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Capstone

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Introduction A. Social Problem
Education plays an important role in the way a particular country progresses. The US has always strived for high education standards; however, recent statistics point out that the country has competitively fallen behind when compared to other developed countries. For this reason, education has played an important role in the US agenda for many years. In January 8th, 2002, the US Congress passed a law called “No Child Left Behind Act” (NCLB), which expanded the role of federal government in education. This law strongly emphasizes the implementation of standardized tests in public schools to measure the progress of students as well as to hold teachers and schools accountable for students’ progress.
A social problem that the NCLB is trying to fix is the fact that the quality of education in US’ public schools has decreased during the last years. Alarming statistics have shown that the country’s education system is not as internationally competitive as it used to be. For example, according to a report issued by the Council on Foreign Relations, the United States has slipped ten spots in high school and college graduation rates in the past three decades (CFR). Poor education affects the entire country because of the close relation that progress has with having a skillful workforce. Furthermore, other social problems, such as poverty and crime, are indirectly related to inferior education. An extensive body of research has found that people with less schooling tend to work and earn less as adults, are more likely to receive public assistance, and have poorer health (‘Education and Poverty’). Poverty has also been proven to be the number one cause of crime, which is yet another social problem affecting the US. By directly improving education standards, stakeholders in this debate are expecting to see an improvement not only in education, but also in the sectors of society that are indirectly influenced by it.
Different opinions as to how to raise education standards have been stated, creating a division among the general public, educational staff, policy-makers, and parents. Supporters of the current law, such as the National Assessment of Educational Progress, believe that is the job of the government to raise these standards and that the way to do this is through the administration of state-mandated tests, which can be objectively evaluated. Opponents, on the other hand, include organizations such as FairTest, and argue that the currently low education standards in the US are a consequence of the NCLB, and argue that a different approach must be taken to achieve the standards that the country strive for. As a result of this controversy, a question arises: Should Congress repeal the No Child Left Behind Act? B. Identification of the Sides
Proponents of the NCLB act believe that standardized tests, besides being the most cost-efficient way to evaluate the educational system, are necessary to keep track of each student’s progress as well as to hold schools and teachers accountable for each student’s progress. Stakeholders in this side of the debate, such as the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), believe that standardized tests are the best way to objectively evaluate the educational system and know what changes to make in order to achieve high education standards, all at at relatively low cost. Stakeholders in this side believe that the NCLB act permits an unbiased assessment of each student which can be used to obtain an accurate picture of the whole educational system.
On the other hand, FairTest and other opponents of the NCLB act believe that the rigorous administration of state-mandated tests harm the overall quality of the education system. Stakeholders on this side believe that the high stakes attached to these exams compromise values such as individuality and equity. For them, the approach suggested by the current law fails to acknowledge that strengths and weaknesses between students can vary, and therefore evaluating students through a uniform scope produces a confounded result that prevents an overall significant improvement in education. As a result of this, opponents of the NCLB act believe that a new method to evaluate the educational system must be developed in order to provide students with the tools necessary to succeed in postsecondary education and career.
Both sides of this argument have other stakeholders. Many conservatives and supporters of the Common Core Standards support the NCLB act. They believe that standardized tests are efficient and necessary to accurately evaluate the educational system and to promote values such as accountability and cost-efficiency. Stakeholders in this side include organizations such as Achieve and supporters of the Common Core Standards. These stakeholders work together with business leaders to develop a curriculum that is supposed to reflect the necessities of the job market, and persuade public schools to adopt this set of courses. Other stakeholders, such as the Educational Testing Services (ETS), work to develop tests that evaluate a student’s knowledge on the curriculum developed by Achieve or the Common Core Standards. On the other side of the discussion, opponents of the policy are composed mainly of liberals and organizations such as FairTest and the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD). These stakeholders believe that standardized tests inaccurately evaluate students with a diverse spectrum of strengths and weakness, and thus compromising individuality. Furthermore, these stakeholders believe that as a result of the NCLB act, schools and teachers are being misevaluated and that this is preventing correct reforms from being made. C. Definitions
Both sides provide strong arguments and evidence to back them up. To understand this controversy and develop an opinion on it, the explicit definition of some terms is necessary. These terms are: standardized tests, adequate yearly progress, Common Core Standards, and value-added teaching. Standardized tests are state-mandated exams administered in public schools to evaluate students, professors, and schools. The goal of standardized testing is to raise education standards by requiring students in public schools to learn and be tested on a specific curriculum designated by an external state or district entity. Some of the most common standardize tests are the Stanford Achievement Test and the National Assessment of Education Progress (Hamilton 1). The role of standardized tests on education expanded on 2002, when the NCLB act became law, obligating all public schools to test at least 95% of their students and assess an Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP).
The AYP is a method used to measure the progress of students throughout k-12 through the use of standardized tests. The results of the tests and calculation of the AYP is also used to hold teachers and schools accountable for the learning progress of their students. If a school fails to meet its AYP, it is subject to sanctions administered by the federal government. These sanctions become successively harsher with every year that the AYP is not met, facing the possibility of ending in school closure. In contrast, when public schools achieve successful progress, they are rewarded with more financial aid and federal benefits (Hamilton, 1).
The next term, Common Core Standards, refers to a governmental initiative that tries to focus the state-curriculum of public schools on specific subjects such as reading, math, and science. Developed by state or district entities with the consultation of top businesses executives, these standards are supposed to train students in basic skills needed to achieve a good performance in college and in their career. These standards are crucial to create a core curriculum with which states have the flexibility to develop similar exams across the country. So far, forty five states have adopted these standards and are framing the content of their states based on them (Common Core).
The last term, value-added teaching, refers to the way a particular professor is evaluated through the contribution they make to the learning of his or her students. This evaluation has a direct correlation with the scores achieved by the students of that specific professor. The value-added of each professor can be high or low depending on how well his or her students perform on the test (David). D. Limits
For reasons of space and relevance, this paper will not examine the related topics of testing outside of the US, private schools, college education, nor any test in particular. Although related, other countries have developed different approaches to test-taking with different results. Furthermore, tests in each country are designed based on the model needed for their own economy, which might be different from the one in the US. Private schools are not affected by the NCLB act and do not receive any federal money, thus become irrelevant on the controversy whether the act should be removed or not. Standardized testing in college education will not be addressed either because the tests with highest stakes for students and faculty are administered during k-12. Finally, since every state develops its own tests (however similar to others), this paper will not focus on any on specific but rather give an overview of how the tests are formulated and administered in a standard fashion.

