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Will Congress Learn from No Child Left Behind’s Core Flaws?

NEPC releases analysis as discussions heat up on reauthorizing
federal education law; researchers invited to sign on to statement


Kevin G. Welner, (303) 492-8370,
William J. Mathis, (802) 383-0058,

URL for this press release:


BOULDER, CO (February 12, 2015) – An anti-testing backlash has emerged among parents demanding changes to the No Child Left Behind Act, and education researchers have pointed to evidence-based ways forward.

Yet, as a new National Education Policy Center Policy Memo published today points out, the mistakes in NCLB are still being repeated, and lawmakers’ discussions in Washington, D.C., surrounding reauthorization of the law are failing to adjust course.

NCLB was “an ineffective solution to some very real problems,” according to the new NEPC Policy Memo. The memo, Reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act: Time to Move Beyond Test-Focused Policies, discusses the broad research consensus that standardized tests are ineffective and even counterproductive when used to drive educational reform. It is the basis of an online petition inviting education researchers to express their support for moving toward opportunity-based reform approaches.

The memo is authored by Professor Kevin Welner of the University of Colorado Boulder, who is NEPC’s director, and by William Mathis, who is managing director of NEPC and serves on the Vermont State Board of Education.

Thirteen years of intense focus on test-score improvement has yielded few if any benefits. Yet negative, unintended consequences have continued to mount—in the form of narrowed and less engaging curriculum, constrained instruction, and deprofessionalized teachers and teaching, Welner and Mathis point out.

Mathis cautions that the “proposals now on the table simply gild a demonstrably ineffective strategy, while crowding out policies with proven effectiveness.” We see clear trends of abandoning our past pursuit of learning that fully encompasses arts, music, social studies, and science; and we see marginalization of values and skills that help students develop the ability to cooperate, problem solve, reason, make sound judgments, and function effectively as democratic citizens.

“The ultimate question,” Welner adds, “isn’t whether test scores are good measures of learning, whether growth modeling captures what we want it to, or even whether test scores are increasing. It is whether the overall impact of the reform approach can improve or is improving education.”

Mathis points out that test scores “can be increased in lots of different ways, some of which focus on real learning but many of which do not. An incremental increase in reading or math scores means almost nothing, particularly if children’s engagement is decreased; if test-prep comes at a substantial cost to science, civics and the arts; and if the focus of schooling as a whole shifts from learning to testing.”

“As a nation,” Welner explains, “we must engage in a serious, responsible conversation about evidence-based approaches that have the potential to meaningfully improve student opportunities and school outcomes.”

In the upcoming week, other researchers will be signing on to this NEPC Policy Memo. Kevin Kumashiro, Dean of the School of Education at the University of San Francisco, has set up an online petition* enabling scholars to join the research-based call for ESEA to move testing from the center of policymaking. “These concerns and recommendations are widely shared in the education research community,” said Kumashiro.

The NEPC Policy Memo, Reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act: Time to Move Beyond Test-Focused Policies, can be found on the NEPC website at

The petition Is available here.

The mission of the National Education Policy Center is to produce and disseminate high-quality, peer-reviewed research to inform education policy discussions. We are guided by the belief that the democratic governance of public education is strengthened when policies are based on sound evidence. For more information on NEPC, please visit