Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Cracks in No Child Left Behind Stats

The Bush Administration is always crowing about how the test scores of many students across the nation are rising under the No Child Left Behind law.

But a new study by the Northwest Evaluation Association (a company which develops tests for 1,500 school districts in 43 states) used test data from 320,000 students in 23 states to show that "the academic growth that students experience in a given school year has apparently slowed since the passage of No Child Left Behind, the education law that was intended to achieve just the opposite" and that "the achievment gap between white and nonwhite students could soon widen."


The problem seems to be that schools spend so much time preparing at-risk students for the high-stakes tests that are given each year that they cannot adequately educate students who are "far below or far above the proficiency mark." These students then make little individual progress throughout the school year. Minority students with the same test scores as white students at the beginning of the year did not progess as much during the year, suggesting that the achievment gap may widen under NCLB I. These startling statistics have been masked by the overall scores of schools and the improvment from grade to grade, but the study may predict some scary numbers for the future.

According to Northwest's Director of Research, Gage Kingsbury said, "Right now it's a hidden kind of effect that we would expect to see expressed in the next couple of years. At that point, I think people will be disappointed with what N.C.L.B. has done."

Critics of the study note that states in the Northeast with high minority populations were excluded from the study because they are not clients if Northwest Evaluation Association, so the study should not be extrapolated to the nation as a whole.

Certainly this study is not proof that NCLB I is a failure. It is, however, a wake-up call for all the NCLB proponents who are patting themselves on the back for creating this high-stakes testing environment in education to the detriment of other methods of assessment. Perhaps a study of individual student progress from September through June in each grade in all 50 states could tell us whether there is anything to the Northwest Evaluation Association study.

I wonder if Margaret Spellings would be willing to put up the money for that kind of independent study?

I bet not. The Bush people only like studies that prove their policies or justify their reasons for war.

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