The NYT gets it right on No Child Left Behind

After yesterdays pathetic article from the WaPo suggesting that scores were “up” (whatever that means under the moronic patchwork that evolved under the law) it was nice to see the NYT get it right. Their article exposes the joke of state standardized testing in response to the law, and further demonstrates how meaningless standardized testing is as a way to reform schools.

The law requires that all students be brought to proficiency by 2014, but lets each state set its own proficiency standards and choose its own tests to measure achievement.

In essence, the report issued today creates a common yardstick of proficiency, by examining the minimum proficiency score on each state’s tests of reading and math and then determining what the equivalent score would be on the math and reading components of the National Assessment of Educational Progress. The results illustrated starkly that some states’ standard for proficiency are much lower than others’.

For example, an eighth grader in Tennessee can meet that state’s standards for math proficiency with a state test score that is the equivalent of a 230 on the national test. But in Missouri, an eighth grader would need the equivalent of a 311.

And while a Mississippi fourth grader can meet the state’s reading proficiency standard with a state score that corresponds to a 161 on the national test, a Massachusetts fourth grader would need the equivalent of a 234. Such score differences represent a gap of several grade levels.

In some cases, the differences between one state’s proficiency standards and another’s were more than twice as large as the national gap between minority and white students’ reading levels, which averages about 30 points on the national assessment test, according to Grover J. Whitehurst. Mr. Whitehurst is the director of the education department’s Institute of Education Sciences; he and the Secretary of Education, Margaret Spellings, spoke to reporters about the report by telephone on Wednesday.

NCLB is a joke, and based on this administrations track record on, well, everything, no one should be surprised. What is most shameful about this whole debacle of a law, is the cynical use of education as a political tool. The architects of this policy had to know that the results in Texas were a scam, but that didn’t stop them from pushing it nationally to create a false statistical bump in test scores that they could use to claim a victory in education reform.


17 responses to “The NYT gets it right on No Child Left Behind”

  1. J-Dog

    Why can’t we use THIS as the Impeachment vehicle?

  2. No1Uno

    Well if they were to actually improve eduaction, particularly in science and reasoning, there wouldn’t be anyone left voting Republicant, would there?

  3. Kagehi

    Sadly no J-Dog. Bush just helped create a system (having fudged a few numbers in his prior attempt, admittedly), which other people chose to let pass, and which merely *encourages* the states to lower standards. It doesn’t require them to do so. If you impeached Bush on it, it would have to be something like negligence, incompetence or stupidity, the later of which isn’t legal, and the former two you can’t prove too well without indicting 90% of the senate with him. And that ain’t going to happen.

    The only way this, or sadly just about everything else this idiot has done, could become part of an impeachment proceeding is if you had some way to scare the senate badly enough to conclude that **they** would lose something important, if they didn’t turn on the idiot. If you know some way to manage that, let me know… But given the batch of idiots trying to run for the next Repugnican candidacy, many of them “from” the same senate, and the inability of damn near anyone in the same body to barf or laugh their asses off at these nuts, I don’t think we are going to see a major change of heart here.

    Frankly, nothing short of someone *physically* going door to door in every city in the country and *explaining* why we need to do something about this, and collecting at least a billion signatures in the process, will ever shake these nimrods badly enough to convince them that they are a) out of touch with the public, never mind reality, or that b) enough people are pissed of, that they need to listen to them. And online petitions are not going to work, until/unless they come up with a way to “verify” who signed them in actuality, which will never happen, so long as these same people have a reason to ignore them as, “meaningless and invalid, because you can’t prove who signed them.”, while doing nothing to fix the problem.

    Not that that would matter if they did, since half of the left, ironically, would have paranoid fits if they created a code, ID, or anything else that **could* be used to verify who signed such a thing. After all, its much more important to prevent imaginary people from spying on you…, than making sure the same people they are worried about spying on what brand of tooth paste they buy **actually** fracking notices them at all, and pays attention when they say something about how the government is run, right? Not to mention that the ID system, as much as some of us *hate* to admit it and don’t want a national system, has the problems it has for **precisely** the same reason why state defined “standards” for education is a screwed up mess. It just doesn’t fracking work to have 50 different places setting different standards for IDs, and how/when they can be used, then refusing to talk to each other when you happen to have the wrong one.

  4. I’m still amazed that US high schoolers haven’t used NCLB as leverage to gain concessions from their administrators? What kind of soft-nosed, passive, unambitious kids are y’all raising these days?

  5. tonyl

    I’m still amazed that US high schoolers haven’t used NCLB as leverage to gain concessions from their administrators? What kind of soft-nosed, passive, unambitious kids are y’all raising these days?

    Well, the motivated ones all want to get into college. Any moves that would diminish the academic reputation of their school might hurt them in their competition with students from other schools. So, most threats towards the administration would be fairly obvious bluffs. But, then again, if the administration at my old school is typical, maybe it wouldn’t be quite so obvious to them.

