No Child Left Behind Act:

Improvements Needed in Education's Process for Tracking States' Implementation of Key Provisions

GAO-04-734: Published: Sep 30, 2004. Publicly Released: Sep 30, 2004.

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The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLBA) has focused national attention on improving the academic achievement of the nations' 48 million students by establishing a deadline--school year 2013-14--for public schools to ensure that all students are proficient in reading and math. Accordingly, states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico developed plans that set goals for increasing the numbers of students who attain proficiency on state tests each year, with all meeting goals by 2014. To provide information about states' efforts, GAO determined (1) what goals states established for student proficiency and their implications for whether schools will meet these goals; (2) what factors facilitated or impeded selected state and school district implementation efforts; and (3) how the Department of Education (Education) supported state efforts and approved state plans to meet student proficiency requirements.

States varied in how they established proficiency goals and measured student progress, which is permitted by NCLBA so that states can address their unique circumstances. For example, states differed in the annual rates of progress they expected schools to make in order to have all of their students academically proficient by 2014 and in methods used to determine whether schools had met state goals. This variation in state approaches could affect how many schools meet their annual goals over time. State and school district officials said that their leadership's commitment to improving student achievement and technical assistance provided by an Education contractor facilitated implementation of NCLBA requirements. However, tight timeframes for determining school progress and problems with student data impeded implementation. Measuring achievement with faulty data can lead to inaccurate information on schools meeting proficiency goals. Education is working on efforts to help states improve their data systems, such as monitoring state data quality policies. Education assisted states in developing their plans for improving student proficiency and by June 10, 2003 approved, fully (11) or conditionally (41), all plans. As of July 31, 2004, Education had fully approved 28 states' plans without conditions; plans from 23 states and the District of Columbia were approved but contained conditions needed to implement NCLBA requirements. To help states, Education asked assessment experts to review all plans and provide states with on-site evaluations. Although Education officials said that they are continually monitoring states whose plans have conditions, the Department does not have a written process that delineates how and when each state will meet its conditions. In addition, by the school year (2005-06) NCLBA requires states to increase assessments. Education has developed guidance for its review and approval of states' expanded standards and assessments. However, it has not established a written plan that clearly identifies the steps required, interim goals, review schedules, and timelines. Without such written plans, states may be challenged to meet NCLBA system requirements by the 2005-06 deadline.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Education officials reported that they notified each state in writing (with the issuance of its July 2004 ESEA Title I formula grant award) of the specific conditions that must be met in order to receive full approval. The agency reports that all states have met the conditions for and thus have received full approval of their accountability plans.

    Recommendation: For those states that have plans that did not meet all NCLBA requirements and still have conditional approval, the Secretary of Education should delineate in writing the process and time frames that are appropriate for each state's particular circumstances to meet conditions for full approval.

    Agency Affected: Department of Education

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Department developed a written plan with steps and time frames and submitted this plan to each Chief State School Officer. The Department has also held meetings with state officials to provide more information on the guidance and process for reviewing state systems. Through Consolidated State Performance Reports, the Department collected status information on each state's system and has begun reviewing that information. It has also trained peer reviewers and conducted reviews of systems in five states with plans to conduct more reviews later in 2005 and in 2006.

    Recommendation: Further, the Secretary of Education should develop a written plan that includes steps and time frames so that all states have approved NCLBA standards and assessment systems by the 2005-06 school year.

    Agency Affected: Department of Education

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Department of Education issued "Improving Data Quality for Title I Standards, Assessment, and Accountability Reporting: Guidelines for States, LEAs, and Schools (Non-Regulatory Guidance)" in April 2006. This guidance, focused on state, local education agencies, and school Title I Report Cards, is tailored specifically to address our recommendation as well as the recommendations of Education's Office of Inspector General (OIG). In February 2004, the OIG had noted that assessment scoring errors could potentially jeopardize the successful implementation of NCLB, and recommended that the Education develop best practices for management controls over scoring of state assessments. In September 2004, GAO identified numerous data quality problems in the states related to NCLB accountability and reiterated OIG's call for guidelines.

    Recommendation: To improve the validity and reliability of state data used to determine whether schools are meeting state goals, the Secretary of Education should further support states' abilities to gather accurate student data through activities such as disseminating best practices and designating technical specialists who can serve as resources to help states.

    Agency Affected: Department of Education


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