child's school, e.g., state tests concluding the schools are improving and federal data saying they're getting worse. Many parents are left confused about what the data really means.
Reprinted with the permission of the National Center for Fair and Open Testing.
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