What “No Child Left Behind” Leaves Behind

Duckworth, A. L., Quinn, P. D., & Tsukayama, E. (2011). What No Child Left Behind leaves behind: The roles of IQ and self-control in predicting standardized achievement test scores and report card grades. Journal of Educational Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0026280

The No Child Left Behind Act of 2002 requires each state in the United States to administer an achievement test every year in order to receive funding for K-12 public schools.  These tests are the primary means of determining whether a school has improved student performance and are intended to be an objective measure which can be used to make comparisons across classrooms and schools. Given this fundamental role of standardized testing in educational policy, Duckworth, Quinn, and Tsukayama (2011) investigated the student competencies assessed by these tests.  They suggested that standardized achievement tests assess intelligence-based competencies – as opposed to report cards, which assess competencies determined primarily by self-control. The authors described self-control as a fairly stable personality trait that allows for voluntary impulse control in pursuit of long-term goals.  They suggested that intelligence provides an advantage in learning material outside of formal instruction, whereas self-control provides an advantage – through studying, homework, and good classroom behavior – in learning material taught in school. Duckworth and colleagues conducted two longitudinal studies using a large, national sample of middle school children.  As hypothesized, IQ better predicted changes in standardized test scores over time and self-control scores (based on caregiver and teacher ratings) better predicted changes in report card grades over time. A third study indicated that teachers also viewed standardized tests and reports cards as assessing distinct domains of student progress. The authors concluded that the sole focus on standardized testing in No Child Left Behind results in the exclusion of other valuable indicators of student performance.  They suggested that standardized testing should be more closely aligned with curriculum in order to better reflect formal classroom learning as opposed to students’ intelligence.  They also recommended that report card grades distinguish between mastery of skills and effort in order to both assess changes in performance and provide students with feedback on the crucial ability to enact self-control.

Making Connections


Media Supplement

Segment 4 of the PBS series Where We Stand explores No Child Left Behind from a global perspective. See: Testing: No Child Left Behind. [7 min]

The Obama administration has recently granted several states waivers from No Child Left Behind. More information is available from the U.S. Department of Education.