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Ed Testing Policy Research

Page history last edited by Marisa Bober 14 years, 6 months ago

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Policy Research


Contemporary Politics


The Aim of NCLB:

NCLB was established to reduce the achievement gap between students by ensuring that all students were well-served by schools—in essence, to “leave no child behind” (Darling-Hammond, 2007).  Specifically, NCLB strived to provide better educational opportunities for racial minorities, students with disabilities, English Language Learners and low-income students by increasing their performance to a level of “proficiency.”  Thus, NCLB aimed to rectify this horrifying social situation in which students were differentially given educational opportunities and where many schools gave up on low-achieving students.



Gaps exist between different subgroups of students: (Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, 2009).

  • whites outperform blacks and Latinos
  • LEP students lag behind native-speakers
  • students with disabilities score lower than other students
  • low-income students score lower than middle-class and affluent students


Source: www.edweek.org/media/2005/03/22/28math.jpg

Full report accessible at: Spring 2009 MCASResults: Summary of State Results.

Courtesy of Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. (2009).


What has happened to test scores since NCLB?

Broadly, scores have increased, and more students are proficient, but the gaps between subgroups persist.


Discrepancy between NAEP scores and state tests, which could suggest coaching or teaching to the test.  In 2007, the MCAS said that 56 percent of Grade 4 students and 75 percent of Grade 8 students were proficient in reading, while NAEP labeled 49 percent of Grade 4 students and 43 percent of Grade 8 students as being proficient in reading (MA Dept of ESE, 2009). 



Massachusetts Achievement in 2006-2007

*By examining the state percentage of proficiency and NAEP percentage of proficiency, it is apparent that the two tests label students very differently.  Thus, perhaps students are not receiving a broad curriculum, suggesting that students learn material that is tightly connected to the state test.


Reading Achievement for 2006-2007


Massachusetts 4th Graders


State Data— % Proficient

NAEP Data— % Basic

NAEP Data— % Proficient

















Low Income







Massachusetts 8th Graders


State Data— % Proficient

NAEP Data— % Basic

NAEP Data— % Proficient

















Low Income









What has happened in the classroom as a result of NCLB?

  • Massachusetts’ high school dropout rates have increased, and even more so for African American and Hispanic students (MA Dept. of ESE, 2009). 
  • Ironically, the largest increases in test scores tend to appear in schools that have the highest dropout rates and high percentages of Grade 9 students who were retained or went “missing” (Wheelock, 2003, cited in Darling-Hammond, 2007). 
  • Texas schools have a tendency to make low-performing students disappear, New York has increased its scores by pushing out weaker students who probably would not pass the state’s graduation exam (Darling-Hammond, 2007). 
  • To prevent weak students (who would likely not pass the test) from ruining a school’s chance of meeting AYP, they retain many Grade 9 students or suspend low-performing students on days before high-stakes exams (Amrein & Berliner, 2003). 
  • The curriculum has become narrow and shallow, teaching has become more teacher-centered, and information has become more fragmented (Au, 2007).

·         Because learning has become narrowly aligned to the test, students receive a fragmented education, with discrete pieces of information disconnected from a solid knowledge base (Ellis, 2008).

·         Perlstein’s (2007) work reveals the diluted education students receive based on a rigid definition of achievement, relegating many low-income students to an education that involve shrinking the breadth of the curriculum and ignoring certain subjects until after the high-stakes exam.

·         Research suggests that the implementation of high stakes tests has prompted teachers, especially in urban districts, to teach only the material that appears on exam (Amrein & Berliner, 2003). 

  • The U.S. Department of Education has reported that from 1988 to 2004 the time spent on history and social studies in elementary school declined by 22 percent while reading and English instructional time increased, but it is hypothesized that this time is spent primarily on basic reading skills (Hess, 2008).
  • Disturbingly, a high school math teacher in an urban charter school noted that since the MCAS only tests content up to Grade 10, the school’s Grade 11 and 12 math program is very weak; thus by focusing on a narrow goal—MCAS scores—other areas have been neglected (personal communication, October 16, 2009). 
  • Because Texas students must pass a writing component of the assessment, teachers tell students how to write formulaic responses that will earn full credit, but this clearly dilutes the breadth and depth of writing (Hursh, 2007). 
  • Schools now spend a lot of their budgets on test-prep materials rather than on dynamic materials or books, clearly illustrating that the focus on meeting AYP has reduced the breadth of other opportunities available to children (Hursh, 2007).


