Answering the Question that Matters Most: Has Student Achievement Increased Since No Child Left Behind?

Center on Education Policy
June 2007

The first thing you should know about this blockbuster report from the Center on Education Policy (CEP) is that its title is a bit misleading. Yes, the study examines student achievement and gap-closing trends since NCLB's enactment, but no, that's not the question that matters most. Because what most policymakers and analysts actually want to know is whether the landmark federal law "works"--has it caused achievement to increase or decline. Here the good people at CEP are honest: "It is very difficult, if not impossible, to determine the extent to which these trends in test results have occurred because of NCLB." So with that caveat in mind, let us return to our regularly scheduled review. The news is basically positive: student achievement on most state reading and math tests has gone up since 2002 and achievement gaps have narrowed. Gains are particularly impressive in elementary school math. Students have posted less progress on state reading tests and in middle school. Such patterns are consistent with recent findings from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, though states are reporting greater progress on their own tests than on NAEP. This raises a critical question: Can we be sure that state tests haven't gotten easier since 2002? For an answer, stay tuned for a report of our own, due out in a few months. Meanwhile, check out the CEP study here.

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