By 2000 one in three states that had instituted high stakes testing, “slowed or scaled back their original efforts”, and softened the stakes, giving children many second chances and allowing some to avoid the tests. This was seen by business and think tank proponents of high stakes testing as a repudiation of their ‘reform’ program. The No Child Left Behind (NCLB) is federal legislation that doesn’t allow such recalcitrance by the states.
Under NCLB rules, each state had to establish interim targets by 2003 for each year until 2014 that would allow progress to be achieved and measured each year. This is called Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP). For example 65 percent of students must pass the mathematics test in fourth grade at every school in the state in 2007. This target must be met not only by the total school population but also by each of ten specified subgroups so that 65 percent of African American students must pass it, as must 65 percent of Asian, Latino, Native American, White, Low Income, Special Education, and Limited English Proficiency students. Ninety five percent of enrolled students in each subgroup are required to sit the test.
Each year an increasing percentage of students are expected to be proficient and by 2014 all students in each category are supposed to pass the tests or the school will be considered to have failed. Ninety-five percent of students must take the test.
NCLB requires that schools which fail to meet performance improvement goals, as measured by standardised tests, are punished with escalating sanctions for each year of failure including:
School districts have to set aside 20 percent of their funding for low income students for transport and tutoring expenses required by the Act. In addition individual schools have the additional burden of negotiating contracts and supervising the private companies that provide the supplementary educational services. This means that poorly funded schools in poor districts are further punished when they don’t do well in these tests because of their lack of resources.
Since the introduction of NCLB legilsation US students have performed worse on internatonal tests of reading, maths and science and have not improved as fast as they had been on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) despite increasing state test scores used for NCLB.
This is partly because the international assessments demand more advanced analysis than do most US tests. They require students to weigh and balance evidence, apply what they know to new problems and explain and defend their answers. These higher-order skills are emphasized in other nations' curriculums and assessment systems but have been discouraged by the kind of lower-level multiple-choice testing favored by NCLB.
Nations at the top of the international school student rankings do not rely on standardised testing to improve school performance. For example Finland, which tops the international rankings, has done away with state-mandated testing, instead focusing on teacher training, and emphasising problem solivng, creativity and independent learning in its schools.
In the US some states have ensured rising test scores through making tests easier to pass and lowering the score necessary for students to be labelled as proficient. In Tennessee 90 percent of students were declared proficient in 2007 but only 26 percent passed NAEP tests.
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