Cheerleading for NCLB

Monday, May 4, 2009
I guess my reaction to today's Washington Post shout out to No Child Left Behind ("'No Child' in Action") from former U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings is a question: "If NCLB's accountability alone is such a silver bullet, then how come test scores at the high school level didn't improve?"

Although Spellings mentions that NCLB requires math and reading tests in grades 3-8, it is quite disingenuous of her not to mention that such tests were also required in high school. If the achievement gains aren't sustained through high school, what real difference does it make?

The wise Aaron Pallas offers his take on this issue ("Wishful Thinking"), calling into question Spellings's claims:
But what portion of those trends can be attributed to NCLB? Margaret Spellings refers to changes since 1999, which is convenient for her story, because there were sharp increases in grade 4 reading between 2000 and 2002, and in grade 4 and grade 8 math between 2000 and 2003. But NCLB was signed into law in January, 2002; the first final regulations dealing with assessment were issued in December, 2002; and initial state accountability plans were approved by the U.S. Department of Education no later than June, 2003. The 2003 main NAEP was administered between January and March of 2003. Is it realistic to claim that NCLB affected scores before the 2003 NAEP administration? I, and a great many other analysts, think not.

Only in Margaret Spellings’ world can NCLB affect NAEP scores for the four years before the law was passed and implemented. Now that’s wishful thinking.

UPDATE -- Diane Ravitch comes to similar conclusions in her blog post.
Thus, when one looks at the patterns, it suggests the following: First, our students are making gains, though not among 17-year-olds. Second, the gains they have made since NCLB are smaller than the gains they made in the years preceding NCLB. Third, even when they are significant, the gains are small. Fourth, the Long Term Trend data are not a resounding endorsement of NCLB. If anything, the slowing of the rate of progress suggests that NCLB is not a powerful instrument to improve student performance.
Caveat emptor.