AEI Report Beneficial, Offers Little Guidance For Policymakers
Relies on faith of government pressure and top-down accountability
EAST LANSING, Mich. (Aug. 27, 2013) – In June, the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) released a report which investigates the effects of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) on North Carolina achievement scores. The report attempts to isolate the effects of NCLB's threat of sanctions on underperforming schools, while inferring that federal pressure and punishment are promising policy avenues. Yet, little can be determined about whether NCLB or any of the touted reforms caused the very small score increases reported.
Bruce Fuller, a professor of education and public policy at the University of California Berkeley, reviewed the report for the Think Twice think tank review project, published by the National Education Policy Center, with funding from the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice.
The report, Were all those standardized tests for nothing? The lessons of No Child Left Behind, by Thomas Ahn and Jacob Vigdor, praises accountability systems (NCLB included) as having beneficial systematic effects on standardized test scores. However, very little evidence was presented regarding how local educators comprehended or responded to these pressures.
In his review, Fuller notes that the report feels out of date because, due to congressional inaction – education secretary Arne Duncan's agenda, pursued through waivers, has largely bypassed NCLB. The report does highlight how complicated NCLB once was, but this very complexity makes drawing inferences about what works virtually impossible amidst this policy noise.
The authors do note that collateral damage was done by unbalanced high-stakes testing, specifically inattention in non-tested content areas. However, no evidence was provided of the negative effects of high-stakes accountability inside classrooms. Fuller's review further finds that the literature review fails to include the large body of literature that details the downside costs of high-stakes accountability tied to standardized testing.
In regards to the methods, Fuller found a "naïve design assumption" which surfaces throughout the report – "that achievement trends can be attributed to a complicated bundle of policy tools implemented simultaneously across the country."
He concludes, "Readers of the AEI report will benefit from the information provided, but they will remain uninformed as to how the search for an effective federal role can be informed by scarce evidence on the effects of various elements of NCLB."
Find Bruce Fuller's review on the Great Lakes Center website:
Find Were all those standardized tests for nothing? The lessons of No Child Left Behind, by Thomas Ahn and Jacob Vigdor, on the web at:
Think Twice, a project of the National Education Policy Center (NEPC), provides the public, policymakers, and the press with timely, academically sound reviews of selected publications. The project is made possible with support from the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice.
This review is also found on the NEPC website:
The mission of the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice is to support and disseminate high quality research and reviews of research for the purpose of informing education policy and to develop research-based resources for use by those who advocate for education reform.
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