By Sara Scheler
Through a Special Projects and Research Grant, graduate education students Camille Boden and Jeremy Karpenski and assistant education professor Dr. Greg Harman conducted an in-depth review of the effectiveness of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation in the state of Illinois. They presented their data at the Caritas Veritas Symposium on Sep. 23.
NCLB was a 2001 revision of past legislation, intended to ensure that American public school students could meet standards in math and reading. The laws required schools to administer regular standardized tests and report test scores to the state. Schools that did not meet the Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) standards would be closed and replaced by the state government.
Harman said state education expenditure should increase by an estimated 40% per year in order to meet these standards. Harman said the state of Illinois spends $19 million per year on testing contracts to administer the tests but only increased per-student education expenditure by 0.3% since NCLB was passed.
The presenters obtained data from the state of Illinois and analyzed it to answer their research question: Did NCLB work? They obtained data from the Illinois Interactive Report Card database and considered standardized test scores of public high school juniors throughout the state in order to answer their research question.
Boden said, “We found data that was not even required, data that should be there but is not and data that is almost certainly inaccurate.” The legislation states that schools with fewer than 40 students in a minority group do not have to report test scores under their subgroup. After some number-crunching, the team estimated that 18,543 students were not reported in 2013. Their test scores were lumped into the “all” category but the scores for these minorities were not observed individually. “Here is an effort by the government to be more truthful and open about outcomes for all students, but in fact, we are leaving out a big chunk of the truth here,” Boden said.
Some schools that did not meet AYP were closed but the test scores of their students were absent from the record. For example, Boden said, Englewood High School was closed in 2004 but there is no data for their students. Boden said, “NCLB essentially tested for whether or not schools were flunking and if they were flunking, they said “you’re out, you don’t count anymore” and these schools simply disappeared from the record.”
Boden said some schools decided not to report data. For example, there were no test scores for Princeton High School in 2007 or Ohio Community High School in 2013.
The researchers found that several schools reported duplicate data. Ten schools reported the same exact pass rates for reading and math. One school reported a 33.3% pass rate in reading and math for three years in a row, which is almost certainly inaccurate, Boden said.
Harman said college readiness (based on ACT scores) of the wealthy suburb of Winnetka was essentially the opposite of Chicago students. Winnetka scores were on average higher than the 60th percentile, many in the 90th percentile, while Chicago averages were all below the 40th percentile. College readiness from 2006-2011, Harman said, did not improve over the 10 years it was recorded.
NCLB legislation required 100% of students to pass standardized tests by the year 2013. Harman said this is unrealistic; he and his colleagues were hoping for an optimistic 90% pass rate.
According to the data collected, the average pass rates for Illinois high school students in reading and math from 2003-2013, were stagnant, hovering around the 50th percentile. Harman said, “There is no pattern – no regress, no progress, no significant movement of any kind.”
Karpenski said NCLB did cause some improvements, “Low SES school districts that have failed AYP have often recovered and passed subsequent requirements in succeeding year.” Achievement gaps among minority and disabled students have been closing, but very slowly, Karpenski said.
Boden said, “2014 is here. NCLB has failed and we see new trends in education.” The Common Core State Initiatives, she said, follows the same paradigm as NCLB, but utilizes harder tests, higher standards and more accountability.
Harman said schools should “reject the Common Core” because it will not fix the problem. “The underlying paradigm is that students in this country do not have good enough reading and math scores,” Harman said. “We have created a myth that we need better scores from all schools.” Harman said legislation like NCLB and Common Core should address lower socio-economic statuses of students and cultural changes.
Karpenski said teaching to the test is not effective. “These tests really don’t take into account what we’re taught about learning styles.”
Harman said, “We need to throw out the ideas of external accountability and students as widgets.” Assuming public school teaching and testing methods do not change, Harman said, “I really think, 10 years from now, we will be giving the same presentation.”