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US students score sweeping gains on tests

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That includes what the states are doing, as well as the federal government, and all those involved in a 25-year movement to improve schools through greater accountability.

But what has changed is the degree of transparency of data on student achievement – a key factor in driving education reform, he adds.

"The data transparency that we have in this country now on school performance is dramatically different than it was before these reforms began. It is not very common to see disaggregated, group-by-group data on the front pages of almost every newspaper in the country," he adds.

At a time when public opinion is shifting against the 2002 No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law, lawmakers favoring an ongoing strong federal role in local education face tough obstacles. The law uses federal funding to mandate annual testing. Schools that cannot demonstrate "adequate yearly progress" face penalties.

Many Democrats worry that testing has gone too far and is putting too much pressure on teachers, who are among the most reliable party activists.

Many conservative Republicans say Washington doesn't belong in local schools and the law should be radically changed or phased out.

For the first time, most Americans now have an unfavorable view of the law, according to the 2007 PDK/Gallup Poll released this month. Nearly half of those surveyed say they would blame the law if large numbers of schools fail to meet the requirements, rather than blame the school.

"The basic political dynamic is this: Good news is not going to change the minds of those who oppose the law. This is not an empirical fight; it's an ideological fight. But bad news would have put some wind in the sails of the critics," says Andrew Rotherham, a former education adviser to President Clinton and codirector of Education Sector, an education policy think tank.

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