Evidence from D.C. Shows Need to Improve Focus on School Accountability

There’s a great story in the Washington Post today about the positive impacts of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) accountability on poor and needy students in and around our nation’s capital (H/T Joanne Jacobs):

Since enactment of the No Child Left Behind law, students from poor families in the Washington area have made major gains on reading and math tests and are starting to catch up with those from middle-class and affluent backgrounds, a Washington Post analysis shows.

The achievement gap between economic groups, long a major frustration for educators, has narrowed in the region’s suburban schools since President Bush signed the law in 2002, according to Maryland and Virginia test data.

In Montgomery County, for instance, students in poverty have earned better scores on Maryland’s reading test in each of the past five years, slicing in half the 28 percentage-point gulf that separated their pass rate from the county average. They also have made a major dent in the math gap. In Fairfax County, another suburban academic powerhouse, such students have slashed the achievement gaps on Virginia tests.

Now, my friends in the Education Policy Center tell me that NCLB has some problems and flaws that need to be fixed. But there’s no doubt that the legislation has helped focus many officials and citizens on the problem of the achievement gaps. What’s happening in Washington DC, Maryland, and Virginia is strong evidence that if we’re going to have any federal government involvement in education, then NCLB doesn’t need to be scrapped. It only needs to be fine-tuned and improved.

Meanwhile, the Rocky Mountain News reports that Colorado is struggling to keep up:

A change in how schools are rated led to fewer Colorado schools meeting federal standards under the No Child Left Behind Act this year.

The number of schools making “adequate yearly progress” toward the federal standards dropped from 75 percent last year to 60 percent in figures released Wednesday.

In other words, the AYP (adequate yearly progress) goals took a significant tick up this year from last. So Colorado, by showing little or no growth, is not meeting as many of the newer goals. There’s room to debate whether the AYP goals are too high or too low, or whether they’re aligned correctly. But this only means the debate is moving in the right direction. Improving NCLB, not dumping it, means better standards, more accountability, while further closing the achievement gap between rich and poor.