2005 October 21 Friday
No Lie Left Behind Fails To Produce Educational Miracle

One of George W. Bush's faith-based initiatives, the piece of educational legislation called No Child Left Behind (more accurately labelled No Lie Left Behind), No Child Left Behind has not helped to improve test scores in the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) tests.

WASHINGTON The national report card is in for No Child Left Behind, and the results are mixed: American fourth- and eighth-graders are continuing hard-won gains in mathematics, but are still struggling, or even losing ground, in reading.

That's the big picture from the 2004 National Assessment of Educational Progress, the "gold standard" for testing, released Wednesday. Under the 2002 No Child Left Behind law, national and state report cards are required every two years as an indicator of whether students are learning basic skills - and how schools may need to adjust to make sure they do.

The rate of improvement of math scores slowed.

Reading scores among fourth- and eighth-graders showed little improvement over the past two years, and math gains were slower than in previous years, according to a study released yesterday. The disappointing results came despite a new educational testing law championed by the Bush administration as a way to improve the nation's schools.

Most troubling for educators are the sluggish reading skills among middle-school students, which have remained virtually unchanged for 15 years, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, which administers the federal test and bills itself as the "nation's report card."

There's that troubling problem for simple minded politicians that the rate of progress was faster before No Lie Left Behind.

By some measures, students were making greater gains before the law was put into effect.

"The absence of really bad news isn't the same as good news, and if you're concerned about education and closing achievement gaps, there's simply not enough good news in these national results," said Ross Wiener, policy director of the Education Trust, a group that seeks to bring attention to the needs of poor and minority students and has consistently supported the federal law.

But Bush's faith remains unshaken.

Mr. Bush, meeting with Education Secretary Margaret Spellings at the White House, said he was pleased with the test. "It shows there's an achievement gap in America that is closing," Mr. Bush said.

A simple mind might think that NCLB has caused the slowing of the rate of test score improvement.

From 2000 to 2003, before the federal law took full effect in classrooms, the percentage of fourth graders scoring proficient in math rose eight percentage points, compared with four points this year, Mr. Jennings said, and the percentage of eighth graders proficient in math rose three points before the law, compared with the one-point rise this year.

The law has as a goal the closure of the proficiency gap by 2014. But projections of current trends show that the date is unrealistic. Perhaps we just need to learn patience and wait 200 years.

Fourth-grade math students showed some of the most rapid progress in closing the achievement gap between black and white students, Mr. Kingsbury said. Extrapolating from those results, he said, black and white students would probably be performing at equal proficiency levels by 2034. Other results, like eighth-grade reading, suggest it will take 200 years or more for the gap to close, he said.

All this talk assumes that the performance gap is even closable using better teaching methods. I believe that the closure of the proficiency gap solely depends on offspring genetic engineering for enhanced cognitive capabilities. When will such biotechnology become readily available, cheap, and commonplace? Some years after that point the gap might cose. But even ready availability of the means to add intelligence-enhancing alleles to offspring is not a guarantee that all races will use the technology equally. So there's no guarantee the gap will ever close.

The Bush Administration is arguing that immigrants with a lack of English language proficiency are keeping down progress in reading. Well, certainly that's a contributing factor. A President who was really worried about that problem might even decide to stop the influx of immigrants who can't seem to attain a high level of English language proficiency. But we know that Mr. Bush has other priorities. However, if only immigrant language proficiencies were holding back reading improvements we would expect on a state level we'd see progress in states that aren't seeing much in immigration. But all tested states had no progress or got worse in reading.

At grade 8, no state had a higher average score in 2005 than in 2003, and 7 states had lower scores.

More effort put into raising the scores of less bright kids has hit a point of diminishing returns. Those kids are not going to start functioning at the level of bright kids. Therefore the gap between the races and between the economic classes will remain and progress will slow further. Bush's educational policy is guided by the politically correct view of racial differences in cognitive ability as laid down and enforced by the inequality taboo. As long as America's discussion of education is founded on falsehoods about human nature unrealistic policies will get enacted to pursue impossible goals.

The results from Connecticut are typical.

At the fourth grade level, the disparity between rich and poor was evident. According to the results, only 14 percent of Connecticut's economically disadvantaged students scored at or above the proficient level for reading, while 48 percent of their economically well-off peers reached the same level. That gap has persisted since 1998.

Meanwhile, the performance gap between whites and minorities on the eighth grade reading test has endured. While 42 percent of white students scored at or above the proficient level, only 11 percent of black students and 13 percent of Hispanic students reached the same goal. Fifty percent of Asian/Pacific Islander students were proficient or better.

Check out graphs on 4th and 8th grade math and reading scores over time. Note the "Accomodations Permitted" for handicapped people starting in 1996. That provides an additional way for schools to puff up their scores. The 8th grade scores strike me as more important because 8th graders are closer to the final product level of knowledge at the end of 12 grade or at the point where kids drop out of school.

