NCLB Update

K-12 Testing

FairTest Examiner - January 2008

As the No Child Left Behind goal of 100% proficiency by 2014 draws closer, predictions of massive school failures are coming to pass. As anticipated, the toll is highest in low-income districts, with one-fifth of schools in these communities labeled “in need of improvement” in 2006. According to a FairTest report, studies in more than 10 states project most or all schools will fail to make "Adequate Yearly Progress" (AYP) by 2014 and face escalating sanctions. Meanwhile, Congressional efforts to reauthorize NCLB have stalled.

Among more than 51,000 Title 1 schools nationally, 21% failed to meet the No Child Left Behind standard last year, an increase of 8% over the previous year. The number of “failing” schools increased in 26 states and the District of Columbia. In California, for example, more than 1,000 of California’s 9,500 schools have reached the stage where they can be taken over by the state because of chronic failure to meet AYP. It is expected that all of the 6,063 California schools that serve low-income students will reach this “restructuring” status by 2014.

In many cases, schools are failing to make AYP specifically because of the scores of students with disabilities (SWD) and/or English Language Learners (ELLs). According to the RAND Corp., approximately one-third of schools missed AYP for SWD or ELL subgroups. Two-thirds of those reported a need for technical assistance to support these students. In Illinois, for example, nearly a third of all schools that fell short did so solely because of the performance of SWDs.

While most advocates for these subgroups believe it is essential that they be included in assessments, serious questions remain about whether current tests are valid instruments for assessing these students’ progress. In addition, there is no evidence that the sanctions triggered by failure to make AYP do anything to improve the quality of the schooling these student receive.

Meanwhile, efforts to push through reauthorization of NCLB in 2007have failed. It seems increasingly clear there will be no reauthorization until at least 2009, though leaders of Congressional education committees say they will try to move legislation in the election-shortened 2008 session. For now, the law’s increasingly damaging provisions remain in effect. (See “Battles Roil NCLB Reauthorization,” FairTest Examiner, October 2007).

In recognition of NCLB’s 6th anniversary, the FairTest-convened Forum on Educational Accountability has written to Congress saying that the law “is not working to substantially improve learning for the students Congress most intended to help.” The letter says the concerns identified by the Joint Organizational Statement on NCLB, signed by 141 organizations, have come to pass and the need for fundamental reforms, as outlined by the FEA and the Joint Statement, are increasingly urgent.