For almost a decade, schools across the country have felt the squeeze of the No Child Left Behind Act. Federal funding depends on standardized test performance, which begs the question—are these children gaining the knowledge they need to succeed in life, or are they only learning to take tests? New evidence suggests that despite the heavy burden facing schools on the brink of failure, student performance is improving and students remain interested in their reading and math lessons.

“There has been a lot of speculation about possible negative effects of ‘teaching to the test,’” said Randall Reback, a Barnard economics professor and coauthor of a working paper examining how NCLB accountability pressure affects school resources and student outcomes. “But the evidence suggests that however these schools are responding to the threat of failure, they’re actually improving student learning.”

Together with colleagues at the Columbia Business School, Reback has launched The Barnard/Columbia NCLB Data Website. Visitors to the site —home of the most comprehensive national data concerning schools’ performance under No Child Left Behind—can download data and documentation for free.

“We hope that by making this database widely available, we can inform and raise the level of the ongoing education debate,” said Reback.

The Barnard/Columbia NCLB Data Project is a collaboration between Professor Randall Reback (Barnard College), Professor Jonah Rockoff (Columbia Business School), Dr. Heather Schwartz (formerly of Teachers College and currently at the RAND Corporation), and Elizabeth Davidson (a doctoral candidate at Teachers College). The Project and associated research studies were made possible by grants from the Spencer Foundation, the Institute for Education Sciences, and Columbia University’s Institute for Social and Economic Research and Policy.