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The History and Background of the No Child Left Behind Act

written by: Jacqueline Chinappi • edited by: Donna Cosmato • updated: 6/19/2015

The No Child Left Behind Act was set up and put into effect in 2001. The Act calls for all educational gaps to be filled. This article looks at the history of this program and how it changed education, the pros and cons of the program, standardized testing and costs, and finally, other options.

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    Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 2001

    The Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 2001 is better known as the No Child Left Behind Act or NCLB. This act was No Child Left Behind Logo developed with ideas put forth by educational psychologists Gerald Corey, Marianne Schneider Corey, and Patrick Callanan: They proposed narrowing the gaps in achievement between minority and non-minority students. The gaps could also be closed between those students coming from disadvantaged backgrounds and those with a greater number of advantages. The act set up stringent standards for schools and established continuous assessments to evaluate schools progressions.

    “The act is based on four basic principles: stronger accountability for results, increased flexibility and local control, expanded options for parents, and an emphasis on teaching methods that have been proven to work," according to information now archived in the U.S. Department of Education website. Under the No Child Left Behind Act, the inequality of standardized test scores should be eliminated by 2014.

    The standardized tests the children would be taking would help the federal government to see where students were lacking. “The new law's unmistakable message is if it's not on a test, it's not worth knowing. “ (Karp, 2004)

    While the Act stated that students in all public schools in all states would undergo annual testing, there have been no set federal standards for these tests. States have to use their own good judgment on how to go about testing the students. There have been major differences in this array of testing. Some states test every year while other states test every three to four years. Some states even test various subjects, not only the mandated reading and math. One major difference is that some states use norm-referenced tests while other states use criterion-referenced tests.

    “Norm-referenced tests assess a student’s broad knowledge, measuring performance against a relevant comparison group. Criterion-referenced tests measure specific skills in relation to pre-established standards of academic performance." (Wenning, Herdman, Smith, McMahon, & Washington, 2003) Supporters of this Act prefer criterion-referenced tests because they can be appropriately aligned to the states standards. Unfortunately, they are more expensive to prepare and the consequence is results which are harder to compare.

    There is a lot of flexibility with the testing standards. Standards were set forth such that before 2005-2006 each state had to test proficiency for math, reading or language arts at least one time between third and fifth grade, sixth and ninth grade, and tenth and twelfth grade. By 2005-2006 each state had to test these subjects annually between the third and twelfth grade and by 2007-2008 school year science was to also be included. Unfortunately, the definition of proficiency differs from state to state.

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    Which Students Are Being Tested?

    Under the No Child Left Behind Act all students are being tested. These groups include all ethnicities, economically disadvantaged students, students with limited English proficiency, students with disabilities, all public schools including charter schools, and both genders. This testing is not just geared toward Title 1 schools; all students between kindergarten and twelfth grade are tested. In the past, students with disabilities had been exempted from statewide testing to ease the stress caused by testing for these students.

    There is also a time frame for children with English as their second language. Most states allow for children to stay in ESL for a maximum of three years before being evaluated. There are approximately 184,000 ESL students who have been diagnosed with having disabilities because of their language barriers. The No Child Left Behind Act will hopefully alleviate this large number with the time frame allowed. “While all students must participate in state testing programs, not all students’ scores will count equally in the alignment of incentives for improving school performance." (Wenning, Herdman, Smith, McMahon, & Washington, 2003)

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    Guidelines for Progress

    The No Child Left behind Act has set forth some guidelinest to define Adequate Yearly Progress or AYP. States had to use data from the 2001-2002 school year to help set forth a baseline of standards to compare test results. “The state must use the higher of either the proficiency level of the state’s lowest-achieving group or the proficiency level of the students at the 20th percentile in the state." (Wenning, Herdman, Smith, McMahon, & Washington, 2003)

    The states also had to set forth a twelve-year plan for each subgroup of students to help them attain proficiency. Annual measurable goals had to be developed by states consistent with schools throughout the state. Proficiency increments should occur within the twelve years, with the first rise occurring within the first two years.

    States could set up a standardized method for averaging statistics over years and with grades in a school. Parents will be notified of the progress made throughout the state schools.

    Schools who reached the standards set forth would attain additional funding. Schools who did not meet standards would have funding taken away from them.

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    What About the Costs?

    The No Child Left Behind Act is not only costing money but also costing valuable instructional time, staff time, and administrative time. Students are losing out on valuable instructional time to allow not only for the actual testing but also for the preparation of the tests, administration of the tests, and scoring/shipping of tests. All this time could have been spent on actually “teaching" the students.

    “One consequence is that the testing shifts the focus, for at least a month, from learning to testing. This plays out in many ways from the time actually spent testing to loss of guidance and reading specialist support to loss of administrative support." (Zellmer, Frontier, & Pheifer, 2006) Wisconsin ASCD surveys questioned about the benefits of the No Child Left Behind Act. Approximately 17 percent of the respondents stated they saw no or little benefits; 21 percent stated they saw an increase in awareness of standards; and 20 percent had stated they saw an increase in awareness of the subgroups of students.

    The survey also showed how many actual days were disrupted by testing for disadvantaged students. The days were averaged between elementary schools, high schools, and middle schools. Average days interrupted for special education students were 7.5; average days interrupted for Title 1 students were 7.53; and the average days interrupted for English language learners were 7.4 days. (Zellmer, Frontier, & Pheifer, 2006)

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    Effects and Problems of the No Child Left Behind Testing

    It seems to many that the cons outweigh the pros when it comes to the No Child Left Behind Act. Testing is not the “final answer". Progressions should not only look into testing but look into report cards, grade point averages, honor role, honor society, etc. I also do not believe that every child does well on testing, even the brightest of children. For instance children may have test anxiety. If a child has test anxiety this can have a drastic effect on the test results. It has also been determined that minority children and children who come from economically disadvantaged homes score lower than Caucasian students. (Santrock, 2004)

    I find that an assessment which may work much better than standardized tests for everyone overall would be a portfolio assessment.“A portfolio consists of a systematic and organized collection of a student’s work that demonstrates the student’s skills and accomplished." (Santrock, 2004, p. 542.) In summary this is almost like a story which tells about the student’s progress and achievements over time.

    Many different works can be included in the portfolio including writing samples, journal entries, videotapes, art work, test results, problem solutions, etc. “Effective use of portfolios for assessment requires establishing the portfolio’s purpose, involving the student in decisions about it, reviewing the portfolio with the student, setting criteria for evaluation, and scoring and judging." (Santrock, 2004, p. 543.)

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    Other Options?

    The No Child Left Behind Act was set forth to solve inequalities in testing. There are inequalities in testing with economically disadvantaged students, minority students, and students with disabilities. There were no federal standards set forth though with every state regarding testing. For instance, some states have norm referenced tests while other states use criterion referenced tests. If there was no set standard then how would we know what to really go by?

    I think the testing takes up way too much class and learning time. This time is valuable for students especially students who fall below par. Since the No Child Left Behind Act has been put into effect I have seen many students fail consistently in the public school system. I also find that testing children is not the best way to assess and may very well be unreliable. There has to be other ways to determine assessment for children, such as portfolios which I have noted above. Portfolios would at least allow evaluation of many diverse works from the student not just one set test. The portfolio would also allow for multiple intelligences to be seen not just mathematical, language, or science ability.

    "The use of portfolio-based teacher appraisals has emerged as an intriguing option to makethe time required for teacher evaluation more productive andthe process more meaningful, comprehensive, and accurate." (Attinello, Lare, & Waters, 2006) While there are some disadvantages with the portfolio it is an up an coming assessment tool not only for students but for teacher's professional growth.

    While standardized tests are more reliable compared to the portfolio, more educational psychologists are recommending the portfolio as the alternative assessment. Since it is such a new assessment process, kinks can be worked out and hopefully soon we as teachers will all be including some sort of portfolio assessment in our student's evaluation.

    In the meantime, 33 states have achieved waivers from NCLB compliance. The individual states were given time to work out their own standards in order to close the gaps. There is still a lot to work out but the fact that educators are still working on it means that sooner or later, they will get it right.

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