Federal

Study Questions NCLB Law’s Links to Achievement Gains

By Kathleen Kennedy Manzo — June 20, 2006 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

The No Child Left Behind Act has not accelerated improvements in student achievement or helped narrow the test-score gaps between various groups of students, despite claims by state and federal policymakers that such progress is evident in state and national test results, a report by the Civil Rights Project at Harvard University contends.

There is little sign that states are on a path toward bringing all students to proficiency in reading and mathematics by 2014, as the federal law requires, says the study, released last week.

“Tracking Achievement Gaps and Assessing the Impact of NCLB on the Gaps: An In-depth Look into National and State Reading and Math Outcome” is posted by the Civil Rights Project at Harvard University.

“Any change we see in student achievement after NCLB may reflect a continuing trend that occurred before NCLB,” the report asserts. “If we continue the current policy course, academic proficiency is unlikely to improve significantly.”

The report, “Tracking Achievement Gaps and Assessing the Impact of NCLB on the Gaps: An In-Depth Look Into National and State Reading and Math Outcomes,” compares state-assessment data with results of the National Assessment of Educational Progress in reading and math between 1990 and 2001, or “pre-NCLB,” and 2002 and 2005, or “post-NCLB.”

While student performance on many state assessments has improved over the past several years, significantly in some states, the trend on NAEP has remained relatively stable. Those results, according to the report, indicate that the state assessment systems that form the basis of the accountability measures under the 4½-year-old law have helped paint a “misleading” picture of the progress made in bringing more students to proficiency in the subjects.

“It is possible that the state assessment will continue to give a false impression of progress, shortchanging our children and encouraging more investment into a failed test-driven accountability reform policy,” says the report by Jaekyung Lee, an associate professor of education at the State University of New York at Buffalo.

Critical Stance

The study is the latest of several recent analyses of the impact of the No Child Left Behind law on student achievement. The Harvard Civil Rights Project has also released several of its own studies and statements over the past two years critical of how the law is being implemented. Its stance on the law, some observers say, is reflected in the report.

“The Harvard Civil Rights Project has been very skeptical of [the NCLB law]. The [Bush] administration is very supportive of it, and they’re both looking at data in the way that will show their [expected] results,” said Jack Jennings, the president of the Center on Education Policy, a Washington-based research and advocacy organization. “It’s a report to be carefully considered, but one to be viewed with a little bit of skepticism.”

The general findings of the report echo those of other recent studies that have suggested that the rate of improvement in student achievement is inadequate and “that many states’ standards and assessments are not nearly rigorous enough,” according to Ross Wiener, a principal partner at the Washington-based Education Trust, which advocates ensuring that poor and minority students meet high academic standards.

Fearing the ‘Cure’

But Mr. Wiener took issue with the tone of the Harvard report, citing its foreword, written by Civil Rights Project director Gary Orfield, as overly critical. “What really concerns me is that the most distinctive aspects of the report seem to be the anger and vitriol,” he said.

Moreover, Mr. Wiener added, the report seems to confuse the goal of the federal law, which requires states to get all students to proficiency in reading and math on state tests in eight years. Those tests tend to gauge proficiency on what is taught or outlined in state standards. Such progress on NAEP, which is based on its own frameworks and is not necessarily aligned with state standards, is not required or expected. The NAEP proficiency standard is considered far more rigorous than that of state tests.

Mr. Lee, the author, said that while he knew the Harvard project had produced critical reports on the federal law, he drew his conclusions from the data.

“I think [the law] is setting the right goal of closing the achievement gap,” he said. “But sometimes the cure is worse than the disease. I’m afraid that continuing the current course of policy can make the problem worse.”

A version of this article appeared in the June 21, 2006 edition of Education Week as Study Questions NCLB Law’s Links to Achievement Gains

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Classroom Strategies for Building Equity and Student Confidence
Shape equity, confidence, and success for your middle school students. Join the discussion and Q&A for proven strategies.
Content provided by Project Lead The Way
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Professional Development Webinar
Disrupting PD Day in Schools with Continuous Professional Learning Experiences
Hear how this NC School District achieved district-wide change by shifting from traditional PD days to year-long professional learning cycles
Content provided by BetterLesson
Jobs Virtual Career Fair for Teachers and K-12 Staff
Find teaching jobs and other jobs in K-12 education at the EdWeek Top School Jobs virtual career fair.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Federal How Schools Fare in Biden's Proposed Budget
President Joe Biden released his fiscal 2024 budget, which calls for more money for preschool, Title I, and special education.
7 min read
President Joe Biden speaks about his 2024 budget proposal at the Finishing Trades Institute, Thursday, March 9, 2023, in Philadelphia.
President Joe Biden speaks about his 2024 budget proposal at the Finishing Trades Institute, Thursday, March 9, 2023, in Philadelphia.
Evan Vucci/AP
Federal The Push for a $60K Base Teacher Salary Gains Steam as Bernie Sanders Signs On
Sanders' legislation complements a proposal in the House and comes as state lawmakers from both parties prioritize legislation to boost teacher pay.
6 min read
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., outlines his priorities during an interview in his Capitol Hill office, Feb. 7, 2023.
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., outlines his priorities during an interview in his Capitol Hill office, Feb. 7, 2023.
J. Scott Applewhite/AP
Federal Q&A Ending 'Government-Run Monopoly' on Schools Is Top Priority for Rep. Virginia Foxx
The Republican chair of the U.S. House's education committee plans to pass parents' rights and school choice bills.
5 min read
House Education and Workforce Committee Chair Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., greets then-Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar at the conclusion of a House Education and Workforce Committee hearing on "Examining the Policies and Priorities of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.' Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, June 6, 2018.
House Education and Workforce Committee Chair Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., greets then-Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar at the conclusion of a House Education and Workforce Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington in June 2018. Foxx spoke to Education Week about her priorities as she becomes chair of the committee for a second time.
Carolyn Kaster/AP
Federal Opinion Is This the Key to Unlocking Breakthrough Education Research?
An innovative federal R&D program for education is getting underway. Rick Hess and Jal Mehta discuss their mixed feelings about it.
5 min read
Image shows a multi-tailed arrow hitting the bullseye of a target.
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty