1984 has arrived with more newspeak than we can keep track of. No Child Left Behind (NCLB) is one of the diversions supposedly to promote improved education while actually destroying public education.
What are the reasons for NLCB: Lower taxes? Lowering the ability to think critically? Pretending to do something productive without having to do anything substantive? Destroying the public education system?
Supposedly one of the benchmarks is improved reading scores, no matter how good or poor previous scores were. One improves reading scores by providing lots of reading material. However, the budgets of the most accessible sources of reading materials are being cut, especially in schools with already low scores. See "ALA Report: Poor Middle, High School Libraries Suffer the Most Budget Cuts".
But standardized tests are not the measure of critical thinking and creativity. They measure the ability to give correct answers to tests. It's like supposedly being skilled in a foreign language by knowing many details of grammar and having a large vocabulary. Passing tests based on these two aspects mean nothing without lots and lots of practice in reading, writing, speaking, and listening.
For example, I have spent many classroom hours on German and French and practically none on Swedish and Italian. I read French OK because I've read dozens of books in French, but speaking French and German is difficult. Speaking Italian comes easier to me because I lived in Italy and spoke it more than I ever spoke French or German. Swedish comes even more easily to me because I spoke it at work for three years; sometimes I even think in Swedish. Even then, these two languages are still a struggle because I don't practice.
What is really a pity on public education is that much research has been done by educators on better methods. Politicians don't want to follow through on these ideas because they cost money, and politicians are better scientists and educators than scientists and educators.
An excellent view of what's really needed has been presented in many ways be Ken Robinson. See an animation of his lecture, "Changing Education Paradigms".
One of his key points is "divergent thinking is an essential ingredient of creativity." Divergent thinking is the ability to see many ideas at once rather than regurgitate the one "correct" idea. He cites a longitudinal study of children in kindergarten scoring an average of 98% on divergent thinking and dropping dramatically as they grow older.
See also "Do Schools Destroy Creativity". Ken Robinson says that George Harrison and Paul McCartney were not recognized as musicians by the music teacher!!
He also says that there is more money to be made by large corporations in the correction system of California than in the schools of California. That is, short-term corporate profits are more important than long-term investment in people.