Foundations and Current Issues of Early Childhood Education/Chapter 6/6.1

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No Child Left Behind: What does it mean for students and teachers?[edit]

By: Carrie Grace Morgan

What is the quickest way to get a group of teachers arguing? Simply begin a conversation with the following question, “So, what do you think about No Child Left Behind (NCLB)? ”. Besides the integration of public schools during the civil rights era and the creation of the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA), no other education reform has created so much controversy than NCLB.

History of No Child Left Behind[edit]

The No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act was passed in January 2003 by President George Bush as a sweeping education reform program focused on closing the achievement gap between several subgroups including genders or minorities, English language learners or economically disadvantaged students, and students with disabilities (Schrag, 2003). NCLB was based on several prior education reform systems, most notably President Lyndon B. Johnson’s Great Society education law and the Elementary Education Act of 1965 (Jehlen, 2007).

Four Pillars of No Child Left Behind[edit]

NCLB is based on four pillars, which include stronger accountability in terms of results on state assessments, states and communities being given more freedom with federal education funds, teaching based on proven education methods, and allowing parents more choices in their child’s education.

The first pillar, which deals with accountability, holds public schools accountable for the effectiveness of their instructional efforts (Popham, 2004). Each year parents and communities receive reports from their school district and the state, which show the whether an school/state is making adequate yearly progress or AYP (“No Child Left Behind: A Toolkit for Teachers”, 2003). If a school does not make AYP, schools must provide supplemental educational services and make changes to their approach to teaching. After five years if a school is still not making AYP, the government takes over control of how the school is run and dramatic changes are made overall. The law mandates that within twelve years of the 2001-2002 school year, all schools must be proficient in their standardized test scores (“No Child Left Behind: A Toolkit for Teachers”, 2003).

The second pillar of the NCLB law states that schools have more freedom and flexibility in how federal funding is spent in their districts. Each district is allowed to spend their federal education funds on needs specific to their locality such as increasing teacher salaries and improving staff development opportunities.

Under the third pillar of NCLB, all educational programs and practices must be scientifically based in research. One example of a scientifically research based program is Reading First. It is a model used in elementary schools to teach reading, writing, and phonics skills. The final pillar of the NCLB law is allowing parents of students in low-performing schools other alternatives to attending those schools. When a school fails to make AYP for two consecutive years, parents may transfer their child to another better-performing school within their district. If a school fails to make AYP for three years consecutively, low-income families are eligible to receive supplemental educational services such as tutoring for their children.

Under NCLB states are required to develop a system to measure “adequate yearly progress” (AYP), which is directly correlated with the stronger accountability pillar of NCLB (Jewell, 2006). Public schools are held accountable for the effectiveness of their instructional practices (Popham, 2004). Any school that does not make AYP must provide supplemental educational services for their students. Each consecutive year that a school does not make AYP, more sanctions are placed on the school including replacing staff, extending the school year, and eventually turning over the control of the school to the state (Jewell, 2006).

Problems with No Child Left Behind[edit]

While the foundation for the No Child Left Behind law might be positive, the reality of the situation for many children and teachers is very grim. NCLB is due to expire in September of this year, and sweeping changes need to be made in order for the law to not only leave no child behind, but also no teacher behind.

One of the major problems teachers have with No Child Left Behind is that a school’s success is measured only by the results of two tests taken on two days. The amount of pressure that teachers and students alike feel on those two days is immense, and cannot accurately measure the overall achievement made by students in a single year. Students who begin a school year below grade level should have the opportunity to show the improvement they have made instead of being tested on the lack of skills they may not have yet (Jehlen, 2007).

Effects of No Child Left Behind on Students with Disabilities[edit]

One of the many criticisms of the NCLB Act stems from the accountability pillar. It seems unfair to hold students with disabilities to the same accountability standards as those students without a disability (Jewell, 2004). Students with disabilities may not make “adequate yearly progress” in the eyes of the state and federal government. However, this does not mean that a child is not making progress at all.

In the February 2007 issue of NEA Today, Patti Ralabate suggests in the “Up Front” section of the journal that students with disabilities be assessed using a “student-growth” model. This type of assessment would be beneficial for the students as well as the teachers. Often the efforts of special education teachers are not evaluated properly because the only piece of information given about his/her student is a test score.

Students with disabilities are allowed certain accommodations for state and district testing. Accommodations are, “…changes to the assessment material or procedures that allow for students to demonstrate their knowledge and skills rather than the effects of their disabilities,” (“Accountability for Assessment Results in the No Child Left Behind Act: What It Means for Children With Disabilities”, 2003). An example of an accommodation for a student might be frequent breaks during testing or taking tests in a small-group setting instead of the classroom. However, in order to receive accommodations for testing, the student’s IEP team (Individualized Education Plan) must prove that the accommodation is necessary.

NCLB regulations were changed in December 2003, which allowed alternative assessments to be given to students that cannot take the grade-level assessment even if accommodations are given with the test (Jewell, 2004). An alternative assessment is considered, “…assessments designed to measure the performance of students with disabilities who are unable to participate in state and district assessments even with accommodations,” (“Accountability for Assessment Results in the No Child Left Behind Act: What It Means for Children With Disabilities”, 2003). There are restrictions, however, on the number of students in states and districts that can participate in the alternative assessment. Only 1 percent of students tested in a grade level can participate in the alternative assessment, which will count towards a school’s AYP (Jewell, 2004). The state of Virginia offers an alternative assessment model entitled the Virginia Alternative Assessment Program (VAAP).

