Do Schools Pass the Test?
Stephen Krashen Comment:
Published in US News and World Report
Critiquing No Child Left Behind
Ã¢€œDo Schools Pass the Test?" [June 18] notes that it is
unclear if No Child Left Behind deserves credit for
increased test scores. It is unclear if NCLB deserves
any of the credit for gains in reading.
The Center on Education Policy's report included a
section comparing elementary school gains for the two
years before and two years after NCLB was implemented
in 11 states. I calculated that before NCLB, the
yearly rate of improvement in these states was 1.2
percent. After NCLB, it was 1.5 percent, a difference
of less than one third of 1 percent.
In other words, reading scores were going up before
NCLB, and NCLB did little or nothing to improve the
rate of improvement. NCLB has cost us billions, and
Reading First, the reading component of NCLB, imposes
an extra 100 minutes per week of reading instruction,
an extra semester every two years.
Rossier School of Education
University of Southern California Los Angeles
Do Schools Pass the Test?
By Alex Kingsbury
June 18, 2007
The No Child Left Behind Act has been revolutionary
for American education. A combination of reform
strategies, it is designed to simultaneously raise
achievement levels for all students and close the gap
between different types of students. Jack Jennings,
president and CEO of the nonpartisan Center on
Education Policy, has seen many reports critical of
the law, even published a few, but the center's latest
reportÃ¢€”"Answering the Question That Matters Most: Has
Student Achievement Increased Since No Child Left
Behind?"Ã¢€”is different. Examining data from all 50
states, the report released last week shows that
schools are making progress in reading and math test
scores, though it's unclear if NCLB deserves all the
How do we know how well the public schools are
There's controversy over how much No Child Left Behind
has raised test scores, but there's little doubt that
the reforms under NCLB and those under President
Clinton have given us an infinitely better
understanding of what is going on in our schools. We
have more data all around, which is also leading
states to use common measures of data. That's very
important. In the past, schools within the same state
didn't always use numbers and measures that were
comparable with each other.
Has NCLB made students smarter?
NCLB is not a curriculum, so it is misleading to talk
about it like that. The law [tells] states to set
their own standards and implement accountability
measures, not what to teach. We can say that test
scores have shown achievement since 2002 in both math
and reading. There's more of an increase in math than
reading, and more of an increase at the elementary
school level than the higher grades.
Those trends [are shown in] other studies as well. The
achievement gap between minority students and white
students is closing, too. It's slight, but it's moving
in the right direction. That is a trend that's also
more evident in math than reading. We are doing
something right in this country when it comes to math.
In reading, we still have a lot of work to do.
What's to stop states from setting low goals and
bragging about meeting them?
States have set their own proficiency standards, which
can either be reasonable or artificially low, so we
used statistical models [in preparing the report] to
compensate for that. But states do set their own
standards of what students should know. Some states
have set ambitious achievement levels ...
Massachusetts, California, and Florida, for example,
have high standards. Other states have set less than
ambitious goals for what their students should be
I hate to mention states by name, but it's clear. Look
at any state that has a 90 percent proficiency level
with lots of students in poverty. That doesn't happen
without either an extraordinary effort to raise the
quality of education for all students or setting lower
standards. The Department of Education also annually
publishes state test scores and national test scores
so that they can compare them. It is a matter of
The public schools are doing better in student
achievement, and schools are doing better at narrowing
the achievement gap between different groups of
studentsÃ¢€”although the achievement gap is still very
substantial. If you have the top students and the
bottom students both increasing their scores, then you
have achievement without closing the gap. That is
happening in many states, but our findings show that
the number of states where the achievement gap is
closing far exceeds the number of states where the
achievement gap is widening. If we want to [close] the
achievement gap, our study shows it can be done, but
with a lot more effort than we have today.
Will this quiet NCLB's critics?
We don't want to oversell this report. We cannot draw
a direct line between these test scores and NCLB. The
problem is that there's no control group. With NCLB,
every student is affected. We will never be able to
measure what education would be like without NCLB. In
addition, considerable federal, state, and local
reform efforts were underway prior to and since 2002.
But this is in no way a declaration of victory. Other
countries in the world are surpassing us in terms of
high school completion and in terms of students going
on to postsecondary education. We used to lead the
world in those two categories. This report should show
that there is improvement but we need to accelerate
Alex Kingsbury with Stephen Krashen comment
US News and World Report
INDEX OF NCLB OUTRAGES