    Besides, what kinds of concessions would they want? I had a blast at my high school and would have rolled my eyes at a group of kids trying to extract “consessions” from the administration that would have been completely useless to me. (Granted this was almost 20 years ago and things may be a bit different now.)

  6. I just finished examining the Center for Educational Policy report that was discussed in both the NY Times and Washington Post. In elementary school reading, a major target for No Child Left Behind, there has been an average increase of only 1.8 percent in the percentage of children classified as proficient.

    A few states provided data that allowed a comparison of gains for two years before No Child Left Behind and two years after: Before NCLB, the gain was 1.65 percent (1.8 percent when sample size is considered). After, it was 1.94 (2.1 considering sample size). That’s a 1/3 of one percent increase in rate of improvement.

    NCLB costs billions. In reading, it means an extra 100 minutes per week, an extra semester over two years. Not much of a return for the huge investment.

  7. sulphurdunn

    Obviously, the states will need to push their passing scores much farther to the left end of the distribution curve to meet 100% proficiency rates by 2014. Did all the people responsible for NCLB fail statistics? You probably wouldn’t get a perfect pass rate with an eight grade reading test at Yale, even without legacy students like George Bush being tested, and if you did, the results would invalidate the reliability of the test.

  8. indio

    I think this actually encourages higher standards bacause the dept. of education will give them more funding to “correct” the problem

  9. Attached is a link from an editorial in todays’ Washington Post further claiming initial success for NCLB.

    Like Senator Ted Kennedy, the Washington Post can’t bear to think that this prize legislation which they supported, may have been ill advised.

  10. luckylucy

    Actually Indio, low performing school districts have their funding cut (as punishment for being lazy, I assume). The reasoning behind how this will help schools improve their test scores and student achievement still eludes me.

    Sulphurdunn, your observations concerning the 100% proficiency has certainly been noticed by educators, and we try hard not to think about it. Schools that get Title 1 money (based off of the percentage of your students getting free lunch) are especially worried about this, because Title 1 schools have to meet the proficiency requirements set by the state and NCLB, or the state comes in and “reorganizes” your school. I’ve worked in a school where this happened: within 2 years, the students were in full revolt and any staff member that could leave, did. To this day, other schools in that district still hold up this example as what happens to schools who let their scores drop. It’s like listening to a mother warning her child: “don’t be a bad school and let your scores drop, or SAIT will come in and take over your school!”

    I pray that one of two things happen before 2014. One, when Bush leaves office, his successor realizes the gaping flaws of NCLB and repeals it. Or, barring that, I leave education. I have yet to find a single teacher, administrator or even district superintendent who praises this program. Many of us speak about it like a incurable disease, something that must be endured. It doesn’t surprise me that some states have lowered their standards: if you are punished for having high standards, what’s the use of having them?

  11. Daddy Dave

    So is this a denialist blog or a political blog?
    Because right now, you’re being a denialist for the vast amount of science behind standardized testing.

  12. What the hell DD.

    Vast amount of science behind standardized testing? Well, yeah. Duh. I’m not saying there shouldn’t be standardized testing at all. Where did you get that?

    This is about the idea that standardized testing itself is a way of reforming the schools. I think standardized tests can give you a pretty good idea how a kid is doing. But what they’ve done here is make them an accountability measure, and the result, rather than increasing accountability has been teaching to the test, dumbing it down wherever possible, and fudging the math. There is this big trail of evidence about how the educational system suffers under this kind of shortsighted crap management.

    I actually am not running a political blog, but this is such an example of abuse of statistics I can’t resist commenting on it. I’m fine with testing, but you have to see how stupid this law has been in this country (I assume you’re Aussie?). If anything, it’s made figuring out performance more difficult rather than less.

    And just look at the comments. Everyone’s experience with this stupid law has been horrible. It’s really beyond a partisan issue. It’s about scoring cheap political points with a ineffective and ultimately harmful testing regime. I have yet to hear anyone but Margaret Spellings and Rod Paige say anything positive about this stupid law.

  13. Daddy Dave

    well, it may be that teachers hate the law. It may be that it needs improving. However, in any constructive dialog on this issue, I’d like to at least see agreement on the following:
    1) pre-NCLB, schooling in America was atrocious. Something had to be done… leaving open whether NCLB was the correct “something”
    2) part of the problem was/is that the education profession has over the past few decades adopted a radical anti-science culture, in two ways: (1) in the downgrading of science and math itself in the curriculums, and (2) a rejection of bringing a scientific approach to education.
    Education isn’t immune to the laws of nature.
    3) in order to have any rigorous, scientific approach to education, you’re lost until you’ve got some kind of consistent outcome measure. That’s got to be a given.
    NCLB enabled this. The biggest criticism of it is that it varies from state to state, but that was done as a cave-in to extraordinary political pressure against a single, nationwide testing system. Introducing outcome measures, however flawed, was an improvement. The fact that there is fraud and cheating is a reason to reform, not to ditch, the policy.

