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Posted at 04:21 PM ET, 03/31/2011

Was Arne Duncan right on AYP?

Education Secretary Arne Duncan was accused last month of hyping data by some of his supporters (though, for a change, not by me) for telling Congress that 82 percent of public schools could be at risk of failing to meet federally required education goals this year, which would be a jump from 37 percent last year.

Well, in Vermont, the Associated Press reported Thursday that new standardized test results released by the state Education Department show that 72 percent of 216 public schools did not meet federal achievement targets under the 2002 No Child Left Behind law this year — up from 31 percent the year before. The tests were given last year, it said.

That’s not 82 percent, obviously, but it shows a huge increase, as suggested by Duncan.

He was attacked by some people who generally support his reform efforts but accused him of making up the figure in an effort to persuade Congress to rewrite the No Child Left Behind law, which sets student achievement requirements and penalties for schools that don’t meet them.

For example, in a Post article last month, my colleague Nick Anderson quoted Charles Barone, a frequent ally of the Obama administration who helped draft No Child Left Behind and who tracks federal policy for the pro-administration group Democrats for Education Reform, as saying:

“He’s creating a bogeyman that doesn’t exist. Our fear is that they are taking it to a new level of actually manufacturing a new statistic — a ‘Chicken Little’ statistic that is not true — just to get a law passed. It severely threatens their credibility.”

Under No Child Left Behind, most students in every public school in the country are supposed to score “proficient” on standardized tests in math and reading by 2014. States were allowed to decide individually how to reach the goal, and almost half set easy targets early in the last decade. Now, things are getting tougher.

The criticism of Duncan was somewhat unusual, given that No Child Left Behind critics have been warning for years that the adequate yearly progress requirements of the law are so difficult to achieve that almost all public schools in the country would fail to meet them by 2014. In fact, a nonprofit organization called FairTest predicted that result back in 2001 when the law was still being debated in Congress.

Of course, Duncan’s sensible opposition to adequate yearly progress should be examined in the broader context of what the Obama administration has pursued in its education policy and wants in an NCLB rewrite. Measures the administration has supported include an increase in the number of federally mandated tests and an increase in the consequences for the scores — exactly the opposite of what would help public schools most.

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By  |  04:21 PM ET, 03/31/2011

 
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