No Child Left Behind Set to Expire in September Although NCLB is set to expire in September, the law is not going anywhere. The law is amended every few years, and there are many changes that educators would like to see put into practice in September. However, it may be a struggle because of the philosophy that Education Secretary Margaret Spellings. She stated recently, “I talk about No Child Left Behind like Ivory Soap: It’s 99.9 percent pure or something…There’s not much needed in the way of change.” Here is a list of several of changes that the National Education Association (NEA) would like to see made to NCLB.

* Reduce the number of students in a class.

* Change assessments to include higher-order thinking and problem- solving questions.

* Provide teachers the opportunity to have input in the staff development provided by their district.

* Implement mentoring programs for new teachers and teachers who are new to districts.

The National Center on Educational Outcomes published an article in 2003 titled, “Accountability for Assessment Results in the No Child Left Behind Act: What It Means for Children with Disabilities.” One of the questions the article addresses is how to IDEA and NCLB relate to each other. The articles states that, “…No Child Left Behind complements the provisions in IDEA by providing public accountability at the school, district, and state levels for all students with disabilities,” (“Accountability for Assessment Results in the No Child Left Behind Act: What It Means for Children With Disabilities”, 2003). This is true, however, sometimes that level of accountability can require a student already struggling in school to fight even harder against their disability.

As a teacher of special education students, NCLB leaves many of my students back in the shadows where they have been for many years. The idea that a child who is unable to recognize all 26 letters of the alphabet be held to the same standards as a child in the third grade reading and comprehending at a seventh grade level is outrageous. True, special education students can receive accommodations for testing such as a small-group testing situation or the use of manipulative on the math test. However, the hoops that must be jumped through in order to receive the accommodations is ridiculous, and the test results do not show the true progress some of these children may make in a year.

Multiple Choice Questions[edit]

1. What is the difference between testing with accommodations and alternative assessments?

A. Alternative assessments test students with disabilities in the regular classroom with minor changes and accommodations are a form of different testing in a special setting.

B. Alternative assessments allow students with disabilities who cannot take grade-level assessments to participate in an assessment that counts towards their school’s AYP.*

C. Accommodations are different assessments that students who are unable to participate in grade-level assessments.

2. What does the acronym AYP mean?

A. Alternative Yearly Property

B. Annual Yearly Progress

C. Adequate Yearly Progress *

3. How are NCLB and IDEA different?

A. NCLB provides public accountability at the school, district, and state levels for students with disabilities and IDEA focuses on accountability at the school level. *

B. NCLB provides accountability for only the school level, whereas IDEA focuses accountability only at the state level.

C. IDEA and NCLB are not different.

4. What percentage of students with disabilities must be included in the calculation of AYP?

A. 5%

B. 3%

C. 1% *

D. 9%

5. Which is NOT a pillar of the NCLB law?

A. stronger accountability for results

B. limitless funding *

C. more choices for parents

D. more freedom for states and their communities

  • Correct Answers

Essay Question[edit]

How does NCLB affect students with disabilities?

NCLB affects all students including students with disabilities. The effects of NCLB on students with disabilities can be positive and negative.

With the creation of NCLB, schools are held accountable for the educational results of students with disabilities. The law ensures that students with disabilities are taught on the appropriate grade level, and that they receive the educational services necessary to allow them to reach their full academic potential.

Students with disabilities must be included in every school’s calculation of AYP. However, these students are also considered separately as a sub-group in the AYP calculation. States are require to provide alternative assessment for students who demonstrate an inability to perform on state or district tests even with the aid of testing accommodations. Although alternative assessments can be given, only 1 percent of a school’s population can participate in those assessments. The student’s IEP team must decide when it is necessary for a child to participate in the alternative assessment.

One suggested alternative to both accommodations and alternative assessments would be the use of a “student-growth” model of testing. This type of assessment would allow growth to be seen in a student with disabilities despite how he/she is able to perform on district and state assessments.

Despite the difficulties that a student with disabilities might face under the NCLB law, it has increased awareness in how these students are educated. Not only are special education teachers more aware of their classroom practices, but homeroom teachers or students with disabilities as well.


Accountability for Assessment Results in the No Child Left Behind Act: What It Means for Children with Disabilities. Retrieved 03/06/07, from Website:

Four Pillars of NCLB. Retrieved 02/27/07, from Website:

Jehlen, Alain. (2007). NCLB: The Sequel. NEA Today February, 2007.

Jewell, M. E. (2004). No Child Left Behind: Implications for Special Education Students and Students with Limited English Proficiency. Retrieved 03/04/07, from Website:

No Child Left Behind: A Toolkit for Teachers. Maryland: U.S. Department of Education.

Popham, W.J. (2004). America’s Failing Schools: How Parents and Teachers Can Cope with NCLB. New York: Routledge Famler.

Up Front: An Unappreciated IDEA. (2007). NEA Today, February, 2007.


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