The Echo Chamber: NAEP, NCLB, and the Policy-Achievement Connection

This month’s Echo Chamber examines the debate over measuring student achievement and the effects of policy on student learning. A recent study by the Center on Education Policy, a Washington-based nonprofit organization, found that student performance on state assessments has increased since the No Child Left Behind Act was enacted in 2002.

However, another study released by the U.S. Department of Education the same week found vast differences in the difficulty of state tests when compared to a common measure—the National Assessment of Educational Progress, also called "the nation’s report card." Few states were found to meet or exceed NAEP's definition of "proficiency."

What's next—national standards, a national test (voluntary or mandatory), closer federal oversight of state standards and assessments, higher standards for state tests, lower standards for NAEP? Reactions to these findings run the gamut.

Jack Jennings, President, Center on Education Policy

"This report focuses on whether test scores have gone up since the enactment of NCLB. We cannot say to what extent test scores have gone up because of NCLB. It is always difficult to tease out a cause-and-effect relationship between test score trends and any specific education policy or program."

"The NAEP tests, however, are not aligned with a state’s curriculum as state tests are, so NAEP should not be treated as a “gold standard” to invalidate state test results but as an additional source of information about achievement."

Testimony to the Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary and Secondary Education, Committee on Education and Labor, Requires Adobe Acrobat Reader
U.S. House of Representatives, June 7, 2007

Editorial, Midland (M.I.) Daily News

"The CEP noted that increased learning could have sparked the upswing, but that so could teaching to the test, as Michigan has seen with the MEAP. Changes in the population tested also might be a factor. Nonetheless, the results are good. Let’s not quibble about how we got there."

"Our View: Good News on the Education Front," June 11, 2007

Eduflack Blog

"Though many have gone out of their way to mitigate the findings, offer up alternative explanations, discount the impact, or generally change the fact, one thing is certain. NCLB does work. In those states where CEP found student achievement gains, there is only one common denominator—all of those states have made NCLB-based reforms. NCLB may not be the only reason for the successes, but it is undoubtedly a major driver behind the improvement.

Student proficiency needs to be a common, universal measure. It is the only way we can ensure every American student is reading at a proficient level in the fourth grade, prepared for the rigors of our changing high schools, and ready for the opportunities available in either postsecondary education or career."

"Great Test-pectations," June 7, 2007

Margaret Spellings, U.S. Secretary of Education

"A new study by the nonpartisan Center on Education Policy, revealing improved student performance and a narrowing achievement gap across most of the country, shows that we're on the right track.

But while test scores are up, has the academic bar been raised? An Education Department report released this week found that state standards for reading and math assessments were generally lower than those of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP, also known as the Nation's Report Card). In most cases, the knowledge required to reach the "proficient" level on state tests was comparable to the "basic" level on NAEP. Other studies have echoed these findings.

This may fuel a Beltway-based movement for "national standards" and a national test created and mandated by the federal government. Such a move would be unprecedented and unwise.

National standards are not synonymous with higher standards—in fact, they'd threaten to lower the academic bar. And they would do little to address the achievement gap."

"A National Test We Don't Need," The Washington Post, June 9, 2007

Diane Ravitch, Research Professor of Education, New York University

"I know you don't give a hoot about NAEP, and that you think its cut scores are way too high. But the important point that came across in this [U.S. Department of Education] study is the crazy variability in state standards... I am sure this made the Bush administration unhappy, but the fundamental idea is that this variability makes no sense. We need accurate and consistent information about student progress."

"The Chinese Work Ethic and Other News," Bridging Differences Blog, June 11, 2007

Neal McCluskey, Policy Analyst, the Cato Institute's Center for Educational Freedom

"Only two days after a fatally flawed but positive report from the Center on Education Policy (CEP) inspired No Child Left Behind (NCLB) fans to declare NCLB a success, two new analyses have come out showing that far from being a triumph, the law has mainly produced just two things: confusion and deception."

"NCLB: What a Mess," Cato@Liberty Blog, June 8, 2007

Bruce Fuller, Professor of Education and Public Policy, UC Berkeley

"States are adapting to Byzantine mandates from Washington. But governors and state school officials also game the system to create the illusion of rising achievement. So, it’s important to fix No Child in ways that retain a forceful yet surgical federal role. We certainly need a single benchmark for tracking student achievement over time."

"No Child Left Behind Lowers the Bar on School Reform,"
San Francisco Chronicle, June 11, 2007