History
During the 19th century, population in the US experienced fast population growth and density, which created a new obstacle in the ability for schools to provide mass education. According to census statistics, enrollment in public schools increased from 6.8 million students in 1870 to 15.5 million students by 1900. By the end of the 19th century, almost 80 percent of the nation’s children were enrolled in some kind of academic institution, and the amount of money that the government was spending in education had risen from nearly $25 million in 1860 to $215 million in 1900 (Princeton). These shifts in education was reflected in an increased burden on taxpayers, who started to demand evidence that the money was being spent wisely. The growing student population required the educational system to make reforms targeting cost-efficiency. One of the new, revolutionary ideas on efficiency was the development of standardized tests.
The first person to administer standardized tests was Horace Mann at the end of the 19th century. Horace Mann was an American education reformist from Massachusetts who designed standardized tests to measure students’ knowledge on a giving subject. At this point, the score of the student was not meant to have serious consequences, but rather letting the instructor know if the student met the requirements to proceed to the next level of academic difficulty or not (Holmes 3). In 1901, the “College Entrance Examination Board” was created. This board was created by a team of U.S. colleges who developed the first standardized admission test, called “College Boards”. Later, during World War I, standardized tests were introduced in the army with tests known as army Alpha and Beta being administered to soldiers (PBS). During this period, it was common practice to evaluate servicemen and match each individual to a particular environment, and thus standardized tests served as an efficient method to obtain these results. At this point, standardized testing was generally regarded as beneficial and necessary to rapidly evaluate individuals and doing it in a relatively cost-efficient way.
The first academic standardized test that received mass recognition and that was adopted by a significant number of colleges was the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT). Developed in 1926, this test originally consisted of 315 questions on the matters of vocabulary, arithmetic, introducing “fill-in-the-blank” analogies, logical interference, and reading. By 1930, the popularity of the test grew and its form was shaped to the one we are familiar with today. This test narrowed the school’s curriculum with the purpose of emphasizing the “important” information that was being taught in school. The test was divided into two sections, verbal and math. The maximum achievable score of each section was 800; 1600 when combined to get the final result. At this point, one of the problems presented by standardized testing was that grading had to still be done by humans, and therefore was still relatively expensive. However, that changed drastically when in 1936 the first scoring computer, the IBM 805, was introduced to automatically scan results (“A Guide to Standardized Testing”). Consequently, both the cost of grading and the time it took to grade a test were significantly reduced, making standardized testing the most cost-efficient way to evaluate a particular individual. During the years following the introduction of the IBM 805, the popularity of the SAT grew to the point that in the 1940s it became a standard rite for high school seniors to take the test (Lawrence, Rigol, Essen, Jackson 2). At this point, enough universities accepted the scores as a method to evaluate the opportunity of success of each student and make a decision on whether accept the student or not. In 2005, the test was again modified, taking away analogies and adding a writing section, worth an extra 800 points.
The American College Testing (ACT) was another standardized test that was created and regularly administered in public schools. Similarly to the SAT, the ACT was developed to objectively evaluate students in a cost-effective way. This test was developed in 1959 by Everett Franklin Lindquist, an education professor at the University of Iowa. Supporters of the ACT believed that the ACT failed to evaluate students in other topics, especially scientific ones. As a consequence, the ACT exam was composed of a verbal and math section together with a section designated to evaluate the student’s knowledge on scientific topics and principles. Students receive a score that vary between 0 and 36, depending on their performance on the test (ACT).
After WWII, the US Federal government expanded its role on education. Laws such as the Lanham Act in 1941 and the Impact Aid laws of 1950 injected money in the educational system making payments to specific school districts that were mostly affected by the war. In 1944, the “GI Bill” allowed WWII veterans to receive post-secondary education (“The GI BILL’s History”). In the midst of the Cold War, Congress passed the National Defense Education Act of 1958, in response to the Soviet launch of Sputnik. The purpose of this act was to ensure that the US would be producing a workforce competent enough to compete with the technological and scientific advances of the Soviet Union. The act called for standardized tests to be used to evaluate the results being obtained by students and this way correctly framing the quality of education of the country and what reforms should be done. As a consequence of this law, the subjects of math and reading were improved in elementary and secondary schools, together with foreign language instruction and vocational-technical training (“The Federal Role in Education”).
In 1965, former president Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Elementary and Secondary Education act (ESEA), encompassing a wide range of programs which included a more prominent use of standardized tests. This bill emphasizes equal access to education and establishes high standards and accountability. The core of the ESEA is Title I, which targets federal resources toward higher-poverty schools (“ESEA Reauthorization/ NCLB”). To fulfill its expectations, this bill proposed several methods to improve the quality of education. First, it requires teacher preparation and accountability systems to be aligned with challenging State standards so that schools, students, and parents can measure the progress of each student. It also worked to meet the educational needs of disadvantaged children by closing the achievement gap between high- and low-performing children, especially the gap between minority, non-minority, and disadvantaged students. Furthermore, this law incorporated the idea that schools should be held responsible of achieving an adequate yearly progress (AYP). This new method used the scores obtained by students of a particular school to evaluate the overall quality of the school and hold the school responsible of achieving a designated AYP. The bill also provided schools and teachers with a greater authority and flexibility in exchange for a greater responsibility for student performance (Title I ESEA). In April, 1983, the United States Department of Education issued a report called “A Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Educational Reform.” This purpose of this report was to create awareness of the fact that the quality of education of the U.S. was not as internationally competitive as it used to be. It also tried to generate a reform of the educational system and renew the commitment of the government to schools through the development of high standards (“A Nation at Risk”). This report catapulted the issue of education onto the national agenda, making most schools adopt stricter academic standards. In 1994, the Improving America’s Schools Act (IASA) began to analyze student scores but schools suffer no consequences from those examinations, even is schools were performing poorly (Holmes 4).
In 2001, the ESEA was reauthorized by President Bush. Known now as the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), this law expands the role of the federal government even more than its predecessor, the ESEA. For the fiscal year of 2002, the amount of money used as grants for public education exceeded the $13 billion; by 2007, that number nearly doubled. Although not restricted to k-12 education, the budget press release for 2014 fiscal year allocate up to $71 billion in the Department of Education (“A Guide to Education and NCLB”). As it was the case with the ESEA, the NCLB act seeks to raise achievement for all students in the entire socioeconomic spectrum of society. This is done through research-based instruction, accountability, and options for parents.

A new law called the American Recovery and Reinvestment act was put in motion by president Obama on February, 2009. This law was designated to stimulate economy, create more jobs, and inject money in critical sectors such as education. A section of this law includes a $4.35 billion competitive grant to reward and encourage states to improve the educational environment and enhance student performance. This fund is called the Race to the Top Fund (“Race to the Top Program Executive Summary”). As it is the case with the ESEA and the NCLB acts, the Race to the Top Fund is designated to achieve significant gains in student achievement, close achievement gaps, improve high school graduation rates, and making sure that students are well prepared for post-secondary education. Once again, standardized testing plays a big role in this law. To meet the criteria necessary to compete for the resources of the Fund, States need to develop and adopt common standards built towards college and career readiness. These standards are evaluated through the administration of standardized tests, and reward distribution would be directly related to the State’s improvement on education (“Race to the Top Program Executive Summary”).
Currently, there is a wider spectrum of standardized tests being administered to public school students. New tests apply to a diverse compilation of subjects. The SAT II, for example, was designed to test knowledge from subjects ranging from biology to geography. The Advance Placement examinations (AP) have become very popular among students that want to opt out of first year college requirements. Another big k-12 test is the PSAT, which is taken by junior students in high school to prepare both emotionally and intellectually. III. In-Depth Presentation of Side A’s Values, Arguments and Supporting Evidence:

