NCLB: Measure and Punish

from the book: The Death and Life of the Great AMERICAN School System: How Testing and Choice are Undermining Education
Group 2 Presentation

In 2001, the Bush administration wanted to improve the  educational system by creating a new plan called:

No Child Left Behind

The purpose was to set high standards, increase testing, and implement accountability for the sake of every single student.

NCLB Principles:

1.All students from third through eighth grade should be tested.

2.Decisions about school reforms must be made by the states.

3.Low performing schools will get help with the purpose of improving.

4.Students would be able to transfer to other schools if they are stuck in failing schools.

Politics and NCLB

NCLB PRECEDENTS: In 1990, bipartisan leaders agreed that schools needed more testing and accountability to improve. They did not pay attention to the quality of testing that should be implemented.

In 1991, President George Bush released the America 2000 program. It recommended national standards and testing. The Democratic majority in Congress disapproved of the program.

NLCB LAW: Bipartisan majorities in Congress approved of this plan and became a legislation. The NCLB was sign into law on January 28, 2002.

Democrats approved of the new federal role in education.

Republicans approved the support for accountability.

NCLB's Accountability Plan

1. States choose their own tests and adopt three performance levels

2. Public schools receiving federal funding have to test all students in grades three through eight annually and once in high school in reading and math

3. States have to create a timeline to show how 100% of their students will reach proficiency in reading and math by 2013-2014

4. All school districts were expected to make adequate yearly progress (AYP)

5. Any school that did not make adequate yearly progress would be labeled as a school in need of assistance and should offer the students the possibility of transferring to another school, as well as free tutoring. If progress was not shown by the fifth year, schools would be required to restructure

6. Five restructure options: convert to a charter school; replace the principal and staff; relinquish control to private management; turn over control of the school to the state; or any major restructuring of the school's governance

7. All states have to take part on the NAEP in fourth and eighth grade.

NCLB's Complains and Challenges

  •   Students were offered the opportunity to switch to a better school but less than 5% considered transferring.
  • Parents prefer their failing neighborhood school because they are already familiar with it rather than sending their children to a new school.
  • Nearly 2,000 providers registered to offer tutoring to needy students.
  • Why was there little interest in tutoring?
  • Districts would not provide agencies with space in the public schools.
  • Public schools blamed the agencies for demanding space when it was needed for extracurricular activities.
  • The cost for the liability insurance.
  • Agencies being too expensive
  • NCLB law generated huge revenues for tutoring and testing services, which in turn became a sizable industry.
  • The law required states to set their own standards and grade their own progress.
  • This led to vastly inflated claims of progress and confusion about standards.

Why did it not Work?

  • Because NCLB requires states to promise that they will reach an impossible goal, the states have adopted timetables agreeing to do what they cannot do, no matter how hard teachers and principals try.
  • In the 2006-2007 school year, 25,000 schools did not make AYP (Adequate Yearly Progress). In the 2007-2008 school year, the number grew to nearly 30,000, or 35.6% of all public schools. That number included more than half the public schools in Massachusetts, whose students scored highest in the nation on the rigorous tests of the National Assessment of Educational Progress.
  • Each state was to define proficiency as they saw fit, which allows states to claim gains even when they were none.
  • The goal set by congress was to have 100 percent proficiency by 2014.
  • The consequences of mandating an unattainable goal is to undermine states that have been doing a reasonably good job of improving their school and to produce a "compliance driven regimen that recreates the very pathologies it was intended to solve".
  •   It seems like the only guaranteed strategy is to change the student population, replacing low-performing students with higher-performing students. Sometimes this happens with bells and whistles, as the old “failing” school is closed and then reopened with a new name, a new theme, and new students.
  • Such a strategy is meaningless because it evades the original school’s responsibility to its students. Rather than “leaving no child behind,” this strategy plays a shell game with low-performing students, moving them out and dispersing them, pretending they do not exist.

  • No matter which strategy the state or school district applied, the “failing” schools were seldom able to improve their status.
  • Most states devised ways to pretend to meet the impossible goal. Since the law granted each state the power to establish its own standards, choose its own tests, and define proficiency as it wished, most states reported heartening progress almost every year. Mississippi claimed that 89% of its fourth graders were at or above proficiency in reading, but according to NAEP, only 18% were.
  • G. Gage Kingsbury of the Northwest Evaluation Association told the New York Times “that we needed to be competitive with nations like Hong Kong and Singapore. But our research shows that since NCLB took effect, states have set lower standards.”
  • Reading and mathematics were the only subjects that counted in calculating a schools's adequate yearly progress, and even in these subjects, instruction gave way to intensive test preparation.
  • Test-taking skills and strategies took precedence over knowledge. Teachers used the tests from previous years to prepare their students, and many of the questions appeared in precisely the same format every year; sometimes the exact same questions reappeared on the state tests. In urban schools, where there are many low-performing students, drill and practice became a significant part of the daily routine.

The Model for NCLB

  • NCLB was modeled after Texas, which began to administer the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills.
  • During “prep” one month before the exam, Social Studies and Science was not taught and there was a lack of the Arts.
  • As a result, students did not even know names of the Presidents, had little knowledge of current affairs, geography, and history but had mastered bubbling in answers.

Unattainable Goals

  • The aim of NCLB was to have 100% proficiency by 2014.
  • This goal is unattainable unless the meaning of proficiency is changed and standards are “dumbed down”.
  • NCLB did not bring vast improvement to the proficiency, rather, scores improved only by a few points between 2003 and 2007.
  • Even when scores improved, results slowed.
  • Lowest performing students had the smallest gains in years after the NCLB implementation.


  • NCLB did not live to its promises.
  • Reporting test scores to the public did not assist in school reform.
  • High standards were not brought about as a result of NCLB implementation.

Question to Consider

The author was clearly in favor of NCLB implementation on its beginnings and change her mind after being presented with the data. As an educator what was your position in reference with NCLB, has your position shifted? Why?

Comment Stream

a year ago

the Model foe NCLB