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NCLB Outrages

Testing the NCLB: Study shows that NCLB hasn't significantly impacted national achievement scores or narrowed the racial gaps

Press Release

Cambridge, MA—June 14, 2006— The Civil Rights Project at Harvard University (CRP) released today a new study that reports the federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) hasn't improved reading and mathematical achievement or reduced achievement gaps. The study also revealed that the NCLB won't meet its goals of 100 percent student proficiency by 2014 if the trends of the first several years continue.

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 Outcome, compares the findings from the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) to state assessment results and concludes that that high stakes testing and sanctions required by NCLB are not working as planned under the NCLB. The findings contradict claims of the Bush Administration and some previous studies that showed positive results under NCLB.

Under the NCLB, states can decide which tests to use for accountability and proficiency. In turn, states are required to look at their results and sanction low-performing schools. NCLB requires yearly progress of all groups of students toward the state proficiency levels. The report demonstrates how over the past few years since the NCLB's inception, state assessment results show improvements in math and reading, but students aren't showing similar gains on the NAEP—the only independent national test that randomly samples students across the country.

"Students should perform well on both tests because they cover the same subjects," said the study's author Jaekyung Lee, professor at the State University of New York at Buffalo. "What we are seeing is, the higher the stakes of the assessment, the higher the discrepancies in the results. Based on the NAEP, there are no systemic indications of improving the average achievement and narrowing the gap after NCLB."

The report also shows that federal accountability rules have little to no impact on racial and poverty gaps. The NCLB act ends up leaving many minority and poor students, even with additional educational support, far behind with little opportunity to meet the 2014 target.

"This report is depressing given the tremendous amount of pressure schools have been under and the damage that a lot of high poverty racial schools have undergone by being declared as failing schools," said Gary Orfield, director of the Civil Rights Project at Harvard University and professor of education and social policy at Harvard Graduate School of Education. "We have not focused on the kinds of serious long-term reforms that can actually produce gains and narrow the huge gaps in opportunity and achievement for minority students."

Key Findings

The report compares the NAEP results with state assessment results during the pre-NCLB period (1990-2001) with the post-NCLB period (2002-2005). It compares post-NCLB trends in reading and math achievement with pre-NCLB trends among different racial and socioeconomic groups of fourth and eighth graders from across the nation and states.

* NCLB did not have a significant impact on improving reading and math achievement across the nation and states. Based on the NAEP results, the national average achievement remains flat in reading and grows at the same pace in math after NCLB than before. In grade 4 math, there was a temporary improvement right after NCLB, but it was followed by a return to the pre-reform growth rate. Consequently, continuation of the current trend will leave the nation far behind the NCLB target of 100 percent proficiency by 2014. Only 24 to 34 percent of students will meet the proficiency target in reading and 29 to 64 percent meeting that math proficiency target by 2014.

* NCLB has not helped the nation and states significantly narrow the achievement gap. The racial and socioeconomic achievement gap in the NAEP reading and math achievement persists after NCLB. If the current trend continues, the proficiency gap between advantaged White and disadvantaged minority students will hardly close by 2014. The study predicts that by 2014, less than 25 percent of Poor and Black students will achieve NAEP proficiency in reading, and less than 50 percent will achieve proficiency in math.

* NCLB's attempt to scale up the alleged success of states that adopted test-driven accountability policy prior to NCLB, so-called first generation accountability states (e.g., Florida, North Carolina, Texas) did not work. It neither enhanced the first generation states earlier academic improvement nor transferred the effects of a test-driven accountability system to states that adopted test-based accountability under NCLB, the second generation accountability states. Moreover, both first and second generation states failed to narrow NAEP reading and math achievement gaps after NCLB.

* NCLB's reliance on state assessment as the basis of school accountability is misleading since state-administered tests tend to significantly inflate proficiency levels and proficiency gains as well as deflate racial and social achievement gaps in the states. The higher the stakes of state assessments, the greater the discrepancies between NAEP and state assessment results. These discrepancies were particularly large for poor, Black and Hispanic students.

About the report:

The report was conducted by Jaekyung Lee, an associate professor for the Graduate School of Education at State University of New York at Buffalo and commissioned by the Civil Rights Project at Harvard University.

Research on the report began one year ago and uses a growth curve model with longitudinal analyses of both national and state assessment data to explore the effects of NCLB accountability policy on student achievement outcomes.

This report is part of the Civil Rights Project's long-term study of the implementation of NCLB, which has produced a series of studies and the book, NCLB Meets School Realities.

About the author:

Jaekyung Lee is an associate professor for the Graduate School of Education at SUNY at Buffalo. His research focuses on educational accountability and equity. His publications include "The Impact of Accountability on Racial and Socioeconomic Equity" in American Educational Research Journal, 2004, and "Racial and Ethnic Achievement Gap Trends" in Educational Researcher, 2002. He has served on the State of Maine Technical Advisory Committee of Comprehensive Student Assessment System, the Academic Advisory Board of Harvard University Civil Rights Project on No Child Left Behind Act, the Expert Panel of Smart Library on Closing the Achievement Gap, and the Guest Editor of KEDI Journal of Educational Policy.

About the Civil Rights Project:

The Civil Rights Project at Harvard University (CRP), founded in 1996, is a leading organization devoted to civil rights research and a leading resource for information on racial justice based at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. CRP strives to improve the channels through which research findings are translated and communicated to policymakers and the broader public by publishing reports and books on critical civil rights issues. It has found eager collaborators among researchers nationwide, and wide open doors among advocacy organizations, policymakers, and journalists. Focusing initially on education reform, it has convened dozens of national conferences and roundtables; commissioned over 400 new research and policy studies; produced major reports on desegregation, student diversity, school discipline, special education, dropouts, and Title I programs; and published ten books, with four more in the editing stage.

Press Contacts:

Jaekyung Lee
Professor at the State University of New York at Buffalo
716-645-2484 (ext. 1257)

Gary Orfield
Director of the Civil Rights Project at Harvard University
Professor of education and social policy at Harvard Graduate School of Education
617-359-2892 (mobile) or 916-924-8645 or 617-495-1898

Jill Anderson
Harvard Graduate School of Education Media Relations

— Press Release
The Civil Rights Project, Harvard


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