NEA: Test Scores Improving in Spite of NCLB


Have reading and math scores improved since the enactment of NCLB? In some cases yes, according to a study released this week by the Center on Education Policy (CEP). But according to the report's authors, the results do not indicate cause and effect. And, according to the National Education Association (NEA), any improvements in student test scores may have come in spite of NCLB rather than because of it.

The report, Has Student Achievement Increased Since 2002?: State Test Score Trends Through 2006-07, examined state test data and National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) through 2007. What it found were the following for states that had adequate data to study:

  • At the elementary level, 21 states showed "moderate to large gains" in math for students scoring at or above a level deemed proficient, and 17 made such gains in reading;
  • At the middle school level, 22 states showed similar gains in math, 14 in reading; and
  • At the high school level, 12 states showed similar gains in math, eight in reading.

The report also indicated that achievement gaps between groups of students (economic, racial) have in many cases narrowed in the period since NCLB's enactment. But CEP was quick to note that it has not established a causal relationship between NCLB and improvements on test scores or in the narrowing of achievement gaps.

According to CEP, "It is impossible ... to determine the extent to which these trends in test results have occurred because of NCLB. Since 2002, many different but interconnected policies and programs have been undertaken to raise achievement and close achievement gaps – some initiated by states or school districts on their own, and some in response to federal requirements. Other possible explanations for increased test scores and narrowed gaps include, among others, districts and schools devoting more instructional time to reading and math, and students and teachers becoming more familiar with the content and format of state tests."

Reg Weaver, NEA president, dismissed NCLB's role in any achievement gains demonstrated in the study. Weaver issued the following statement Tuesday in response to the report: "The report seems to confirm that despite six years of being saddled with the fundamentally flawed and overly prescriptive federal No Child Left Behind law, educators, school administrators and local school districts are making a difference in increasing student achievement.

"Imagine what would happen to student test scores if educators and local school districts didn't have to teach in the test, label and punish regime established under NCLB. Think for a second about what would happen if the law didn't force educators to view students as standardized test scores.

"The American public is ready for a new era in K-12 education, one that prepares all students for success with 21st century skills and the critical knowledge to succeed in our changing world, and gives educators the freedom to teach every child."

Jack Jennings, president and chief executive officer of CEP, indicated that while no causal relationship can be established, NCLB has so vastly expanded the amount of testing conducted on students that it

The complete 164-page CEP report can be downloaded in PDF format here.

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About the author: David Nagel is the executive editor for 1105 Media's online education technology publications, including THE Journal and Campus Technology. He can be reached at

Proposals for articles and tips for news stories, as well as questions and comments about this publication, should be submitted to David Nagel, executive editor, at

About the Author

David Nagel is editorial director of 1105 Media's Education Technology Group and editor-in-chief of THE Journal and STEAM Universe. A 25-year publishing veteran, Nagel has led or contributed to dozens of technology, art and business publications.

He can be reached at You can also connect with him on LinkedIn at or follow him on Twitter at @THEJournalDave (K-12) or @CampusTechDave (higher education).

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