Now that the history of the controversy has been discussed, this paper will provide a deeper insight on the issues and arguments that both sides hold in this controversy, starting with supporters of the NCLB act. Many conservatives, supporters of the Common Standards Core, and organizations such as Achieve, believe that the current policy is the most adequate one to improve the educational achievement of the US youth over time. Entities on this side believe in values such as fairness and cost-efficiency. They argue that standardized tests benefits surpasses its shortcomings, and that their use can be extended from evaluating students to evaluating professors and even schools as a whole. One think tank in specific, Achieve, has actively been putting in motion various projects that use standardization as a core principle. An example of this is the American Diploma Project (ADP), which has been adopted by 85 percent of public schools in the US and its main goal is to close the achievement gap in education by aligning high school standards and assessments with the with the skills required to be proficient at post-secondary education or career, according to developers of the project (Achieve). These types of projects believe that tests must be equal to ensure that the evaluation is objective and fair. Another important issue that this side talks about is cost. Most standardized tests used in elementary and high school are designed and graded by a commercial test making firm, such as the Educational Testing Service (ETS). These firms develop their tests using standards developed by states and often hire experts from one another to ensure that different tests make provide homogeneous evaluations. By making use of a scoring machine, scores can be obtained at a remarkably fast pace and at a relatively low cost, which comes to play an important role in the light of economic budgeting, especially in a struggling economy like the one that the U.S. has had in the last couple of years.
The first argument that supporters of the NCLB act make is that this policy helps to regulate the overall performance of the educational system. Stakeholders on this side believe that the use of standardized tests provide a solid, objective base to evaluate not only students, but also teachers and schools (ETS). Under the current policy, each school targets an Adequate Yearly Progress, or AYP, which assigns consequences for students, teachers, and schools on the basis of student tests scores. The AYP is the most important way to measure if a public school or school district is making an annual progress towards the achievement goals set by the state. This data is collected annually and compared to other schools as well as with the same school at another point in time reputation (Hamilton). Based on the results of the tests and the expected AYP of the school, the federal government rewards or punish the school. Failure to meet these expectations leads to successively stricter sanctions for schools, including ultimately reconstitution; whereas success may lead to financial rewards as well as an improvement in the school’s reputation (Hamilton). States develop a set of standards to measure the AYP of each school in the areas of reading/language arts, mathematics, and graduation rates. By uniformly evaluating the performance of students in these areas over time, the data collected by states provide clear and objective results that can be used to hold schools and teachers accountable for the progress of its students, according to supporters of the law. Over the last years, schools have been struggling to meet AYP, most of them failing to do it so. According to statistics revealed by the Department of Education, in 2012 nearly half of the public schools in the country where meeting AYP, which shows an improvement from previous years (2012 final ayp). Furthermore, a study conducted in Wyoming revealed that 92 percent of schools in that state were achieving the academic standards set by the government (Wyoming). Another research also found out that NCLB generated statistically significant increases in the average math performance of 4th graders when compared to the evaluation of them in schools before the law was passed (Dee). Lastly, recent comparison of state tests and NAEP tests show both a positive change in test scores in reading and math in previous years (Scout, Elliot). Another argument that supporters of the NCLB act state is that standardized tests focus learning on the necessary skills any student must have in order to achieve a successful life in today’s modern world. The Common Core State Standards, a US education initiative sponsored by the National Governors Association (NGA), seeks to provide a clear understanding of what the student is expected to know. Supporters of this initiative argue that these standards are designed to be relevant to the real world, making a strong emphasis on the knowledge and skills that students must have by the end of high school to be successful in college and/or career (Common Core). To ensure the usefulness of these standards, their content has to: be aligned with college and work expectations; include knowledge and its application through high-order skills; it has to be informed by top-performing countries; and it has to be research-based (Common Core). As of today, 45 states have adopted these standards. Similarly, the American Diploma Project (ADP) seeks to improve postsecondary preparation by aligning high school standards, setting graduation requirements and setting an accountability system directly influenced by the demands and requirements of college and careers (“The ADP Network”). To know what skills should education focus on, stakeholders in charge of developing these standards work together not only with state education officials, but also with postsecondary leaders and business executives who can provide their insight on the abilities they believe are most important for students to succeed in college or careers. Over 70 top business leaders, including the former CEO of Intel Corporation, Craig Barrett, have claimed their support for the standards developed by the Common Core (Common Core). Furthermore, over 70 national business organizations formed a group called the “Business Coalition for Excellence in Education”. This group uses the knowledge of business experts to support the effective principles of the NCLB. These experts argue that the math and science being tested in k-12 is absolutely necessary to succeed in most of the careers that play an important role in current society and in the society of the foreseeable future. These experts are also in the forefront of the business world, and thus are familiar with the skills needed to achieve succeed in competive industries (Business Coalition for Excellence in Education) To make sense of the collection of the data, besides reporting their AYP on student bodies as a whole, schools need to show the AYP in different subgroups: economically disadvantaged; special education; English language learners; and students from major racial/ethnic groups (“NCLB Action Briefs”). According to supporters of the NCLB act, analyzing data by subgroup allows the public and officials to make an objective measurement of progress and diminish any cultural bias that may arise from standardized testing.
A final argument that supporters of the NCLB act make is that standardized tests are the most cost-efficient way to evaluate the educational system. According to stakeholders on this side, the NCLB allows the government to have a low-cost and highly efficient system to hold schools and teachers accountables of students’ progress. According to a study conducted by Caroline M. Hoxby, from the National Bureau of Economic Research, a proficient accountability system must have a combination of standardized tests, standards against which the test results can be combined, and report cards where the information is made public to parents and policy makers (Hoxby). To measure the cost of a good accountability system, this paper examines both the amount spent by the government, and the revenue of companies making and grading standardized tests. According to the Association of American Publishers, the revenues associated with accountability systems was $234.1 million for the year 2000, which comes out to be around $4.96 per student (Nesvisky). Hoxby calculates that even when the cost of the National Assessment of Education Progress (the only important test not produced by a commercial test publisher) is added, the cost of testing students through k-12 is less than 1 percent of the amount of money spent in elementary and secondary education, which turns out to be over $8,000 per student per year. Since other types of testing would require evaluation through human labor, the fact that standardized tests are rapidly scored by a machine makes the cost of doing it drastically drop. As a result of this, supporters of standardized testing argue that the costs of the tests are so cheap that virtually any other educational reform would fall short when analyzed through a scope of cost-benefit.
Based on these arguments, supporters of the NCLB act have designed a plan to push the law forward. The most important action being taken right now is the Race to the Top Fund, which is a premise of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA). The purpose of this act is to stimulate economy, create jobs, and invest in critical sectors, education being one of them (“Race to the Top Executive Summary”). The Race to the Top Fund is a $4.35 billion competitive grant designed to encourage States to achieve their maximum potential (US Department of Education). This fund will be given to schools showing an improvement in their AYP, as well as closing achievement gaps, improving high school graduation rates, and ensuring student’s college and career readiness. Furthermore, policy-makers supporting the use of standardized tests have made public their relationship with business organizations such as the Business Coalition for Excellence in Education to promote public support by developing the standards based on the skills that current businesses need today.
III. In-Depth Presentation of Side B’s Values, Arguments and Supporting Evidence:
Opponents of the NCLB act have also articulated many arguments of why should the law be repealed, and what type of reform in education is needed to achieve higher standards. Stakeholders on this side include FairTest, the National Education Association, and the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. These stakeholders believe that standardized tests are harmful to our education system, especially when it comes to evaluating students. Opponents of the current policy believe that the overall performance and knowledge of a student can’t be solely determined by a standardized test. These stakeholders promote values such as individuality, arguing that a solely test massively administered to the student body is not a fair way to measure a particular student’s performance and/or intelligence. Furthermore, they also promote the value of fairness, explaining that the current system is socio-economically bias, disfavoring minorities such as students with learning disabilities or English-language learners. Stakeholders on this side tend to be more liberal, supporting the minorities rather than commercial businesses (such as the ones publishing standardized tests).
The first argument stakeholders make is that standardized tests provide inaccurate feedback on teacher’s evaluations and thus the concept “good teaching” might be imprecise. The NCLB act holds teachers accountable for students’ progress on “Value-added” evaluation method. Making use of this method, a teacher has “high-value added” if his or her students do well on the test, or “low-value added” if they perform poorly. Opponents of the policy believe that Value-Added measures are confounded because they are subject to change because of a student’s socio-economic background or other variables, and thus evaluating a teacher based on the test result might be imprecise (Corcoran 4). Furthermore, a study conducted by the National Research Council in 2011 shows that relying too much in the scores of the tests is likely to reduce emphasis on the outcomes that are not measured by the test (Stout, Elliot). That report shows that 44% of school districts have drastically reduced the time spent on subjects that are not standardized tested, such as science, art, and social studies According to stakeholders on this side, the current system encourages teachers to focus on making his or her students do well on the test instead of developing fundamental and higher order abilities as well as providing tools for complex assignments (“How Standardized Testing Damages Education”). Stakeholders on this side refer to this occurrence as “teaching the test”. Another research conducted in Houston in 1998 by the Education Policy for Acting Series shows how evaluating teachers through students’ scores can be misleading. In this study, the same group of students were tested in two different but equivalent state-tests: the TAKS, which is developed by the state of Texas, and the Stanford Achievement Test, used nationally. The research showed some inconsistencies on the findings; for example, many teachers who ranked in the top category on the TAKS reading test, ranked in the lowest two categories of the Stanford Test (Corcoran 17).
Another argument developed by stakeholders on this side is that standardized testing is drastically narrowing the curriculum and failing to recognize that a particular student’s strengths might be located outside of the curriculum being tested. A 2009 study conducted by the Center on Education Policy conducted case studies of 12 public schools in Rhode Island and Illinois to examine the impact of NCLB on curriculum, instructions, and student achievement. The results of the study showed an increase of 43% and 54% on time spent in the subjects of math and reading, respectively. The study also shows that most districts that increased their time spent on this subjects reported substantial cuts in time for subjects like art, music, science, and social studies (Center on Education Policy, 2009). According to Sir Ken Robinson, the pervasive use of standardized testing and the high-stakes attached to them can marginalize most of the things some students consider important about themselves. He argues that all students are different, and that judging them through a standardized system brings as a consequence that “many brilliant people think they are not” (“How School Kills Creativity”). Stakeholders supporting this view, like FairTest, believe that students should be evaluated and organized according to their abilities, this way they can excel in the areas they are better at, while improving their areas of weaknesses without feeling less smart than other students.
Another argument that opponents of the NCLB act state is that standardized testing is subject of socio-economical bias. The “achievement gap” in education refers to the differences of academic accomplishments between groups of students. Standardized test give a good account of the overall performance of a certain school on the particular content being tested. Although closing achievement gaps was a priority when the NCLB law passed, research conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics has suggested that the achievement gap has not necessarily decreased. According to a study they conducted in 2011, African-American and Hispanic students scored an average of 20-points lower than their white peers (NCES, 2011). Another study conducted by Sean Reardon from Stanford University in 2011 shows that the achievement gap between children from high- and low-income family is up to 40 percent larger than what it was 10 years ago; and nearly twice as large as the black-white achievement (Reardon 1). Stakeholders on this side of the argue that this type of bias help perpetuate the vicious circle of poverty by not allowing minorities to get the same opportunities that others have. They argue that poor people perform badly in school because they are not getting the right education, and that their poor performance leads to an unsuccessful postsecondary education and career, restraining them from overcoming their poverty.
To promote their values and repeal the NCLB act, opponents of the law have formed several organizations and lobbyist such as FairTest and the National Education Association. The American Federation of Teachers (AFT) encourages a change in the use of standardized testing and believe that the these should be complemented with the use of performance-based tests. The AFT also believe that the current AYP formula fails to accurately measure the progress make and needs to be revised (“Eight Misconceptions about the NCLB”). Other methods that stakeholders on this side are putting in motion are good observational checklists used by teachers and assessments based on student performance on real learning tasks. These organizations are continuously lobbying the government, creating rallies to promote awareness, and actively conducting research to show that the NCLB act is not working as planned.
Critical Analysis

