"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Guess What? Pressure Cooker NCLB Testing Doesn't Raise Achievement

With millions of school children labeled failures at an early age, with soaring dropout rates (so bad that states hide them in statistical spider holes), with small hearts pounding so hard the teachers can hear them from across the desk, with puke-covered test forms secured in zip-lock bags, with disabled children hiding under beds out of shame for failing the tests, with the most committed teachers leaving education out of disgust and despair, with students and teachers taught that doing anything to pass is fine just as long as you don't get caught, with the school curriculum shrunk to exclude thinking and with school turned into a job that kids simply put up with, with segregated housing patterns and real estate prices determined by test scores, with parents blaming teachers and teachers blaming parents, and with a Katrina-sized lump of cash hauled away by textbook, tutoring, and testing companies, with American ingenuity and creativity threatened by a lock-step stupidification of school children, and with a 200 year effort to create a public system of quality schools for all children now held up to ridicule and possible replacement by a bunch of craven, ideological and know-nothing hacks, with all of this,

we now find out that high-stakes testing does not raise student academic achievement.

Who, who, will be accountable for this debacle? Who will take the blame, yes the blame, for this cynical crime against humanity?

National Study Finds No Convincing Evidence that High-Stakes Testing Pressure Leads to Increased Student Achievement

CONTACT: Teri Moblo (517) 203-2940 (email) tmoblo@mea.org or
Alex Molnar (480) 965-1886 (email) epsl@asu.edu

TEMPE, Ariz. (Tuesday, September 20, 2005) — The pressure associated with high-stakes testing has no real impact on student achievement, according to “High-StakesTesting and Student Achievement: Problems for the No Child Left Behind Act,” a study released by the Education Policy Studies Laboratory at Arizona State University and the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice.

Under the federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), high-stakes test scores are the indicators used to measure school and student success on a statewide basis. Low test scores can result in severe consequences for schools under this law. The underlying theory behind this type of accountability program is that the pressure of high-stakes testing will increase student achievement. But according to this study, there is no convincing evidence that this kind of pressure leads to increased student achievement.

The authors, Sharon L. Nichols, University of Texas at San Antonio, and Gene V Glass and David C. Berliner, Arizona State University, studied the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) test data from 25 states. The results suggest that increases in testing pressure are related to increased retention in grade and drop-out rates. The authors found that states with the highest proportions of minority students implemented
accountability systems that exerted the greatest pressure. Thus, the negative impacts of high-stakes testing will disproportionately affect America’s minority students.

“This most recent research demonstrates that the pressure to produce high test scores as a result of No Child Left Behind hasn’t helped students to achieve more, and has served to limit the depth and breadth of what students are being taught in schools around the country,” said Teri Moblo, director of the Great Lakes Center.

Four key findings emerged from the study:

  • States with greater proportions of minority students tend to implement accountability systems that exert greater pressure. An unintended consequence of this patterning is that problems associated with high-stakes testing risk disproportionately affecting America’s minority students.
  • Increased testing pressure is related to increased retention and drop-out rates. High-stakes testing pressure is negatively associated with the likelihood that eighth and 10th graders will move into 12th grade.
  • NAEP reading scores at the fourth- and eighth-grade levels were not improved as a result of increased testing pressure. This finding was consistent across African American, Hispanic, and White student subgroups.
  • Weak correlations between pressure and NAEP performance for fourth- grade mathematics and the unclear relationship for eighth-grade mathematics are unlikely linked to increased testing pressure. While a weak relationship emerged at the fourth-grade level, a systematic link between pressure and achievement was not established. For eighth-grade performance, the lack of clarity in the relationship may arise from the interplay of other indirect factors. Inconsistent performance gains in these cases are far more likely the result of indirect factors such as teaching to the test, drill and practice, or the exclusion of lower-achieving students than pressure.
What the researchers could not find is also of great importance. Many different analyses were unable to establish any consistent link between the pressure to score high in a particular state and that state’s student performance on the NAEP. That means that claims of a clear-cut link between pressure and performance cannot be considered credible.

“A rapidly growing body of research evidence on the harmful effects of high-stakes testing, along with no reliable evidence of improved performance by students on NAEP tests of achievement, suggests that we need a moratorium in public education on the use of high-stakes testing,” said Nichols, the study’s lead author.


  1. Thanks for the post, Jim. Two thoughts come to mind while reading excerpts from the report.

    1. Pressure is a metaphore used by some when discussing NCLB and other testing programs. Pressure is not a necessary intention associated with the legislation or any test.

    2. NCLB does require teachers, administrators and school board members to insure that students learn to perform at specified minimum levels in order for the school to qualify for continued funding under this voluntary program. In this sense, testing is high stakes for teachers, with students paying the consequences for teacher failure.

    3. NCLB is based on well known published instructional practices that yield minimum student academic achievement scores. Each teacher haa the option to use these practices.

    The question I have, then, is why don't teachers use these know practices, so students may achieve more? Bob Heiny

  2. "Who, who, will be accountable for this debacle? Who will take the blame, yes the blame, for this cynical crime against humanity?"

    Or rather, who will be HELD accountable, who will BE blamed? It's all about shifting focus to avoid the very real issues raised in your intro and in the article.

    See Bob's post above for the obvious answers