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NCLB Outrages

Secretary Spellings Claims Are Impossible

September 25, 2006

The Honorable George Miller
The Honorable Edward Kennedy


In her memorandum of August 29, 2006 to Inspector General Jack Higgins, Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings makes the following claims:

The program (Reading First) is producing positive results for America’s students and examples of its success are evident across the nation. The long-term trend data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) indicate that over the last five years, more reading progress has been made among nine-year-olds than in the previous 28 years combined…I believe that this is due in part to the contributions of Reading First and other programs under the No Child Left Behind Act.

In reference to these claims:

That NCLB has contributed to the “progress” is highly dubious.

That Reading First has made any contribution at all is physically impossible.

The five year period the Secretary refers to is from 1999 to 2004. The gain in question is 7 points. No NAEP trend data were gathered in the intervening years. For the year 1999-2000 and 2000-2001, NCLB did not even exist. It is possible that all of the gain occurred before George W. Bush became president. Similarly, NCLB would have existed as law only for a few months of the 2001-2002 school year.

Given the confusion surrounding the implementation of NCLB in 2002-2003, it is not credible that it caused any gains in that year. That leaves only 7 months of 2003-2004 for NCLB to work its wonders before the NAEP assessment in Spring, 2004. I don’t think so.

The Inspector General’s report on Reading First indicates that Maryland’s final proposal did not arrive until November, 2003. A document from the Southern Regional Education Board states that by March 1, 2003, only half of the state proposals had been approved. At the time of the NAEP assessment in 2004, most children eligible for Reading First were not receiving Reading First instruction.

More importantly, Reading First essays to ensure that children are reading well by grade 3. The 2004 NAEP assessment tested 9-year-olds, most of whom are fourth-graders. A student would have to have been in third grade and receiving Reading First instruction by the year 2002-2003 to have been old enough to take part in the 2004 NAEP assessment. This would be a tiny number, perhaps even zero.

The 28-year period the Secretary refers to is from NAEP’s first trend collection in 1971 to 1999. The gain was 4 points compared to the seven points from 1999 to 2004. Had she started in, say, 1980, her statement would not be true.

Even if NAEP scores rise at some point in the future, it will be hard to attribute any of the increase to Reading First. In 2004, the total NAEP trend sample of 9-year-olds was 7500. I believe that would mean that the number of Reading First “graduates” in any NAEP sample would be tiny. NAEP would have to undertake a special study of Reading First participants for any effect to be seen or not.

There are significant weaknesses in the University of Michigan study cited by the Secretary. If the Michigan researchers were held to the same standard to which Reading First applicants were held, the study would not be admissible as evidence.


Gerald W. Bracey

— Gerald W. Bracey
letter to George Miller and Edward Kennedy


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