Now that the arguments used by proponents and opponents of the No Child Left Behind have been explained, this paper will examine in depth each argument with the purpose of weighting the strengths and weaknesses each one has. Proponents of the law argue that the current policy allows efficient regulation of the educational system, creating a benchmark that schools, teachers, and students must achieve. On the other hand, opponents of the NCLB act argue that this evaluation method has adverse consequences in the educational system and that ultimately leads to academically weaker post-secondary individuals. They believe that the evaluation of students through standardized tests fail to assess some students’ strengths and weaknesses. Moreover, they argue that the evaluating teachers and schools through the scores that students obtain on certain state-mandated tests can lead to an inaccurate representation of the overall quality of the educational system because some important variables, such as competence in subjects like art and science, as well as critical thinking analysis, are not being tested. Besides being inaccurate, opponents of the law also point out that one of the primary goals that the NCLB act set was that by the academic year of 2013-2014, all students must have reached high standards or at a minimum attained proficiency in reading and mathematics. A report published by the Center on Education Policy shows that in the academic year of 2010-11, nearly half of the nation’s public schools did not make AYP in 2011 (CEP); the year before that same number was in 39 percent, making the percentage of 2011 the highest one yet since the bill passed.
According to opponents of the law, these statistics are evidence that the approach that the US has towards education has not lived up to the expectations set when the law was passed in 2001, and that in fact, the quality of education has been deteriorating over time, as it is shown by the PISA report that ranks the US number 17 in education. Failure to meet the goals set by NCLB has risen skepticism among the US society, making some people doubt the efficacy of the current law. Opponents of the law believe that evaluating schools and teachers through scores provides confounded results. They argue that schools should not be evaluated solely on the basis of the scores students get on a specific test since other factors, like the schools’ budget to afford well-prepared teachers, play an important role in understanding the outcomes of studies like the one previously discussed. Opponents also believe that student’s scores are not a reliable way to evaluate professors. Studies have shown that the quality of teachers have improved when they are evaluated through the value-added method, in which the evaluation of the professor is directly related to the scores that his or her students obtain on the standardized test. However, opponents of the law refute this argument by saying that this evaluation is confounded and directly influenced by other factors such as a student socio-economical background. For example, a study published by the American Educational Research Journal shows that 63 percent of African Americans students and 66 percent of Hispanic students did not meet AYP in 2007 (Balfanz, et al). Furthermore, a study conducted by the National Research Council in 2011 shows that this method of evaluation encourages instructors to emphasize too much on “teaching the test” because of the fear of being terminated in the case that his or her students fail to meet the school’s expectations. Because of all the evidence supporting these claims, opponents of the law make a more compelling case in this argument, whose evidence is much weaker than the one opponents present.

Another argument that proponents of the law make is that teaching for standardized tests focus on the necessary skills any student must have in order to achieve a successful life in today’s modern world. In contrast to this, opponents of the law believe that the pervasive use of standardized tests with high stakes is drastically narrowing the curriculum and many children are being ostracized from their real strengths. The Center on Education Policy conducted a research that shows that public schools are drastically increasing the time spent in the subjects of math and reading and decreasing the time spent in subject like art, music, science, and social studies. When doing so, scholars like Ken Robinson argue that many students might feel marginalized from the things they consider important about themselves. According to opponents, it is impossible to believe that every student has the same strengths as his or her peers; however, this should not categorize the student as an underachiever. The high stakes attached to the tests might prevent some students to receive good post-secondary education for not performing well in the subjects of math and reading. However, those students might excel in other subjects such as science or social studies, however, these areas are undermined during K-12, and many students might feel that they are not as smart as their peers. Furthermore, although many CEOs have expressed their interest for a curriculum with strong emphasis in math and reading, the last decade has shown a growth in jobs requiring a diverse set of skills. Many careers in modern society require skills other than math and reading, like understanding other people’s culture in today’s globalized world, a skill that can be develop through social studies. Opponents of the law believe that not all children are able to proficiently learn what proponents of the law call “necessary skills”, and that the best way to maximize the potential of each student is to adapt the school to the student, not the other way around. A final argument that proponents of the NCLB act make is that standardized tests are the most cost-efficient way to evaluate the educational system. According to a study conducted by the National Bureau of Economic Research, the cost of evaluating standardized tests through K-12 is less than 1 percent of the cost of the tuition of each student. This is a result of the use of machines to obtain tests results. In the solution proposed by opponents of the law, human labor must be used to evaluate student through assessment tests, which result in higher costs. The strength of this argument increases in the light of the current economic situation of the US. Substituting standardized tests for more expensive assessment tests require more money to be invested education, which implies less money to other sectors of the government that also are in need of funding. In this case, proponents of the law make a stronger point than opponents because of the huge difference between the cost of scoring standardized tests and scoring personalized tests.

