The Impact of the No Child Left Behind Act on Student Achievement and Growth: 2005 Edition

Justin Torres

John Cronin, G. Gage Kingsbury, Martha S. McCall, and Branin Bowe
Northwest Evaluation Association
April 12, 2005

The invaluable Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA) has a fascinating new update on student achievement and growth under No Child Left Behind. This study has already occasioned a sky-is-falling article in the New York Times, which was strange since the study has both good and bad news regarding achievement and its authors themselves note that their data set is "broad" but "not nationally representative." That said, the results are definitely mixed. Because of its unparalleled access to student-level data in a number of states (if only such data were ubiquitous), NWEA looks not only at absolute scores but also at gains over time, giving it a depth of analysis few other outfits can achieve. This report looks at both absolute scores before and after (two years of) NCLB, as well as student gains over the same time, with an eye toward predicting whether states will meet the law's proficiency-by-2014 goal, as well as whether they are closing achievement gaps. Turns out, math and (to a lesser extent) reading proficiency rates have improved over the past two years under NCLB, but achievement growth has actually faltered. More troubling, achievement growth of ethnic subgroups is falling relative to white students. Meanwhile, the long-term trajectory is not good: NWEA analysts conclude that "If change in achievement of the magnitude seen so far continues, it won't bring schools close to the requirement of 100 percent proficiency by 2014." These data are, of course, preliminary and mixed and have to be set against other analyses showing improvements in ethnic and economic subgroups, such as the recent report from the Council of the Great City Schools (see here). But they obviously raise troubling questions. Is there a way to ensure NCLB stays on track? The report notes that students in grades with state tests perform better in terms of absolute achievement and growth, so extending the NCLB testing regime may be called for. And, as sense would suggest, high-stakes testing spurs greater achievement and growth than low-stakes testing. Fascinating, important, and compelling reading all around, even if the New York Times has overdone it. You can read it here.

"Study finds shortcomings on new law in education," by Greg Winter, New York Times, April 13, 2005.

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