November 25, 2005

Surprise! The "No Child Left Behind" law is being undermined by paste-eating dumb kids

The NCLB requires 100% of all students in all states to be "proficient" in all subjects by 2014, which seems a tad unrealistic. Fortunately, the law encourages the states to use a simple solution to the otherwise insoluble problem posed by the Ralph Wiggums of America: cheat.

Sam Dillon writes in the NYT:

After Tennessee tested its eighth-grade students in math this year, state officials at a jubilant news conference called the results a "cause for celebration." Eighty-seven percent of students performed at or above the proficiency level.

But when the federal government made public the findings of its own tests last month, the results were startlingly different: only 21 percent of Tennessee's eighth graders were considered proficient in math.

Such discrepancies have intensified the national debate over testing and accountability, with some educators saying that numerous states have created easy exams to avoid the sanctions that President Bush's centerpiece education law, No Child Left Behind, imposes on consistently low-scoring schools...

A comparison of state test results against the latest National Assessment of Educational Progress, a federal test mandated by the No Child Left Behind law, shows that wide discrepancies between the state and federal findings were commonplace.

The chasm is significant because of the compromises behind the No Child Left Behind law. The law requires states to participate in the National Assessment - known to educators as NAEP (pronounced nape) - the most important federal measure of student proficiency.

But in a bow to states' rights, states are allowed to use their own tests in meeting the law's central mandate - that schools increase the percentage of students demonstrating proficiency each year. The law requires 100 percent of the nation's students to reach proficiency - as each state defines it - by 2014.

States set the stringency of their own tests as well as the number of questions students must answer correctly to be labeled proficient. And because states that fail to raise scores over time face serious sanctions, there is little incentive to make the exams difficult, some educators say.

"Under No Child Left Behind, the states get to set the proficiency bar wherever they like, and unfortunately most are setting it quite low," said Michael J. Petrilli, a vice president of the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, which generally supports the federal law.

But, honestly, is this a bug or a feature in the NCLB? Do you really think nobody in the executive or legislative branch figured out that NCLB was institutionalizing a massive conflict of interest? Our leaders have a lot more animal cunning than that. Requiring states to achieve an impossible level of performance but not providing any means for disinterested outsiders to check on the states' performance was a massive hint that the states were supposed to cheat. After all, having underlings cheat on schools tests, like Rod Paige at the Houston school district, is one way Bush got elected President in 2000.

Personally, I attended Rice U., one of the leading math and science colleges in the U.S., and, boy, did I ever get left behind in math. I never made it to differential equations, not to mention the vast, mysterious realms of math beyond that. Too bad there wasn't a "No Overgrown Child Left Behind" law to give Rice incentive to whip together some cockamamie test that would have certified me as proficient in math.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

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