    That’s not to say that I don’t find many things in NCLB objectionable: it’s overly narrow focus, and the draconian measures applied to poor performing schools are, frankly, shocking.
    NCLB is many things, many ideas, bundled up into a single overarching policy. If you’re rejecting it all, then okay, but you’re rubbing shoulders with people who despise science, especially the science of education. I encourage you to sift through the wreckage and figure out if there’s anything in NCLB of value. Personally, despite many, many problems, I think the answer is yes.

  14. In the previous post on this I discussed how testing could be used effectively. It was pretty much what you said.

    Instead of a statewide patchwork a single federal standard which can not be fudged by people trying to avoid losing funding – which leads to the punitive aspect of all this which is what’s causing all the problems.

    Ideally, standardized testing would be used sparingly – every 3 years maybe as the constant testing leads to constant teaching towards the test and very little actual learning – and would have internal auditing and standards so the results can’t be fudged by school districts. The idea is to assess learning and meeting of educational goals, not creating a nation of expert test-takers. Further, poor performance should result not in a loss of funding, but in interventions to improve the schools.

    If you read about what happened in Texas, and especially Houston, before the 2000 elections (it’s in that link), it was pretty much a perfect prediction of what would happen nation-wide. The problem is not using tests to assess student populations, but trying to use tests, and only the tests, to reform poor-performing schools. What you get is an imaginary bump in scores that on closer examination falls to pieces under scrutiny.

  15. QrazyQat

    pre-NCLB, schooling in America was atrocious.

    This is an article of faith, but not supported by comparison tests done in various countries. It could be improved, certainly — what can’t? — but this is not the same as the claim that it was simply atrocious. And consider the beating educational funding in the USA has taken over the past few decades; how about simply restoring funding to the previous levels, adjusted for inflation? Another note, apropos to your complaint that even mentioning the subject is political, is that both the problems with funding and with your second point (a radical anti-science culture) that isn’t so much a problem with the educational system as with the politics of the right wing in America. Those things — decreasing funding for social services and creating a radical anti-science culture — are their agenda.

  16. Daddy Dave

    This is an article of faith, but not supported by comparison tests done in various countries.

    …depends on which countries you’re talking about. But okay, I’ll accept that maybe ‘atrocious’ was too strong.
    Also, I agree that science has been under attack from the current administration. And I agree that reduced funding has caused problems.
    However, science is under attack from both the left and the right. Many on the right champion ID, oppose stem cell research, investigating controversial areas such as sexuality, and are generally suspicious of a field which they see (probably correctly) as populated by liberals.

    Much of left-wing politics has adopted a postmodern/cultural relativist stance, which has a rather hostile attitude to truth, facts, empiricism, and technological achievement.

    The problem with testing, say, only every three years, is that a new raft of criticisms come: there’s less teaching to the test, but more cries of “it’s not capturing what’s really going on in the classroom.”
    Incidentally, I don’t know of any empirical evidence that increased testing reduces educational outcomes. There’s certainly some evidence for beneficial effects of evaluation. (that’s not a “ra ra tests are great,” I’m just pointing out that they can have observable benefits)

  17. Much of left-wing politics has adopted a postmodern/cultural relativist stance, which has a rather hostile attitude to truth, facts, empiricism, and technological achievement.

    I’d say this characterizes both anti-science movements. If you read the ID pages it reminds me of the po-mo crap from college too.

    Incidentally, I don’t know of any empirical evidence that increased testing reduces educational outcomes. There’s certainly some evidence for beneficial effects of evaluation. (that’s not a “ra ra tests are great,” I’m just pointing out that they can have observable benefits)

    I’m not actually saying the tests themselves are causing the harm. I’m saying that the punitive measures attached to the testing is making people lie, and making states dumb down their tests. That’s the harm. Try reading the linked articles from the first NCLB post. The dishonesty the so-called “accountability” measures have generated is pretty shocking, and clearly harmful to the kids. Without real standards and some kind of auditing process it’s just a band-aid. A cheap scam to make a politician look good from the bump in scores as the states dumb down their tests.

    And it really isn’t a partisan issue anymore. I’m reading equivalent articles pissed about this system from Cato@liberty to the Huffington Post to the Corner on National Review. No one trusts the accountability measures – and that’s a bad sign.

    Finally, I’d say what it’s proof of more than anything is that real metrics of educational success are far more difficult and time-consuming to correct. Things like graduation rates(which were also fudged in Texas – read the 60min and Wapo articles), college enrollment, employment after education etc. Testing done poorly doesn’t tell you anything real, and that’s what this is, testing done poorly.