Thoughts on NCLB’s Efficacy in Achieving its Goals:

Under its current implementation, NCLB hurts the students it aimed to benefit (Darling-Hammond, 2007).  While Bush claimed standards were needed to eradicate “the soft bigotry of low expectations,” Perlstein (2007) powerfully notes that “to condemn [students] to a rudimentary education in the name of improvement is bigotry too” (p. 136). Thus, she criticizes NCLB for depriving students of a beautiful learning experience, as children are forced to regurgitate fragmented facts. Although NCLB had well-meaning purposes, its poor implementation has created an educational system in which achievement rests solely on one scale score on one test on one day that measures proficiency on everything learned.  Thus, the implementation of NCLB policy has not effectively achieved the aim NCLB had to narrow the achievement gap or to “leave no child behind.” In looking at the trends, more students have become “proficient” or “advanced” since 2002, but given evidence of push-outs, retention, curriculum-narrowing, and coaching, is this data meaningful?


Interviews with People in the Field:

Interview with Principal at an Urban Charter School

For a summary of the interview, please click here: Interview with Principal.pdf

Interview with an Urban Charter School Math Teacher

For a summary of the interview, please click here: Interview with Math Teacher.pdf



Some comments on testing: 


  • Secretary of Education Arne Duncan: “In some states…we’re actually lying to children. When you tell the parent that their child is meeting the ‘state standard,’ the logical assumption is that they’re on track to be successful. I would argue that, in many places, the standard has been dummied down so much that those children who are just meeting the standard are barely able to graduate from high school and absolutely inadequately prepared to go on to a competitive four year university, much less graduate.” (Richardson, 2009)

  •  Sam Houston of North Carolina’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Testing and Accountability said, “We’re testing more but we’re not seeing the results. We’re not seeing graduation rates increasing. We’re not seeing remediation rates decreasing. Somewhere along the way testing isn’t aligning with excellence.” (Ravitch & Chubb, 2009).

  • The New York Times: “thousands of schools across the nation are responding to the reading and math requirements laid out in No Child Left Behind…by reducing class time spent on other subjects and, for some low-proficiency students, eliminating it.” (Cited in West, 2007).

  •  Lorrie Shepard of the Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards, and Student Testing: “Although critics may originally have feared that testing would take instructional time away from ‘frills,’ such as art and citizenship, the evidence now shows that social studies and science are neglected because of the importance of raising test scores in the basic skills.” (West, 2007, p. 52).

  • Linda Darling-Hammond describes NCLB as a “one-way accountability system that holds children and educators to test-based standards they cannot meet while it does not hold federal or state governments to standards that would ensure equal and adequate educational opportunity” (Darling-Hammond, 2007, p. 247). 


Examining Massachusetts

  Accessible at http://www.ed.gov/nclb/accountability/results/progress/ma.html


Click for detailed reports on MCAS acheivement below:

Mapping Massachusetts Educational Progress 2008


Reading to Consult:


Amrein, A.L. & Berliner, D.C. (2003). The name assigned to the document by the author. This field may also contain sub-titles, series names, and report numbers.The testing divide: New research on the intended and unintended impact of high-stakes testing. Peer Review, 5(2), 31-32.


Au, W. (2007). High-stakes testing and curricular control: A qualitative metasynthesis. Educational Researcher, 36(5), 258-267.

Darling-Hammond, L. (2007).  Race, inequality and educational accountability: the irony of ‘No Child Left Behind.’ Race Ethnicity and Education, 10(3), 245–260.


Ellis, M. (2008). Leaving no child behind yet allowing none too far ahead: Ensuring (in)equity in mathematics education through the science of measurement and instruction. Teachers College Record, 110(6), 1330–1356.


Hess, F. (2008). Still at risk: What students don’t know, even now.  Common Core.  Accessed at:  http://www.commoncore.org/docs/CCreport_stillatrisk.pdf.


Hursh, D. (2007). Exacerbating inequality: the failed promise of the No Child Left Behind Act. Race Ethnicity and Education, 10(3), 295–308.


Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. (2009). Spring 2009 MCAS Results: Summary of State Results.  Accessed at: http://www.doe.mass.edu/mcas/2009/ results/summary.pdf.


Perlstein, L. (2007). Tested: One American School Struggles to Make the Grade. New York: Henry Holt Publishers. 


Ravitch, D. & Chubb, J.E. (2009). The future of No Child Left Behind. Education Next 9(3), 48- 56.

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