Press emphasis on small fluctuations and increases in scores distract from a more important deeper pattern. Comparison across races is best done using standard deviations rather than the misleading changes in absolute percentage differences that the national politicians and the press prefer. The standard deviation differences between the races change little across decades. As long the standard deviation differences remain outside mainstream public policy discussions about educational outcomes and race the vast bulk of the public policy debates will take place based on a foundation of lies.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2005 October 21 07:25 PM  Education

Hugh Angell said at October 22, 2005 3:27 AM:

I'm not opposed to these tests, in fact I think they are useful in that they do provide
some barometer of what the schools are achieving. However, as RP notes the pressure on
school districts to show 'results' is creating problems.

More and more effort is being expended to simply get children to perform well on the tests.
As noted above there comes a point where the increased efforts to improve the scores of
the dullards comes at the expense of those who are already doing well. Apparently, here in
my community, schools go into a full court press to get the students ready to take their
"Standards of Learning" examination which, as in other states, a minimum proficiency must
be obtained before the school district can hand out a high school diploma.

One school principle has already been fired and a number of teachers 'disciplined' for
filling in the test answers for their students. That this was even allowed for in the case
of students with 'learning disabilities' came as something of a shocker to most parents.
Needless to say the students were not retested as this was seen as 'punishing' them for
the mistakes of the school officials but I suspect such GIGO type testing will be found
more and more as school officials are pressured to make silk purses out of pigs ears and
where their own career prospects are enhanced by their ability to do so. For this reason
I would recommend an outside, independant group be brought in to formulate, administer
and score these performance tests otherwise we are not going to be given an honest picture
of what is taking place in our schools. The political and economic pressure to fudge the
results will be too intense.

Interestingly I recently attended a 'training' program for city employees mandated by the
Department of Homeland Security. In order to ensure everyone would 'pass' the test the
'examination' was conducted in a 'discussion' format where once the 'right' answer was
'discussed' those being examined would then mark their test sheets. Surprisingly everyone
scored 100%! Were it done otherwise one could only imagine how many 'minority' employees
would not be able to secure their required certification.

Bob Badour said at October 23, 2005 7:23 AM:


I oppose any standardized testing that is not normed to intelligence.

What the hell does it matter if some kid a tenth of a standard deviation below the median manages to squeak over some arbitrary 'proficiency' measure if the best and brightest are suicidally bored and neglected? How much attention do you expect the intelligent kids to get when they will pass the test no matter how much damage the teacher does to them? And what about the stupidest kid in the class? How much attention will he get when he won't come close to the goal no matter how much effort the teacher puts in?

If one wants to grade schools, one has to look at how well the school prepares those who will contribute the most to society on an individual basis as well as those who contribute by bulk of numbers. And one has to look at how well the school reduces the cost to society of carrying the exceptionally ungifted.

A system of arbitrary testing with a demand for improvement will turn an education system that provides a good education to everyone into one that provides a bad education for many and a mediocre education for most. It will turn a bad education system into a corrupt education system.

Even worse, if the political expectation is to close a gap between two groups, the efficient way of achieving the goal is to hobble the more able group.

However, if one norms the results to intelligence, one can get a clear picture of the quality of education.

Adaptive computerized testing is useful too. What's the point in testing some 13 year old on his understanding of fractions if he stayed up late last night writing a better generic iterator for solving trigonometric functions so he can improve the renderer for the video game engine he has been working on?

John S Bolton said at October 24, 2005 2:39 AM:

A society is not properly evaluated by how closely it approximates equalization of classes and races. The society is better, the more it contributes, relative to the size of its population, to the advancement of civilization. Absolute evil is associated with equalization as an ideal, as witness the pyramids of skulls from the Khmer Rouge reign of terror. They took equalization to a level never seen in a country of millions. Therefore the ideal of equality as something radicalizable, and capable of being extended to cover equalization of opportunity, is not morally excusable. the retarded will never have the same opportunity, and the increase of aggression needed to equalize thus, is itself an obvious wrong. The more we move towards achievement and the good, the more children are left behind, and the further back, ever larger numbers of them, are left behind.

John S Bolton said at October 24, 2005 2:47 AM:

One can see a lot of the features of leftist deception here; failure is not a reason to reconsider, apparently. The usual trickery is involved; a matter of politics, of the ethics of aggression, is reduced to the non political considerations of whether it isn't better to have more equality somehow. The question really is whether offcials should have more power to use more aggression, to force moves towards equality. Do arbitrary ethical pronouncemennts about equality between races and such, justify the increase of aggression in the polity; this is the relevant question that officials would not dare to state clearly.

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