No Child Left Behind: An Interim Evaluation of Its Effects on Learning

Dan Woolf

Institute for Policy Research, Northwestern University
Manyee Wong, Thomas D. Cook, & Peter Steiner
November 2009

This report uses fourth and eighth grade National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) results from 1990-2009 to determine whether No Child Left Behind’s (NCLB) accountability mandates have improved student achievement. The researchers compared national NAEP scores of students in public schools and private schools, and contrasted NAEP scores in states with varying levels of rigor in their student proficiency requirements (and thus with varying degrees of likelihood that schools will fall below Adequate Yearly Progress and be subject to NCLB’s sanctions). Both comparisons serve to analyze the scores of students at NCLB-reformed schools against the scores of students in schools who were not subject to NCLB reforms. 

The results, as Debra Viadero at Education Week suggests, are not an “epitaph” for NCLB. From 2002-onward (post NCLB), fourth and eighth grade math scores improved at a higher pace in schools subject to NCLB-mandated reforms than at schools not subject to the law. Reading scores also improved, though less dramatically, as a result of both NCLB reforms and higher state proficiency standards. While the authors are quick to caution that this is not a comprehensive study of NCLB, their findings are significant as they illustrate that the law’s accountability framework—as well as rigorous academic standards in some states – may be at least partially responsible for increases in student achievement.

This research is especially pertinent as reauthorization of NCLB (aka the Elementary and Secondary Education Act or ESEA) is underway, and as many states will soon be adopting common academic standards, which according to a recent Fordham review are more rigorous than what many states currently have.

This is all the more reason for Ohio (a state ranked by this report in the “medium” category for its state standards, and receiving a “D” and a “C” in Fordham’s last analysis of state standards) to be enthusiastic about adopting Common Core standards. It also offers reason to be cautiously optimistic that accountability mechanisms found in the next iteration of ESEA could boost student achievement nationally and in the Buckeye State. Read the report here.