Texas: What caused increases in test scores after No Child Left Behind?

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at gmail.com
Thu Jun 7 13:37:28 UTC 2007

* What caused increases in test scores after No Child Left Behind?*

* Web Posted: 06/06/2007 01:04 AM CDT*

*Jenny Lacoste-Caputo
Express-News Staff Writer*

Math and reading scores have increased since No Child Left Behind went into
effect in 2002, and the achievement gap between white and minority students
and low-income children and their wealthier peers is shrinking, according to
the first comprehensive study of student achievement in 50 states since the
landmark public school overhaul became law. The Center on Education Policy,
an independent Washington, D.C.-based think tank that studies how reforms
impact public schools, released the study Tuesday. The study is unique
because it includes data from all 50 states and tracks trends in student
achievement, both before and after the law went into effect.

Texas' gains were hardly dramatic, but still mostly positive. Students
showed gains in math in all grade levels except third, which held steady.
Reading scores were up in some grades and down in others. Jack Jennings, the
center's president, said the study is not concrete proof that NCLB is making
a positive impact on schools, though the law certainly hasn't hurt student
performance, as some critics have argued. "Nobody, from the president on
down, should stand up and say NCLB is a smashing success or a smashing
failure," Jennings said. Analysts for the center said many states were
implementing their own reforms at the same time the federal accountability
system went into effect and that it's impossible to determine what prompted
the gains in test scores.

Still, with the 5-year-old law up for reauthorization by Congress this year,
its supporters were eager to claim victory. "I'm greatly encouraged by the
findings of the Center for Education Policy's report. This study confirms
that No Child Left Behind has struck a chord of success with our nation's
schools and students," U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings said
in a statement distributed by the Education Department. The study looked at
test scores from 1999 to 2006, but only in states where testing has not
changed during that time frame. Because Texas switched from the Texas
Assessment of Academic Skills to the more rigorous Texas Assessment of
Knowledge and Skills during those years, the study only used two years of
Texas data, from 2005 and 2006.

Texas' accountability system is decades old and was the blueprint for No
Child Left Behind.

Debbie Graves Ratcliffe, spokeswoman for the Texas Education Agency, said
Texas might not post the dramatic gains of a state that had no
accountability program before the federal law."Texas has implemented so many
education reforms, I don't think you can point to one thing as the trigger
for the increase. I think they've all worked together," she said. "I know in
the first years of the accountability program, that's when we saw our
biggest gains. When it becomes standard operating procedure, the gains start
to become more incremental, but at least the trend is still moving forward."

No Child Left Behind requires schools to make yearly progress not just in
their overall population, but in smaller groups based on race, ethnicity,
socio-economic status, learning disabilities and English-language ability.

Schools also can fail the federal standard if their graduation or attendance
rates are too low or if less than 95 percent of students — in the overall
population or in the smaller groups — are tested. The performance of a
handful of students can sink an entire school.

Alicia Thomas, associate superintendent for instruction at North East
Independent School District, said the law has changed the way schools are
teaching kids in Texas. Though Texas already looked at student performance
by subgroups, concentrating on race and income, the state did not break out
the scores of special education students and English language learners. And
though Thomas thinks NCLB needs an overhaul, she firmly believes it has had
a positive effect for students.

"That shining a light on those two student groups has caused us to make
instructional changes for those students," Thomas said. "When we break out
our special ed data, we see those students are doing extremely well."

*jcaputo at express-news.net *

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