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NAEP Scores Rise; NCLB Gets Credit

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NCLB supporters are bragging today that the law's focus on student achievement is the main reason for the rise in reading and mathematics scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

Here's this press release from Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings: “No Child Left Behind is working. It’s doable, reasonable, and necessary. Any efforts to weaken accountability would fly in the face of rising achievement."

Rep. Howard P. "Buck" McKeon, R-Calif., says the scores show that NCLB should be reauthorized with its key ingredients in place. "They are also a stark reminder that we cannot and must not back away from the accountability, flexibility, and parental choice that are at the heart of the No Child Left Behind Act," says the statement from the senior Republican on the House Education and Labor Committee.

Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., the committee's chairman, suggests that student achievement would rise even faster if the law were rewritten to be easier to implement and if Congress provided increases in funding for it. "With an improved law and better funding, I believe that we will see much stronger achievement gains among all students," he said in his statement.

But NCLB isn't the only major policy that may affect a state's NAEP scores. Take a look at New Jersey. The state showed statistically significant increases in 4th grade and 8th grade math, as well as 4th grade reading. Its 8th grade reading results grew too, but not by a statistically significant amount. Its scale score rose by a higher number than most other gainers. The achievement gap in 4th grade narrowed in both subjects. (Read the state's press release here.)

Are NCLB's accountability pressures the reason for those gains? Or was the biggest factor the state's investments in preschool and facilities, all of it done under a state court order?

You could probably look at every state and ask such questions.

UPDATE: In an e-mail blast to reporters, FairTest's Bob Schaeffer says that the National Assessment Governing Board's press release has two points that undermine the argument that NCLB is having a positive impact. One says that gains between 2003 and 2007 aren't as as large as other periods in NAEP's history. The other notes that although 8th grade reading scores are up compared to 2005, they are below those of 2002. Schaeffer promises more when he's done a more thorough analysis.

1 Comment

Predictably, the administration is claiming that the NAEP support No Child Left Behind. They don’t.
NCLB became law in 2002.
Since 2002, fourth grade reading scores have gone up 2 points, and eighth grade reading scores have dropped one point. (The national average for grade 4 in 2007 was 221, with the lowest 10 percent scoring 174, the highest scoring 264. A two point gain is very small.)
The gap between students from high and low income families is also nearly unchanged, reduced by one point in grade 4, and two points in grade 8.
Students in Reading First, the reading component of NCLB, get much more instruction, an extra 100 minutes per week, or an extra semester every two years. What the NAEP scores tell us is that this huge investment is not paying off. Even if Reading First were only mildly effective, we would see noticeable improvement, not just two points after several years at one grade level and a drop of one point in another.

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