That's the provocative question that leads off this year's NCLB reporting from the Center for Education Progress. The report (available here) explains why it's a worry:
Because the percentage proficient is so crucial to a school’s AYP status, there are incentives for educators to make sure they teach what students should know to meet state standards for proficiency and to focus on raising test scores for students who perform slightly or somewhat below proficient—actions that could end up shortchanging higher- or lower-performing students.Looking at the data they assembled, the Center reports that there is "no strong evidence" of that practice, saying:
But state test scores provide little evidence that NCLB is having such an effect. Gains far outnumbered declines at the basic, proficient, and advanced levels of achievement —which suggests that the achievement of higher- and lower-performing students has not been harmed to an obvious extent. Still, gains were more numerous and larger at the proficient than at the basic or advanced levels, which might be interpreted as an effect of NCLB’s emphasis on proficiency.For myself, I still see important benefit in the index approach Kentucky has used in years past. That method gives credit for moving students to proficiency, but also gives partial credit for moving students from lower to higher levels short of proficiency and extra credit for moving them to distinguished. That incentive system matches what we want schools to do for our children.
The all-or-nothing NCLB approach provides an incentive to value only the work that moves a student from apprentice to proficient. In this case, it's good news that CEP does not think the incentive system is working.