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

Monday, July 30, 2007

New Research: Test Score Progress Weaker and Advances in Narrowing Racial and Income-based Achievement Gaps Have Faded Since NCLB

If these damning research findings just published in AERA's Educational Researcher do not torpedo the reauthorization of the NCLB war on public schools, then nothing will--short of torches in the streets:
New Research on Achievement
Test Scores Slow Under No Child Left Behind Reforms, Gauged by States and the Federal Assessment

WASHINGTON, D.C., July 30, 2007 – As Congress reviews federal efforts to boost student performance, new research published in Educational Researcher (ER) reports that progress in raising test scores was stronger before No Child Left Behind was approved in 2002, compared with the four years following enactment of the law.

The article “Gauging Growth: How to Judge No Child Left Behind?” is authored by Bruce Fuller, Joseph Wright, Kathryn Gesicki, and Erin Kang, and is one of four featured works published in the current issue of ER—a peer-reviewed scholarly journal of the American Educational Research Association.

Bruce Fuller, lead author and professor of education and public policy at the University of California, Berkeley, noted that the strong advances in narrowing racial and income-based achievement gaps seen in the 1990s have faded since passage of ‘No Child’. “The slowing of achievement gains, even declines in reading, since 2002 suggests that state-led accountability efforts—well underway by the mid-1990s—packed more of a punch in raising student performance, compared with the flattening-out of scores during the ‘No Child’ era,” he observed.

“We are not suggesting that ‘No Child’ has dampened the earlier progress made by the states,” Fuller said. “But we find no consistent evidence that federal reforms have rekindled the states’ earlier gains. Federal activism may have helped to sustain the buoyancy in children’s math scores at the fourth-grade level, seen throughout the prior decade.”

The researchers pushed beyond earlier studies by tracking progress in both state and federal test scores in 12 diverse states, going back to 1992 in many cases. This approach captured the generally positive effects of maturing state-led accountability programs in both reading and math, gauged by state officials and the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).

Using this longer time span as the baseline, annual changes in student performance generally slowed after 2002, as gauged by state and federal testing agencies, and the earlier narrowing of achievement gaps ground to a halt (NAEP results), according to the study.

The university team focused on 12 states, including Arkansas, California, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Nebraska, New Jersey, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Texas, and Washington. They selected these states because they are demographically diverse, geographically dispersed, and were able to provide comparable test score data over time. Following passage of the ‘No Child’ law, federal reading scores among elementary school students declined in the 12 states tracked by the researchers – after climbing steadily during the 1990s.

The share of fourth-graders proficient in reading, based on federal NAEP results, climbed by one-half a percentage point each year, on average, between the mid-1990s and 2002. But over the four years after the legislation was passed, the share of students deemed proficient declined by about one percent.

The annual rise in the percentage of fourth-graders proficient in mathematics improved slightly in the
same 12 states, moving up from 1.6 percent per year before ‘No Child’ was signed to a yearly growth rate of 2.5 percent following enactment of the law. This is the one out of six federal gauges where a post- NCLB gain was observed by the research team, tracking NAEP results.

The researchers simultaneously tracked achievement trends gauged by state and federal testing agencies
over the 14-year period. “The correlation between the two barometers was close to zero,” Fuller said. “We worry about the capacity of states to report unbiased test score results over time. But even state results generally confirm the more reliable NAEP pattern showing that progress in raising achievement has largely faded since 2002.”

The authors urged Congress to improve the capacity of states to reliably track the performance of their students over time. “The fundamental principles of transparency and simplicity might guide state and congressional leaders,” Fuller said. “The hurdles defining basic and proficient student performance between federal and state assessments should become more consistent.”

Fuller added that “state and NAEP officials could do more to inform the public on how student demographics are changing, and achievement trends should be interpreted in this context.”

The article is based on studies of accountability policies that Fuller directs with grant support from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and the Noyce Foundation.
Editor’s Note: The full text of Fuller’s study, “Gauging Growth: How to Judge No Child Left Behind?” is posted on the AERA Web site: www.aera.net (pdf).

To interview Professor Fuller, call (510) 643-5362 or (415) 595-4320.

To reach AERA Communications, call (202) 238-3200; Helaine Patterson (hpatterson@aera.net) or Lucy Cunningham (lcunningham@aera.net).

The American Educational Research Association (AERA) is the national interdisciplinary research association for approximately 25,000 scholars who undertake research in education. Founded in 1916, AERA aims to advance knowledge about education, to encourage scholarly inquiry related to education, and to promote the use of research to improve education and serve the public good.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous5:25 PM

    Jim, you may already have seen this, but more on the problems of No Child Left Behind--and what we might do instead--can be found in the recent book, How Computer Games Help Children Learn. (http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1403975051/).

    The book is about how No Child Left Behind is taking our schools in the exact opposite direction from where they need to go in the age of computer technology and global capitalism—and how the new technologies of computer and video games can help get schools (and students!) where they need to go. From the introduction:

    Young people in the United States today are being prepared—in school and at home—for standardized jobs in a world that will, very soon, punish those who can’t innovate. Our government and our schools have made a noble effort to leave no child behind: to ensure, through standardized testing, that all children make adequate yearly progress in basic reading and math skills. But we can’t “skill and drill” our way to innovation. Standardized testing produces standardized skills. Our standards-driven curriculum, especially in our urban schools, is not preparing children to be innovators at the highest technical levels that will pay off most in a high-tech, global economy....

    That’s the bad news: We live in a time of economic change, but our schools are busy preparing students for the commodity jobs of the past—jobs that will be long gone by the time they finish school. We are in danger of leaving all of our children far behind in the new global competition for innovative work.
    But... here’s the good news: The very same technologies that are making it possible to outsource commodity jobs make it possible for students of all ages to prepare for innovative work.....

    Learning to solve real problems is more important than ever, and this book is about how we can use computer and video games to do just that.... This is a book about how computer and video games can help adults rebuild education for the postindustrial, high-tech world by thinking about learning in a new way.