More Schools Fall into NCLB's "Failing" Category

K-12 Testing
In 2005-06, the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law's mandate that schools in every state test students annually in grades 3-8 and once in high school took effect. As a result, approximately 11 million more tests were administered than in the previous school year. A Louisville Courier-Journal headline aptly summed up the impact of the law's adequate yearly progress mandate: "Right on Cue, NCLB Produces More Failure."


The headline topped a Courier-Journal editorial praising Kentucky school officials for challenging federal officials' arbitrary, inconsistent and punitive approach: "Taken together, it all adds up to more evidence that NCLB is less about improving public schools than about finding excuses to discredit and abandon them, in favor of their unaccountable private and religious counterparts."


As a small army of experts had predicted, added testing and higher test score targets in 2005-06 meant more schools around the nation failed to make adequate yearly progress (AYP). Because in many states more students were tested, more schools had enough students in subgroups (for example, disabled or limited English proficient students) to make the subgroup results count toward AYP for the first time.


The Editorial Projects in Education Research Center analyzed data on the 2005-2006 school year released by 34 states and the District of Columbia as of September 8, 2006. These preliminary results showed a decrease from 75 to 71 percent in schools making AYP and an increase from 13 to 17 percent in the proportion of schools rated "in need of improvement" because they had failed to meet AYP for two or more years.


Many states were late reporting AYP results, blaming added testing and vendor problems, but fewer than half the states that released AYP data showed progress from last year. School officials were left trying to explain poor results and pleading with the public to acknowledge improvements that don't register on AYP.


In Kentucky, about two-thirds of schools made AYP, a drop from last year, when three-quarters hit their targets. Fayette County School Superintendent Stu Silberman said, "There are inherent problems with the way scores are reported. Just don't look at the cover of a book that says [pass or fail]. Open up that book and look at the school's data before making a decision about a school."


Missouri administered 950,000 tests last year, more than double the number of the previous year. The percentage of schools meeting AYP dipped from 65 to 63 percent. The Kansas City Star reported that the drop was steepest, not surprisingly, among Title 1 schools: from 80 to 70 percent making AYP. Democratic senatorial candidate Claire McCaskill called NCLB a "very burdensome, bureaucratized program" that should be labeled "many, many children left behind."