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Test scores up, but achievement gaps persist

June 06, 2007|Howard Blume | Times Staff Writer

Student achievement nationwide has increased since the enactment of the No Child Left Behind Act in 2002, but that federal law is not necessarily the reason, according to researchers who looked at results from 50 states.

These gains fall well short of the law's goal of getting all students performing at grade level or better by 2014, said the report, released Tuesday by the Center on Education Policy, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit.

The picture in California is fairly typical: Students' test scores have improved, but they have far to go, especially to close the gap that separates white and Asian students from their low-income, Latino or black peers.

The 18-month, nearly $1-million study attempted to look at data consistently, but information was unevenly available. In only 13 states -- not including California -- were researchers able to compare academic gains before and after the law. In nine of these 13 states, gains were faster after No Child Left Behind. And "there is more evidence of achievement gaps between groups of students narrowing since 2002 than of gaps widening. Still, the magnitude of the gaps is often substantial," the researchers wrote.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday June 12, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 62 words Type of Material: Correction
Test scores: An article in Section A on June 6 about rising test scores and the No Child Left Behind law incorrectly attributed the following statement: "These gains fall well short of the law's goal of getting all students performing at grade level or better by 2014." This analysis was the reporter's, not that of researchers from the Center on Education Policy.

The number of fourth-graders who tested "proficient" or better, for example, rose from 39% to 49% in California from 2004 to 2006. But those improved 2006 numbers break down to 73% of Asians, 69% of whites, 37% of blacks, 35% of Latinos and 35% of low-income students. All the numbers were better than 2004, but the achievement gap barely budged.

The researchers claim independence from partisans battling over No Child Left Behind, which is up for reauthorization by Congress this year. Their only expressed opinion is regarding the need for better, more consistent and more transparent data.

Researchers declined to credit or criticize No Child Left Behind, noting that states and school districts also have been carrying out their own reforms.

But a statement from federal Education Secretary Margaret Spellings praised the news. "Under President Bush's leadership ... in five short years, we've seen encouraging results, especially in our elementary schools. Students are making remarkable gains in reading and math, and the achievement gap that once seemed intractable is now narrowing in many of our nation's schools." She added: "Now is the time to reauthorize" the law.

In an earlier interview, Spellings said the law had pushed many states to take meaningful measurement of student learning and compelled schools to address the achievement gap.

Even so, at this pace, thousands of schools will fall well short of the law's 2014 full proficiency target.

Critics say the law is underfunded, overly punitive and unrealistic in its goals.

Some changes are in order, said California Supt. of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell. "I strongly agree with the goals of No Child Left Behind," he said, but the federal rules give "no credit for even significant gains in achievement by students who have not yet reached the high bar of proficiency.

"Also, because state standards vary widely, states such as California that expect more of their students are more likely to fall short of the federal accountability goal, while states that hold lower expectations may appear to be doing better. That is both misleading and unfair."

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howard.blume@latimes.com

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