NCLB Gets Curiouser and Curiouser

Eighty-nine percent of Florida’s schools are subpar according to No Child Left Behind. But there’s a way thousands of Florida students can quickly become “proficient”: move to another state.

These are just a few of the recent signs that Alice in Wonderland has come to America’s public schools as the 2014 deadline for 100 percent “proficiency” in math and reading draws near.

Earlier this year, Education Secretary Arne Duncan predicted that 82 percent of all schools would fail to meet the rapidly rising standards imposed by the law. His point was that the law needed to change.

Most states have not yet announced how many schools did not make “adequate yearly progress” (AYP) this year, but Florida came in at 89 percent—only 11 percent made the grade.

What’s particularly strange about this number is that 58 percent of Florida schools got an A rating from the state’s own accountability system, with another 18 percent getting a B. Just one percent got F’s.

Florida Education Association spokesman Mark Pudlow says none of this surprises him because it was clear from the start that No Child Left Behind formulas were numbers that had nothing to do with real classrooms and students. “They said, we’ll give you 10 years and everyone will run a four-minute mile. Now as we’re getting closer to 2014, we’re seeing how silly it was.

“People are understanding that these standards had nothing to do with making things better for kids and everything to do with attacking teachers and public schools.”

Massachusetts has not yet released its list of schools making AYP, but in 2010, 57 percent did not, even though Massachusetts students score at the top on national measures of student achievement.

“It just points out the fatal flaw in this kind of accountability system when in the highest-performing state in the union, over 50 percent of schools are rated as failing,” said Kathleen Skinner, Director of the Massachusetts Teachers Association Center for Education Policy and Practice.

Around the country, state education leaders are beginning to just say no to NCLB, with the New York Times reporting that state school leaders in Montana, Idaho, South Dakota, and Utah have declared they won’t keep adding more schools to the list of those that are “failing.”

Meanwhile, the Department of Education has published the latest in a series of studies that compare what it means to be “proficient” in different states. “Proficient,” according to Webster, means “well advanced in an art, occupation, or branch of knowledge.”

But No Child Left Behind (NCLB), while insisting that every child in every state be “proficient” in 2014, told each state to make up its own definition. Some chose standards that were a lot easier than others. Florida chose tough standards. Massachusetts chose even tougher.

Department of Education researchers have been publishing studies for several years that use data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP)—often called “The Nation’s Report Card”—to compare state standards and to analyze the impact of NCLB on student achievement.

Among the key findings of their most recent report:

States vary widely in the their standards for “proficiency,” which means millions of students who are not proficient in one state would suddenly become proficient when they cross a state line.

Even more important, the federal researchers found that when states reported improved scores on their state tests between 2007 and 2009, that improvement was not supported by scores on the NAEP.

This suggests that improvements in state scores often reflect test prep that helps students score higher on one particular test, rather than genuine improvements in students’ academic skills.

NAEP scores don’t affect individual students or schools, so there is no incentive for schools to prep their students for the national test. That makes NAEP scores a better measure of real skills.

This latest federal study confirms a long line of research that has found that NCLB has had little or no effect on the language and math skills of America’s students.