homethe billthe standardsthe testdiscussiontesting our schools
homethe billthe standardsthe testdiscussion
the new rules

An overview of the testing and accountability provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act.

The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, President George W. Bush's education-reform bill, was signed into law on Jan. 8, 2002. By all accounts, it is the most sweeping education-reform legislation since 1965, when President Lyndon B. Johnson passed his landmark Elementary and Secondary Education Act. (Technically, the new bill is a reauthorization and revision of that 1965 legislation.) It dramatically increases the role of the federal government in guaranteeing the quality of public education for all children in the United States -- with an emphasis on increased funding for poor school districts, higher achievement for poor and minority students, and new measures to hold schools accountable for their students' progress -- and in the process dramatically expands the role of standardized testing in American public education, requiring that students in grades 3 through 8 be tested every year in reading and math.

The debate over the bill's testing and accountability provisions centered on such questions as whether states would maintain control over their own standards and tests, how the new mandates would be funded, how test results would be reported, where the bar would be set for defining proficiency and adequate progress, how schools would be held accountable, and whether states' test scores would be compared against an independent national benchmark, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).

Here is a brief summary of how the final legislation came out on these issues, followed by links to the Education Department and House Committee websites for more detailed information, and to selected articles analyzing the outcome of the bill.

Standards and Testing

The centerpiece of the bill is the requirement that states develop and implement "challenging" academic standards in reading and math, set annual statewide progress objectives to ensure that all groups of students reach proficiency within 12 years, and then test children annually in grades 3 through 8, in reading and math, to measure their progress. The bill specifically prohibits any "national testing" or "federally controlled curriculum." It is up to the states to select and/or design their own tests, and to make sure that the tests are aligned with the state curriculum standards. States will receive federal funds to help develop their tests, and a "trigger mechanism" specifies that states are not required to develop the reading and math tests for grades 3-8 if the federal government fails to provide the necessary funding.

Reporting Results

The test results will be made public in annual "report cards" on how schools are performing and how states are progressing overall toward their proficiency objectives. To help ensure that all groups of students are progressing at an adequate rate, the test results must be broken out and reported according to poverty, race, ethnicity, disability, and limited English proficiency. This is known as "disaggregation of data," and is intended to prevent schools from lumping test results together in an overall average for the school, effectively hiding the achievement gaps between groups of students.

Adequate Yearly Progress and Accountability

States will have until the 2005-06 school year to develop and implement their tests. Once in place, schools and districts will be required to show "adequate yearly progress" [A.Y.P.] toward their statewide objectives -- that is, they must demonstrate (through their test scores) that they are on course to reach 100 percent proficiency for all groups of students within 12 years. The states themselves decide what is proficient and what is an adequate rate of progress for each group. Those schools that fall behind may be subject to various "school improvement," "corrective action," or "restructuring" measures imposed by the state. Underperforming schools may avoid such measures if they can demonstrate a 10 percent reduction in the number of students that are not meeting the annual proficiency goals.

An Independent Benchmark

Each state's test results will also be compared against an independent benchmark called the National Assessement of Educational Progress (NAEP), which will be given to a small sample of each state's 4th and 8th-grade students in reading and math every other year. This provision, known as "NAEP comparability," is supposed to ensure that states are not setting the bar too low on their standards and tests. That is, if a state shows progress on its statewide test results but does not show comparable progress on the NAEP, it would suggest that the state's standards and tests are not challenging enough. The final legislation, however, does not provide for any penalties if a state's test scores fall behind relative to its NAEP results, but merely requires that the comparative results will be made public.

Government Resources and Independent Analyses

Fact Sheet: Accountability for Student Achievement
The House Committee on Education and the Workforce offers this overview of the testing and accountability provisions of the final bill. The House Committee also offers this summary of the overall bill.

The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001: Executive Summary
The Education Department's official site includes this summary of the bill, as well as a fact sheet and a document entitled "Testing for Results," which explains the administration's position on testing.

No State Left Behind: The Challenges and Opportunities of ESEA 2001
The No Child Left Behind Act is an extension and revision of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). This report from the Education Commission of the States (ECS) "summarizes the new ESEA, looks at states' readiness to implement provisions of the law and provides key questions for policymakers to consider."

National Assessment of Educational Progress
The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), known as "The Nation's Report Card," is administered to a statistical sample of students across the country in various subject areas and is widely regarded by educators and policymakers as a trusted gauge of national trends. To see how your state has performed, see the state profiles.

FairTest: Analysis of ESEA
The National Center for Fair & Open Testing (FairTest), is an advocacy organization working to ensure that evaluation of students and workers is fair, open, and educationally sound. FairTest staff prepared this analysis of the testing and accountability provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act.

"Testing Limits," by Nicholas Lemann
"Can President Bush's education crusade survive Beltway politics?" (The New Yorker, July 2, 2001.)

"Long Road to Reform," by David S. Broder
"A partial account of how the landmark [education] legislation managed to survive intensive lobbying pressures and deep suspicions harbored by many in both parties, as well as a political upheaval in the Senate and the outbreak of a war on terrorism." (The Washington Post, Dec. 17, 2001.)

"Why the Education Bill Is Likely to Fail," by Lorraine Woellert
"President Bush wanted a reform bill so badly that he may have compromised his way into a toothless one." (BusinessWeek Online, Dec. 26, 2001.)

"Leaving Education Reform Behind," by Chester E. Finn, Jr.
"Bush will sign the bill. But there's not much good left in it." (The Weekly Standard, Jan. 14, 2002.)

"Reading Between the Lines," by Stephen Metcalf
"The new education law is a victory for Bush -- and for his corporate allies." (The Nation, Jan. 28, 2002)

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