The No Child Left Behind Act is just not measuring up. This year marks the first full school year that this legislation, passed in 2002, has been in place, and instead of improving public schools, states are already lowering their testing standards in order to avoid the heavy penalties that the law imposes on failing schools.
The state of Texas recently changed the number of correct answers needed to pass the state’s standardized test from 24 out of 36 to 20. In Michigan, where standards were the highest in the nation, No Child Left Behind labeled 1,513 schools as inefficient. Thus, Michigan officials lowered the percentage of students who must pass the standardized test. The adjustment decreased the inefficient number of schools to 216.
The law, which easily sailed through Congress with bipartisan support, will never achieve the higher level of education it has set out to because, states are able to formulate their own definitions of success. In order to avoid loss of funding, states will simply continue to readjust their levels of proficiency, allowing student performance to stagnate or even decline. While some officials are making assurances that checks are in place to ensure states cannot lower their standards significantly, the bar measuring success does not seem to be very high. The state of Michigan, for example, was allowed to lower the number of high school students who must pass the English exam from 75 percent to 45 percent. In Colorado, the grading of tests has been altogether overhauled and educators are lumping students who scored in the “partially proficient” realm with those who were “proficient.” It is estimated that it would cost between $1.9 and $5.3 billion to eliminate the discrepancies between states, yet Congress has not appropriated enough money to schools to cover these costs.
The new law is also a double-edged sword for some schools. Poor rural schools that barely have enough money for new library books and have a majority of students failing to reach existing state testing standards risk losing even more money. Great losses will only further damage their education systems. No Child Left Behind set itself up for failure when it demanded that all schools be 100 percent proficient in reading and math by 2014. This will prove to be nearly impossible for some schools to meet as many currently are only 50 to 60 percent proficient. Most are simply marking time, hoping that legislation will surface that allows states to back out of the bill.
This manipulation of the law’s intent makes a mockery of the president’s oft-heralded education strategy. The president received praise as a candidate for supposedly turning around the Texas public education system with these get-tough policies. While experts have debunked the assertion that such a transformation ever took place in Texas, it is ironic that this new no-nonsense strategy to reform the public school system would allow such shenanegans. Not only does the No Child Left Behind Act provide members of Congress, the president and the U.S. public with the false notion that positive action is being taken on the education front, but these latest revelations are further evidence that despite the hype, standardized tests are not the silver bullet for the country’s education problems that their supporters incessantly claim.