Moral Reasoning

Side A
To evaluate the controversy over the No Child Left Behind Act, this paper will now analyze the moral reasoning driving each side of the controversy, examining the values, obligations, and consequences each side has, as well as the normative principles that guide their actions. Stakeholders in favor of the NCLB act, like the National Association of Education Progress, pursue the values of objectivity, cost-efficiency, and education. Their primary obligation is to the American society: to ensure that the US is producing a workforce competitive enough to make front to other industrialized countries across the world. This is an informal obligation, since the main goals of stakeholders favoring the law is to improve education standards, not explicitly referring to the workforce of future generations. Nevertheless, the purpose of providing children with meaningful and useful education is ultimately having a well-educated young generation that will carry the future of the US and improve virtually every aspect of the country. Stakeholders agree that a good education results in better performance at jobs; individuals capable of making intelligent decisions; creative and innovative ideas; and tools to achieve cultural, economic, and social success. Furthermore, as mentioned at the beginning of this paper, education has an indirect relation with many social problems currently affecting the US society, like poverty. If poor children had equal access to quality education as their white equivalents, they could then be able to obtain jobs that need higher skills and are better paid. This way, children of poor families could break the poverty cycle, where they are born in a family with scarce opportunities and grow up in an environment that fails to provide them with the tools necessary to overcome that life. Also, stakeholders on this side have an obligation towards taxpayers. They refer to the importance of spending money wisely and saving money whenever possible, and thus they believe that standardized tests are the best way to use a part of the money assigned to education.
In addition to these obligations, stakeholders in favor of the law also other have values that underline their arguments. Since the purpose of the NCLB act is to enhance education standards in every socio-economical group of society through the administration of standardized test, proponents of the law believe in fairness. According to stakeholders such as the supporters of the Common Core Standards, by making a standardized curriculum and testing students on a standardized manner, the educational system eliminates any form of bias that might arise from subjective evaluation. They believe that it is fair that for all students to be tested on the same curriculum. Standardized testing allows an unbiased recognition of each particular student’s success or failure by being tested over the same curriculum across every state and social class. This way every student is treated equally and the education system can loosen the effect of social promotion, which happens when a student is promoted from one grade to another even if he or she doesn’t meet the criteria necessary to move to the next grade.
A final value that drives the actions of stakeholders favoring the law is cost-efficiency. Standardized test are relatively cheap when compared to the cost of evaluating students in a non-standard manner. The federal government spends less than one dollar per student when testing them through standardized tests. That is because scoring machines are able to evaluate tests on a massive scale and at way faster rate that humans can. It is the job of the government to administer the tax-money correctly. The US is barely coming out of a deep economic crisis, and at this point in time is important to invest in many other sectors besides education, but without compromising the quality the overall of it. Stakeholders on this side believe standardized tests do exactly that, provide an accurate evaluation of the educational system at a low cost.
Because of their obligations and values, stakeholders on the pro side of the law seek an outcome that could have positive and negative ramifications: the successful administration of standardized tests can result in an environment filled with equal educational opportunities for every child in the US and an economical relief for the federal government. They seek to see the achievement gap reduced and to form post-secondary students with the necessary skills to succeed in college and careers. Organizations such as Achieve pursue these values by persuading states to adopt common standards and working together with other organizations such as ETS to develop significant standardized tests incorporating the curriculum they regard as necessary to be successful.
Two normative principles that apply to stakeholders in favor of the NCLB act are the principle of equality and the principle of rule utilitarianism. The first one, the principle of equality states that each person is entitled to treatment as an equal, to be shown the respect and concern of which any moral being is worthy. This principle supports the current policy since every student is tested on the same subjects and with the same degree of difficulty. The unbiased evaluation of students ensures that a student’s success will be recognize, and that if a student fails to meet an appropriate score he or she would not be promoted as their peers that achieve the appropriate score will. The other principle, the principle of rule utilitarianism states that a rule is morally right if it produces the greatest amount of good for the greatest amount of people over a long term if the rule is applied consistently over time. This supports the NCLB policy not only when considering the desired improvement in education but also the cost efficiency.

