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Jonathan Plucker
Center for Evaluation and Education Policy

Tracy James
IU Media Relations

Last modified: Tuesday, July 5, 2005

No Child Left Behind

Indiana University report cites successes, needed improvements

JULY 5, 2005

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Indiana is doing well compared to many other states in complying with the federal No Child Left Behind Act, according to a new policy brief from the Center on Evaluation and Education Policy at Indiana University Bloomington. The controversial school reform program has significant flaws, however, that make it unlikely that any state, including Indiana, will meet the program's goals by 2014, said CEEP Director Jonathan Plucker.

The report, "No Child Left Behind, Spring 2005 Implementation Update," is the latest publication in the Education Policy Brief series produced by CEEP. In addition to a thorough review of the act's successes and challenges, the brief includes essays by state and national education leaders, such as Indiana special education advocate Amy Cook-Lurvey and Tom Houlihan, executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers, who offer their views. The brief can be seen at

NCLB has undeniable accomplishments, such as focusing attention on the education of students who in the past could have "fallen through the cracks." In Indiana, for example, the act has focused attention on students who have special needs or limited proficiency in English. Because of what Plucker described as "a very positive, bipartisan environment toward education," Indiana has tackled some tough implementation issues, such as annual statewide testing based on the state's academic standards. Plucker said it has done so quite successfully.

"These aren't cheap or easy ventures," he said. "If they were, we'd probably have been doing them already. There's certainly the will here in Indiana. It's a matter of having the means."

The states of Maine and Connecticut, as well as the National Education Association, are pursuing challenges to the act in court, primarily based on claims of funding inadequacies. Indiana faces the same formidable challenges as the rest of the country, but Plucker said he does not see the strategic value of lawsuits.

"If any of the lawsuits are successful, and the government finds the money, which I wouldn't expect during a time of war, we would still have a well-funded system that we know has problems," Plucker said. "I'd rather see everyone working together to solve the problems of the basic mechanism."

The primary goal of NCLB is to close the achievement gaps between students by bringing all students, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender or income, to the "proficient" level on state standardized tests by the 2013-2014 school year. Below are some obstacles that the policy brief says must be addressed before this goal can be met:

  • Inconsistent implementation of rigorous standards and achievement expectations among the states. Some of the lowest performers on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a long-standing national testing program, are also among the states with the lowest percentage of schools failing to make adequate "annual yearly progress," as required by the act. A few states with consistently high levels of NAEP performance also have some of the highest percentages of schools failing to make annual yearly progress.
  • Conflicts between state and federal accountability laws. The requirements of NCLB do not align perfectly with Indiana's school reform plans as authorized in Public Law 221. This creates a "Catch 22" situation in terms of recognizing school improvement.
  • Targeting low achievement of certain subgroups. As structured, NCLB fosters a "finger-pointing" mentality among some school administrators who blame low performance on special education students, creating an environment that could reverse hard-won advances by special education advocates. NCLB requires special education students, like other subgroups of the student population, to meet achievement targets in mathematics and English/language arts. If one subgroup in a school fails to meet a target in either curricular area, the school fails to make "annual yearly progress" for that year. For Title I schools, such failure can result in the imposition of federal sanctions.

CEEP promotes and supports rigorous, nonpartisan program evaluation and policy research primarily, but not exclusively, for education, human services and non-profit organizations. Its research uses both quantitative and qualitative methodologies.

Plucker can be reached at 812-855-4438 and To learn more about CEEP, go to