NCLB accountability systems are largely in place, but act's promises are largely uncertain

November 19, 2007

After five years of effort, states have implemented most of the test-based accountability requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) of 2001, and now must focus their efforts on improving poor-performing schools that have been identified, according to a new U.S. Department of Education report written by experts from the RAND Corporation and the American Institutes for Research.

The report, "Accountability Under NCLB: Interim Report," includes analyses of data from the largest national survey of teachers, principals, paraprofessionals and school district staff to be conducted since the law was passed by Congress in 2001.

The report concludes that all states had adopted most of the accountability requirements of the law and that three-quarters of the nation's schools made adequate yearly progress (AYP) as defined by those states in 2003-04, a 2 percent increase from the previous year.

But not all the provisions of the law are fully implemented--20 states were behind in adopting tests to measure English-language proficiency--and performance varied significantly across the states.

Nationally 13 percent of schools were identified for improvement in 2004-05. High-poverty, high-minority and urban schools were most likely to be identified for improvement, as were middle schools and large schools.

Overall, students with disabilities, those with limited English proficiency, and African-American students were the subgroups most likely not to make AYP.

"States are making progress implementing policies required by No Child Left Behind, and they've largely met the accountability requirements through 2004-05," said Kerstin Carlson Le Floch, a principal research analyst at AIR and report co-author. "But much remains to be done to fulfill the full promise of the law."

"These are good first steps, but more needs to be done," said co-author Brian Stecher of RAND. "Some states still struggle to deliver timely information, for example, while others struggle to provide basic resources for schools, such as textbooks and instructional materials."

The Department of Education asked RAND and AIR to gauge how states have implemented the standards, assessments and accountability provisions of Titles I and III of NCLB.

Under NCLB, public schools are required to ensure that all children in the United States are proficient in reading and math by 2014. Schools and districts that don't make adequate yearly progress toward meeting state standards for two or more years are identified for improvement. The report presents findings from two federally funded studies, the Study of State Implementation of Accountability and Teacher Quality Under NCLB, and the National Longitudinal Study of NCLB.

Overall, the studies found results to be mixed as states and school districts have, for the most part, met the relevant NCLB accountability requirements through the 2004-2005 school year. More than half of states were testing students in all of the required grades in reading and math in advance of a 2005-06 deadline set in the NCLB law.

Other key findings include: Those schools that were identified for improvement also focused on more areas of improvement than non-identified schools. Schools also reported receiving technical assistance that met their needs, with two exceptions - about half of schools needing assistance to improve services to students with disabilities and to improve services to students with limited proficiency in English reported their needs were not met.

Moreover, states and districts were implementing the required interventions in schools identified for improvement and corrective action, but they were not implementing the NCLB-specified corrective actions in most of the nearly 1,200 schools undergoing restructuring - the final stage of the NCLB accountability structure.

The study reports that, in 2004-05, every state administered some form of alternate assessments for students with disabilities, or was planning to do so. Moreover, every state allowed testing accommodations to enable students with disabilities and those with limited English proficiency to take regular statewide tests.

While states have made considerable progress in establishing key content standards required by NCLB, most states revised or adopted their standards as late as the 2004-05 school year.

The criteria used to determine student proficiency in reading and math under NCLB vary from state to state, making it possible that a student deemed proficient in one state might not be considered proficient in another.
Other report authors include Felipe Martinez of RAND, and Jennifer O'Day, James Taylor and Andrea Cook of AIR.

RAND Education conducts research and analysis on a variety of topics, including school reform, educational assessment and accountability, and trends among teachers and teacher training.

Established in 1946, with headquarters in Washington, D.C., the American Institutes for Research (AIR) is an independent, nonpartisan not-for-profit organization that conducts behavioral and social science research on important social issues and delivers technical assistance both domestically and internationally in the areas of health, education and workforce productivity.

Copies of the report can be found at, and

The RAND Corporation is a nonprofit research organization providing objective analysis and effective solutions that address the challenges facing the public and private sectors around the world. To sign up for RAND e-mail alerts:

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