The No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation of 2001 continues to have an impact on public education. The act was passed as an effort to encourage schools that receive federal funding to make adequate yearly progress (AYP) across all subgroups. States have developed and administered student evaluations for the the past decade, but many are finding the legislation limiting in its focus and unrealistic in its expectations.
Limits of the Legislation
The legislation was designed to close the achievement gap between subgroups and has been successful in its requirements on school districts to collect achievement data and use the data to inform instruction.
Unfortunately many schools are discovering that the NCLB law, an extension of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, is limited in its ability to track gains in student achievement (explore state-by-state progress in this interactive map). The legislation requires schools to meet increasingly higher scores and placed labels describing their non-performance on those that have not kept pace. Schools are required to meet a 100% proficiency level for all students by 2014.
Is No Child Left Behind working?
Many public school systems have now closed the gap between subgroups in their populations and have seen measurable growth in student achievement in all subject areas.
Despite this, some schools experiencing growth and success are still labelled as in “need of improvement” due to falling below the benchmark that has been established for that particular year.
Thus, the legislation fails to recognize and reward the positive changes that are occurring in many districts across the country.
Due to the extremely high benchmark of 100% proficiency imposed by the NCLB legislation, most school districts will be in danger of labelled as “in need of improvement” by 2014. This is cause for alarm and has called reformers to action.
Changes under the Obama Administration
While President Obama appears to support maintaining the testing and accountability aspects of the NCLB, he also recognizes the need for improvement. As such, states have been afforded an opportunity to apply for a No Child Left Behind waiver from U.S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan.
States have been asked to demonstrate that they are raising the bar even higher for student achievement and district accountability.
As of May 29, 2012, nineteen states have been granted waivers while twenty-seven additional states have applied and are awaiting approval.
Moving forward with No Child Left Behind
Federal accountability for school systems is here to stay. However, an ever-increasing group of states are focused on measurable gains for all students — as opposed to an absolute level of proficiency — and are thus hoping to be approved for waivers that will allow them to meet the needs of diverse learners.
What remains to be seen in the next 3-5 years is whether the waivers will improve student achievement and close the gaps between various subgroups.