"We had a No Child Left Behind — a similar piece of legislation in our state a number of years ago, well before the federal law. And it's had a big impact here. It's improved schools."
Mitt Romney on Friday, September 14th, 2007 in an interview
Mass. schools did improve
Because he has seen the effects of holding schools accountable through testing and standards in his own state. He refers specifically to his state's landmark 1993 Education Reform Act, which put such measures in place nine years before No Child took effect.
Romney said the law has had a "big impact." And he's right.
In 1998, just 7 percent of high school sophomores were scoring at the "advanced" level on the state's math exam. By 2007, 41 percent of sophomores could make that claim.
Over the same period, the percentage of sophomores failing the English exam dropped from 28 percent to 6 percent, with corresponding increases in the top ratings.
In 2005 and again in 2007, the state ranked first, or tied for first, in all four test categories for a widely respected exam commonly known as "the nation's report card." The categories are math and reading for fourth and eighth grade. No state had ever done that well across the board.
"In some respects, I would say you can track our success in Massachusetts to the fact that there was this issue of equity in education in the early 1990s," said Matt Militello, an assistant professor of educational policy at the University of Massachusetts.
But the achievement gap persists.
David Driscoll, the state's education commissioner in 2005, wrote that the state's performance gaps between white, black and Hispanic students remained unchanged since 2003. In 2007, the state's interim commissioner, Jeffrey Nellhaus, noted again that while the scores of white students were rising, those of black and Hispanic students were flat.
Robert Costrell, Romney's former chief economist and education adviser, doesn't dispute the achievement gap. But he said that doesn't change the overall improvement.
"The gaps are still quite significant and of great concern. But there absolutely was a closing of those gaps," said Costrell, now a professor of education reform and economics at the University of Arkansas.
Ultimately, Romney claims the state made strong progress in education after it passed an accountability law similar to No Child Left Behind, and the test scores back him up. We rate Romney's comment True.