Side B
On the other side of the debate, opponents of the law also convey some values that guide their actions and philosophy towards the issue over NCLB. They value education and fairness. As it is the case with stakeholders in favor of the law, opponents of the law believe that education standards must be improved and that the achievement gap between rich and poor must be close. However, they differ in the way that this should be achieved. For opponents of the law, standardized testing compromises the quality of education of the US by neglecting the notion that students have different abilities that should be exploited to attain their maximum potential. They believe that teaching every student the exact same curriculum, specifically over reading and mathematics, can lead to the marginalization of the things that students consider important about themselves, resulting in an overall mediocrity that ultimately decline the quality of education in the US. Stakeholders on this side also believe in the value of equity, which is different from equality. In this context, equality means that every student is evaluated through equal standards and an equal curriculum. However, opponents of the law believe that this type of equality is not necessarily fair because many people are more disadvantaged than others. That is why stakeholders on this side believe in equity, which is giving everyone the same quality of outcome. That means that education should adapt to the context of each student, not only bein standardized.
The primary obligation of stakeholders on this side, such as FairTest, is to students. Standardized tests fail to account for students’ abilities other than mathematics or reading; abilities that have shown to have growing importance in post-secondary education and career, for example graphic design or advertising. These stakeholders believe that each student is different and we should value that and exploit their creativity, not only teaching them to do well on a test with subjects they don’t identify with. Opponents of the law believe that recognizing what each student has to offer is the best way not only to improve education standards, but to create a diverse, happier society where people actually perform well in jobs they like, which leads to a secondary obligation: society. Organizations such as the Association for Supervision and Curriculum development have expressed their concern for the betterment of society as an informal obligation. They believe that the best way to achieve maximum results from students is to pay attention to student’s weaknesses and strengths, so that steps can be taken to improve their shortcomings and exploit their abilities. Opponents of the law also show an obligation to minorities and disadvantaged people. The achievement gap between rich and poor has increased over the last decade, and opponents of the law believe that not enough actions are being taken to ensure that minorities get the same opportunities that people with more resources get.
Because of the values and the people they feel obligated to, opponents of the law see two possible outcomes at the resolution of this issue. If the current law keeps being implemented or even reinforced by the new Race to the Top Fund, education standards will continue to decrease as the record has shown so far. They believe that schools are too focused in teaching students a narrow curriculum that was conceived in a different socio-economical context than the one we are leaving today. In today’s diverse and interconnected world, many other skills are being required for a diverse spectrum of jobs. Jobs in modern society required a different set of skill than those needed five decades ago, and these skills are not being emphasized enough in k-12 public schools. The implementation of the current system results in underachievers that do not feel identified with the information they are learning, and thus not paying the attention or effort necessary to be good students. The second outcome that opponents of the law seek to see is that the education systems focuses on students’ strengths and weaknesses and improve both of them. They seek to see a future society with a more competitive workforce where people are not only working and studying, but also happier and more involved in what they do. They also seek to reduce the achievement gap and to provide minorities with the tools necessary to achieve the quality of life than their white counterpart have.
Two normative principles that apply to stakeholders opposing the NCLB act are the principle of human well-being and John Rawl’s principle of distributive justice. The principle of human well-being states that each person is entitled to an opportunity to attain a standard of living consistent with human dignity. Poverty might compromise dignity in cases where a person can’t afford to buy enough food or to pay the rent for an apartment, and, as this paper explained before, poverty is indirectly influenced by education. Opponents of NCLB believe that minorities don’t have access to the quality of education needed to break the poverty cycle, and thus they are not able to fulfill their life in a way that could arguably be more dignifying that the life they currently live. The other principle, the principle of distributive justice, states that basic goods should be distributed so that society’s least advantaged members benefit as much as possible. This means that society should not give everyone the same outcomes, but should analyze the context surrounding each social and economic class and make the adjustments necessaries for every person to receive the same quality of outcomes. This requires paying special attention to the people with lower resources in order to avoid injustices and bias.
After analyzing the arguments, values, and obligations of each side, and weighing the strengths and weaknesses of each, I have come up with a solution for this problem. I believe that the importance that standardized tests currently have on education is way too imperative, and the overall result of the NCLB has not been favorable to supporters of the law neither children in public schools. Nevertheless, I acknowledge that standardized tests might be useful for some factors, such as saving money and quickly obtaining insight on student’s abilities, at least in mathematics and reading. I believe that standardized tests should be complemented with performance assessment tests, in where a more qualitative and in depth analysis of each particular student can be made. I also believe that students should be organized on a basis of strengths and weaknesses, and that the education given to them should be molded according to their needs. I also believe that the role teachers play is deeply important, and that we should hold them accountable of their students’ progress. However, I believe that the “value-added” teaching method provides an inaccurate evaluation of them, and that the logistics of NCLB may influence teachers on making the students do well on the test, rather than influencing them to give valuable lessons that will stay on a student’s mind.
The evidence that NCLB is not working keeps piling up, making people more and more skeptic about the approach that the US has taken towards education. The US is currently ranked 17 in education, which is not nearly as competitive as other super powers like Russia and Japan. Furthermore, schools have failed to meet the standards required by NCLB. In 2001, when he law was passed, policy makers said that by 2014 all public schools would have achieved high standards. That promise has not been promised. According to a report issued by the National Research Council, nearly half of public schools failed to meet AYP.
I also believe that standardized tests provided a confounded evaluation of schools and teachers, and therefore a new method of evaluating teachers is necessary to make the appropriate adjustments and improve the educational system. A study conducted by the Education Policy for Acting Series supports the notion that the “valued-added” teaching method can be giving imprecise results. In this study, the same group of students were tested in two different but equivalent state-tests: the TAKS, which is developed by the state of Texas, and the Stanford Achievement Test, used nationally. The research showed some inconsistencies on the findings; for example, many teachers who ranked in the top category on the TAKS reading test, ranked in the lowest two categories of the Stanford Test (Corcoran 17). Because of this, I believe that teachers should be evaluated in a different way. I believe that scores should still be important, but that scores from standardized tests should be complemented with the scores obtained from other performance-assessment tests to get more insight on the quality of teaching of a specific professor.
Proponents of the current law would argue that if the approach I am proposing is taken, the cost of testing would increase. I agree with this premise. I interviewed Alexandra Shumway, an economist whose focus is on US education. In the interview, she defended standardized testing, arguing that it is impossible to employ more time and human labor grading and watch costs going down, and therefore standardized tests were a “lifejacket” in the current economic situation. However, I believe that the price of improving the quality of education is more valuable than the cost of grading exams. Although cheap, the current grading system is giving imprecise results that are ultimately causing an inferior quality of education that leads to many other social problems such as poverty and crime. In another interviewed I conducted, PhD researcher Heathe McNaughton told me that education needs to be enhanced, and that the current law has made the country drift away from high standards, which is opposed of what the NCLB act was trying to do. Dr. McNaughton also argues that the current system is not designed to treat each person as an individual, but treat them as products that are supposed to be equal one to another. My solution fits a more individual model. I believe in individuality, and because of this my solution states that education should adapt to the context of the student, not the other way around. I feel obligated to those students who are brilliant in subjects other than math and reading. I believe they should have the opportunity to excel in the things they love to do. I also believe that, as John Rawl’s principle of distributive justice states, basic goods should be distributed so that society’s least advantaged members benefit as much as possible. I feel obligated to minorities and underprivileged students, who don’t get the same quality of outcome than others do. I believe that society should analyze the context surrounding each social and economic class and make the adjustments necessaries to be fair to every student. Besides my two interviews, I also went to a public school to talk to parents about the law and what they thought about it. It surprised me that most of them didn’t know much about it. They knew that standardized tests were heavily used in k-12 public education and they also knew about AYP; however, they were not aware of the statistics that showed how the NCLB act was not being as efficient as the government said it was going to be. Furthermore, most of them were not even aware about the Race to the Top Fund, the new addition to the NCLB. This lack of knowledge made me think that to really approach the education problem the best way, more information should be given to people. I believe that opponents of the law might not be working enough on creating awareness, as so many people I asked were actually oblivious to this debate. When something as important as education is brought to the table, is the right and the duty of citizens to inform themselves and hold the government accountable of making the choices that will ultimately lead the nation to a brighter future.

