Misleading Data Hides NCLB Scandal

As I read through “Achieving State and National Literacy Goals, a Long Uphill Road” a study by the Rand Corporation, mild confusion gave way to outrage. The data cited in the report is 2003 state assessment data collected in response to NCLB’s accountability requirements. There are huge public relations incentives to schools, districts, and states to provide positive accountability data to the Feds, first to stay off the list of schools and districts in need of improvement and second to maintain public support for public schools. Is anyone surprised that the data being reported citing impressive achievement gains is not accurate and gives the public a false impression of what is going on in our schools?

Let’s look at one example of how the public is being misled. In 2003, Texas reported that 85 percent of its 4th grade students had achieved proficiency in reading as measured by its state assessment. If I lived in Texas, I’d be feeling pretty good about an 85 percent proficiency rate. In fact, it was third highest in the nation.

Wyoming, however, reported that only 44 percent of its 4th grade students had achieved proficiency as reflected by their state assessment. If I had children in school in Wyoming, I’d be upset. Most of the general public, and parents in particular, see that Texas has almost twice as many 4th grade students reading proficiently. By far, Texas is more successful. The question must be asked, “What is wrong with our schools in Wyoming?” “What is Texas doing that we should all be doing?”

Now, add another data source, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reading proficiency results, and the entire façade of accountability comes crashing down. Texas, reporting 85 percent of its elementary students proficient in reading, shows only 28 percent of its students proficient as measured by the NAEPs. Wyoming, which administered the same NAEP exam to its students, reports more than 35 percent achieving proficient in reading. When both states use the same exam to measure reading proficiency Wyoming outperforms Texas.


“ Achieving State and National Literacy Goals, a Long Uphill Road” goes out of its way to downplay the disparity between state assessments and The National Assessment of Educational Progress. However, with the passage of NCLB, NAEPs role will be expanded and every state will be required to participate. NAEP, the more challenging standard of literacy, will be used to validate state assessment results in reading and mathematics.

The Texas-Wyoming example shows that state assessments and their resulting proficiency results are not accurate reflections of what kids can do from state to state. In fact, in many cases the results are inflated because state assessments vary in their definition of “proficiency” and their rigor in measuring it. When a common measure (NAEP) is used with the states, it exposes the “sham” that is being perpetrated on the public through the use of non-standardized, state assessment proficiency data. Here are a few more examples of the misleading proficiency rates:


The gaps between state assessments and NAEP assessments calls into question the entire process of certifying which states, districts, and schools are meeting NCLB standards and which are not. How can states be held accountable if there is no standard method of measuring? I might be on an NCLB list of under-performing schools in Wyoming that are actually outperforming schools that are considered meeting NCLB standards in Texas. NCLB has turned into a competition to provide positive and impressive data; data that hides the reality of the state of learning in our schools.

If the scandal of overblown and misleading reading proficiency data isn’t enough; there is even a larger scandal, for, whether measured by state standards or NAEPs, the state of reading proficiency in this country is mind-boggling.

“First, in several (seven) states fewer than half the students meet the state proficiency standards, and in no state do even half the students meet the NAEP national literacy standard of proficiency.” Achieving State and National Reading Goals a Long Uphill Road – Rand




“Overall, the data show that our nation faces a tremendous challenge to raise the literacy skills of our nation’s adolescents. It is clear that simply mandating standards and assessments is not going to guarantee success. Unless we, as a nation, are prepared to focus attention and resources on this issue, our schools are likely to continue producing students who lack skills and are ill-prepared to deal with the demands of post-secondary education and the workplace. Policymaker, schools, and teachers need to step up and accept the “orphaned responsibility” of teaching students to read to learn. The cost of inattention is very high, both in personal and economic terms.” – Achieving State and National Reading Goals a Long Uphill Road – Rand

It’s time we pulled back the curtain on the sham that masquerades as accountability in the results being reported by NCLB. The public is getting a false picture of what is going on in our schools. NAEP proficiency rates point out that fully half the elementary students in this country are not meeting reading proficiency standards. Even worse, the data for subgroups such as African-American, Hispanic, economically disadvantaged, special needs, and non-English speaking, are 20-27% below the already appalling proficiency rates for the general population.

It will take a miracle for most states to meet the NCLB requirement for 100% proficiency by 2014, even using their own state assessments. If we use the more rigorous NAEP assessments as the measure of proficiency, the situation seems even worse.

The public deserves better, our schools deserve better and, there is no question that our children deserve better.

NCLB has failed us.


More statistics and the entire Rand report at the edtechjourneys wiki.


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