Policing State Testing Under No Child Left Behind: Encouraging Students with Disabilities to Blow the Whistle on Unscrupulous Educators – Note by Richard C. Herrera

From Volume 80, Number 6 (September 2007)

With these words, U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings expressed her belief that the progress of state public educational systems can only be trusted when supported by objective data. While the age-old adage, “numbers do not lie,” may hold true in other contexts, the results of recent investigations along with teacher and student allegations suggest that in the educational context, sometimes they do. In an effort to feign educational progress on state assessment tests in reading and mathematics, educators at state and local levels are targeting low performing students by excluding these students from state testing, providing them with the correct answers to test questions during their exams, and doctoring their answer sheets before submitting them for scoring.

What is driving educators to cheat? The answer: federal legislation known by four words that are striking fear into educators throughout the nation – “No Child Left Behind.” Few can argue with the Act’s admirable goals: (1) ensuring that all children, including those historically left behind, are held to the same academic achievement standards; (2) narrowing the achievement gap between our nation’s highest and lowest performing students; and (3) ensuring that all students reach grade-level proficiency by 2014. However, under No Child Left Behind (“NCLB”), states, school districts, and public schools are exposed to an escalating series of harsh sanctions when student test scores on state assessment tests in reading and mathematics do not reflect “adequate yearly progress.” Since NCLB’s inception, many of our nation’s school districts and public elementary and secondary schools have failed to make adequate yearly progress. These failures have coincided with reports indicating that teachers and administrators, whose jobs and professional reputations are at risk, are doing whatever it takes to portray progress.