Appendix A: Official Text of the Rule
Agency: U.S. Department of Education.
Action: No Child Left Behind act.
The purpose of this title is to ensure that all children have a fair, equal, and significant opportunity to obtain a high-quality education and reach, at a minimum, proficiency on challenging State academic achievement standards and state academic assessments. This purpose can be accomplished by —
(1) ensuring that high-quality academic assessments, accountability systems, teacher preparation and training, curriculum, and instructional materials are aligned with challenging State academic standards so that students, teachers, parents, and administrators can measure progress against common expectations for student academic achievement;
(2) meeting the educational needs of low-achieving children in our Nation's highest-poverty schools, limited English proficient children, migratory children, children with disabilities, Indian children, neglected or delinquent children, and young children in need of reading assistance;
(3) closing the achievement gap between high- and low-performing children, especially the achievement gaps between minority and nonminority students, and between disadvantaged children and their more advantaged peers;
(4) holding schools, local educational agencies, and States accountable for improving the academic achievement of all students, and identifying and turning around low-performing schools that have failed to provide a high-quality education to their students, while providing alternatives to students in such schools to enable the students to receive a high-quality education;
(5) Distributing and targeting resources sufficiently to make a difference to local educational agencies and schools where needs are greatest

Appendix B: Interview Questionnaire
Questions for Mrs. Alexandra Shumway: 1. Why do you support the policy?
It is a fact that the US is falling behind on the area of education. Being a country with our history of success, innovation, and power, poor education is a problem that needed to be addressed.
The first issue when trying to define what path to take, was to evaluate the education system. How do we know we are teaching the right lessons? How do we know if the quality of our teachers meets the standards needed to be educationally competitive against other nations like Japan and Russia?
No Child Left Behind allows us to do that exactly. The government works with top business leaders with exceptional skill and with knowledge of what the market is demanding to develop a set of skills that are necessary to succeed professionally. Furthermore, standardized tests allow the government to have a clear sense of what schools need to be improved by evaluating scores and teachers. 2. What benefits do you feel the policy has?
-It provides an objective overview of the education system
- It allows rapid and cost-efficient student evaluation
- It is an easy and reliable way to hold teachers and schools accountable 3. What do you think of the opponents’ claim that the policy focus on a too narrow curriculum?
I believe that argument is blown out of proportion. Almost every career in life benefits from good reading and writing skills. Advertisers, researchers, psychologists, they all need to be effective writers and readers. There is no college in this country that doesn’t stress the importance of writing a good essay. Furthermore, a big number of majors that involve a specialty are deeply connected to mathematics. A few of the are engineers, architects, doctors, web developers, and many more. I acknowledge that there are some other subjects that completely divert from math and reading, like art, but we can’t assigned the same quality of teaching as if more people are going make a living from playing music than from a career that needs writing, reading, and math skills.

4. What changes has NCLB brought to the education system?
Now we are able to hold schools and teachers accountable, which is something we haven’t been able to do in the past in an efficient manner.
We have also been able to save money from testing, as standardized tests have a relatively insignificant price when compared to other ways of evaluating students. We are also able to target areas that need improvement and work with those schools to make sure everyone ends up receiving the same quality of education. We are not there yet, but we are working our way up.

5. One component of Capstone is creating a feasible and “realistic” solution to the problem. Mine is to keep using standardized tests, but not relying solely in them. I believe that standardized tests should be complemented with assessment tests that examine the student skills of critical thinking as well as their strengths and weaknesses in other subjects such as social sciences and arts. What do you think of my solution and why?
I believe that your solution would be too expensive to implement. In an ideal world, yeah, it would be nice if we could exploit each person’s abilities, but in reality that would be extremely costly. You would have to reorganize the entire system and continuously adapt to young students that are I continuous maturation, and thus you don’t really know if what they like this year is what they are going to like nest year. I wanted to be a firefighter when I was 6, then a pilot when I was 7, then a doctor when I was 8. Now I am a lawyer.

6. What would both sides think of my compromise? Do you think they would agree with it?

I don’t think supporters of the law would agree with your solution. The other side would probably will. In fact, your solution is deeply similar to the solution proposed from stakeholders opposing the law, but the bottom line is that the solution you propose would be too expensive and wouldn’t necessarily solve the problem.

Questions for Dr. Heathe McNaughton: 1. Why do you disagree with NCLB?
For 10 years that the law has been in motion, the achievement gap between rich and poor has increased; the curriculum has been extremely narrowed; the country has lower its rank on education; children are bored in class, they don’t feel passionate about what they are learning and because they are not interested they don’t ay attention, and we call that an epidemic of attention deficit disorder. The bottom line is that NCLB has failed to meet its promises, and things are even worse now than what they were 10 years ago. The amount of money invested in education has exponentially grow and the standards are not getting any better.

2. What are some downfalls of the policy?
We are standardizing human beings. You cant expect everyone to be good at math and reading, yeah this are important skills, but we shouldn’t tell a student that he or she is a failure if they cant do well on a test. Even worse is to denying them access to a qualified post-secondary education because of that test. Some people are just bad at taking tests and that not necessarily means they don’t know the subject. Many teachers would agree with me when I say that the intelligence of many students that they have is not reflected on the grades they get on the test.

3. What do you think about the argument that proponents of the policy make saying that standardized tests are the most cost-efficient way to measure a student’s knowledge?
It is not efficient if it is not doing what it is supposed to.

4. What effect has the law had in the U.S. after 10 years in use?
Increased the achievement gap
Lowered even more the standards of education
IT has created a fictitious ADHD epidemic

5. One component of Capstone is creating a feasible and “realistic” solution to the problem. Mine is to keep using standardized tests, but not relying solely in them. I believe that standardized tests should be complemented with assessment tests that examine the student skills of critical thinking as well as their strengths and weaknesses in other subjects such as social sciences and arts. What do you think of my solution and why?
I agree with your solution. I also believe that teachers should play a more important role in evaluating their students, since they are the one that know them better. I believe that teachers should even go through certain training that allows them to obtain more and more accurate information about their students. 6. What would both sides think about my compromise? Do you think they’d agree with it?
I don’t think proponents of the law will like your solution. They will say is unfeasible and utopic. They will say that it is too expensive and subjective, especially because of the “relying too much on teachers” part.

Appendix C: Contact Info for Interviewees:
Alexandra Shumway
Education Lawyer
3111 Glenview Avenue. Austin, Tx.
Ashumw2@allemco.com
515-333-1597
Dr. Heathe McNaughton
Education Research Professor at UNC
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Hmcnaught8@unc.edu
515-426-9563

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