Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Charles Murray makes an interesting set of complaints against the No Child Left Behind Act. On the one hand, he hates it for having too demanding testing requirements:
The Frederick County, Md., schools our children have attended have turned themselves inside out to try to produce the right test results, with dismaying effects on the content of classroom instruction and devastating effects on teacher morale. We actually lost our best English teacher to the effects of high-stakes testing. "I want to teach my students how to write," he said, "not teach them how to pass a test that says they can write." He quit.
Then he complains that the testing requirements are not strict enough. States are not required to fully divulge test results; instead they release very limited results like pass rates of ethnic groups. Murray does a great job showing that relative pass rates are meaningless without more data.
Test scores in Texas went up for both blacks and whites. Maybe that's good news, representing real gains in learning for everyone, or maybe it's not so good, representing the effects of teaching to the test. The data Texas reports do not permit a judgment. But the black gains are almost exactly what would be predicted if the magnitude of the underlying black-white difference remained unchanged. If there really was closure of the gap, all that Texas has to do is release the group means, as well as information about the black and white distributions of scores, and it will easy to measure it. Whatever the real closure may be, however, it cannot come close to the dramatic reduction that President Bush found in the difference between black and white pass rates.
Ultimately, Murray's article makes an interesting statistics lesson but doesn't shed light on whether NCLB has caused "real gains in learning for everyone." The Tenth Amendment alone gives me reason to oppose NCLB, but I still really would like to know how effective NCLB has been.

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