Researchers recently completed a study looking at how No Child Left Behind is affecting the classroom. They found that the teachers in three states are getting used to the law and changing their practice to fit the new demands.

That’s not necessarily a good thing.

According to the three-year study, which is being conducted by the Santa Monica, Calif.-based RAND Corp., majorities of elementary and middle school science and math teachers in all three states report in surveys that they are making positive changes in the classroom by focusing on their states’ academic standards or searching for better teaching methods.

At the same time, though, sizable percentages of educators are also spending more time teaching test-taking strategies, focusing more narrowly on the topics covered on state tests, and tailoring teaching to the “bubble kids”–the students who fall just below the proficiency cutoffs on state tests.

Teachers were more likely than the administrators, though, to pick up on problems or negative consequences with the testing-and-accountability systems in their states, such as a concern that state tests were misaligned with the curriculum. In middle school science, for example, the percentages of teachers reporting that kind of mismatch in the 2004-05 survey ranged from 63 percent in Georgia to 74 percent in California.

Also, while most teachers and administrators agreed that learning opportunities for struggling students had improved as a result of the law, half or more of teachers across the three states and all levels of schooling worried that high-achieving students were not receiving “appropriately challenging curriculum or instruction.”

Narrowing the curriculum, concentrating resources on “bubble kids” at the expense of other students, increasing amounts of classroom time spent on test-taking instead of skills students will actually need.

The only surprise in this study is that it took them three years.

nclb, school reform, rand study