Test Results Improve After 'No Child' Law, Study Finds

By Maria Glod
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Students are performing better on state reading and math tests since enactment of the landmark No Child Left Behind law six years ago, according to an independent study released yesterday.

The report by the District-based Center on Education Policy also found that black and low-income students have made gains on those exams, frequently narrowing performance gaps with white and middle-income peers. The report's authors cautioned that the boost could not be attributed directly to the federal law and said the improvements also might reflect state and local reforms.

"The country tried to improve the quality of public schools, raise student achievement, close the achievement gap, and we're moving in the right direction," said Jack Jennings, the center's president and chief executive. "That is not to say, though, that we shouldn't ask whether everything we're doing to achieve those results is the right thing to do."

The findings come at a time of uncertainty for the future of a law that President Bush has championed. Congress had been expected to revamp and reauthorize it this year, but the process has stalled.

Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, is a strong supporter of No Child Left Behind, but his campaign has said he wants educators to have more flexibility in helping struggling schools. Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), the presumed Democratic nominee, has been more critical of the law and its emphasis on test scores.

The law requires annual math and reading testing in grades three through eight and once in high school. Schools must show progress each year, as must groups of students, including ethnic minorities and disabled students. Certain schools that fall short face interventions ranging from offering free tutoring to restructuring the school.

Because standards vary from state to state, some analysts have questioned the reliability of state tests as a gauge of academic performance.

The study, which included data from 50 states, found that achievement on state reading and math exams has improved in most of them. The trend is largely mirrored on national exams, the study found, although the gains tend to be smaller. One exception was in eighth-grade reading, in which gains on state exams significantly outpaced those on the national test.

In Maryland, the report found, achievement gaps between black and white students and between low-income and middle- to upper-income students narrowed in reading across grade levels. The picture was mixed in math.

There was not enough information to report Virginia trends, and the District did not provide data for the study.

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