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InsiderOnline Blog: October 2008

The NCLB “Balloon Payment”

No Child Left Behind seems to have created a wonderland of statistical legerdemain—kind of like Soviet central planning. Remember when Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings told us that the law was working to improve the majority of schools?

The New York Times reports that the number of schools falling short of their targets under the program is increasing. Three in ten failed to make adequate yearly progress last year; this year the figure is four in ten. The reason for the rise turns out to be quite simple: Under the program, the states were allowed to chart their own paths to the goal of raising every student to proficiency, with proficiency defined by tests that each state writes for its own students.

Approximately half the states decided to set lower targets for progress in the early years and increase the rate of improvement in later years. Those higher targets are now kicking in. The Times reports:

Here in California, which in 2002 had only 13.6 percent of students proficient in reading, officials promised to raise that percentage on average by 2.2 points annually from 2002 to 2007, but starting this year greatly accelerate the progress, raising the percentage of proficient students by 11 points per year through 2014.

Now that the time has come for that accelerated improvement, California schools are not keeping up. This year, about half the state’s 9,800 schools fell short.

“We’re hitting a balloon payment scenario, to use a housing analogy, where the expectations set forth in the federal law are far higher than recent performance levels,” said Richard Cardullo, a professor at the University of California, Riverside, who led an analysis of the performance of state elementary schools.

His study, published Sept. 26 in the journal Science, found that the proportion of students scoring at or above proficiency increased, on average, less than four percentage points annually from 2003 to 2007, far short of the 11 percentage points of annual growth required starting this year.

Posted on 10/16/08 10:42 AM by Alex Adrianson

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