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NCLB Outrages

High-Stakes Flimflam

Stephen Krashen Comment, sent in letter to New York Times:

In Bob Herbertâs âHigh Stakes Flimflam,â (Oct 8),
Harvard Prof. Koretz points out that improvements in
high-stakes test scores donât always mean more
learning: You can pump up test scores in a number of
ways (e.g. teaching test-taking strategies, making
sure weaker students donât take the test).

Koretz and Herbert, however, assume that the No Child
Left Behind (NCLB) testing policy has resulted in
increased test scores. It hasnât.

Despite huge increases in the amount of reading
instruction many children are now experiencing, and
despite artificial ways of pumping up test scores,
NCLB has not produced improvements on either national
or state reading tests.

In the most recent report, Bruce Fuller and colleagues
concluded that âearlier test score growth in reading
has largely faded since the enactment of NCLBâ and
âprogress seen in the 1990âs in narrowing achievement
gaps has largely disappeared in the post-NCLB era.â

NCLB is indeed flimflam.

Stephen Krashen

Studies of the impact of NCLB:

1. âGauging growth: How to judge No Child Left
Behind?â, by Bruce Fuller, Joseph Wright, Kathryn
Gesicki, and Erin Kang, Educational Researcher 2007
36: 268-278.

2. âSelling NCLB: Would You Buy a Used Law From This
Woman?,â by James Crawford, available at

3. âDid Reading First Work?,â by Stephen Krashen,

4. âTracking Achievement Gaps and Assessing the Impact
of NCLB on the Gaps: An In-Depth Look Into National
and State Reading and Math Outcome Trends,â by
Jaekyung Lee, published in 2006 by the Civil Rights
Project at Harvard University.

5. âNCLB: No Impact on State Fourth Grade Reading Test
Scores,â By Stephen Krashen

by Bob Herbert

Itâs time to rein in the test zealots who have gotten
such a stranglehold on the public schools in the U.S.

Politicians and others have promoted high-stakes
testing as a panacea that would bring accountability
to teaching and substantially boost the classroom
performance of students.

âMeasuring,â said President Bush, in a discussion of
his No Child Left Behind law, âis the gateway to

Not only has high-stakes testing largely failed to
magically swing open the gates to successful learning,
it is questionable in many cases whether the tests
themselves are anything more than a shell game.

Daniel Koretz, a professor at Harvardâs Graduate
School of Education, told me in a recent interview
that itâs important to ask âwhether you can trust
improvements in test scores when you are holding
people accountable for the tests.â

The short answer, he said, is no.

If teachers, administrators, politicians and others
have a stake in raising the test scores of students â
as opposed to improving student learning, which is not
the same thing â there are all kinds of incentives to
raise those scores by any means necessary.

âWeâve now had four or five different waves of
educational reform,â said Dr. Koretz, âthat were based
on the idea that if we can just get a good test in
place and beat people up to raise scores, kids will
learn more. Thatâs really what No Child Left Behind

The problem is that you can raise scores the hard way
by teaching more effectively and getting the students
to work harder, or you can take shortcuts and start
figuring out ways, as Dr. Koretz put it, to âgameâ the

Guess whatâs been happening?

âWeâve had high-stakes testing, really, since the
1970s in some states,â said Dr. Koretz. âWeâve had
maybe six good studies that ask: âIf the scores go up,
can we believe them? Or are people taking shortcuts?â
And all of those studies found really substantial
inflation of test scores.

âIn some cases where there were huge increases in test
scores, the kids didnât actually learn more at all. If
you gave them another test, you saw no improvement.â

There is not enough data available to determine how
widespread this problem is. âWe know it doesnât always
happen,â said Dr. Koretz. âBut we know it often does.â

He said his big concern is where this might be
happening. âThere are a lot of us in the field,â he
said, âwho think that if we ever really looked under
the covers, what weâd find is that the shortcuts are
particularly prevalent in lower-achieving schools,
just because the pressure is greater, the community
supports are less and the kids have more difficulties.
But we donât know.â

One aspect of the No Child Left Behind law that
doesnât get enough attention is that while it requires
states to make progress toward student proficiency in
reading and math, it leaves it up to the states
themselves to define âproficiencyâ and to create the
tests that determine what constitutes progress.

Thatâs absurd. With no guiding standard, the statesâ
tests are measurements without meaning.

A study released last week by the Thomas B. Fordham
Institute and the Northwest Evaluation Association
found that âimprovements in passing rates on state
tests can largely be explained by declines in the
difficulty of those tests.â

The people in charge of most school districts would
rather jump from the roof of a tall building than
allow an unfettered study of their test practices. But
that kind of analysis is exactly whatâs needed if
weâre to get any real sense of how well students are

Five years ago, President Bush and many others who had
little understanding of the best ways to educate
children were crowing about the prospects of No Child
Left Behind. They were warned then about the dangers
of relying too much on test scores.

But those warnings didnât matter in an era in which
reality was left behind.

âNo longer is it acceptable to hide poor performance,â
said Mr. Bush, as if those who were genuinely
concerned about the flaws in his approach were in
favor of poor performance.

During my interview with Dr. Koretz, he noted that by
not rigorously analyzing the phenomenon of high-stakes
testing, âweâre creating an illusion of success that
is really nice for everybody in the system except the

That was a few days before the release of the Fordham
Institute Study, which used language strikingly
similar to Dr. Koretzâs. The study asserted that the
tests used by states to measure student progress under
No Child Left Behind were creating âa false impression
of success.â

The study was titled, âThe Proficiency Illusion.â

— Bob Herbert, with comment by Stephen Krashen
New York Times


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