COLUMN: No Child Left Behind disregards academic needs of students
What does Oklahoma have in common with Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey and Tennessee? Oklahoma and the rest of the states mentioned above are the first states to receive exemptions from some of the education mandates proscribed by the No Child Left Behind Act.
No Child Left Behind is an act that was signed into law under the Bush administration in 2002. Its main focus is on annual standardized tests that are meant to indicate if a school is meeting its state-specific standards. Consequences for not meeting state standards range from withdrawal of government funds to school closure, depending on the severity of the situation.
Major components of No Child Left Behind:
• Standards and testing: Each state comes up with its own standards, and students in grades 3 through 8 are tested yearly to measure their progress.
• Reporting Results: Schools must make public “report cards” which show how they are progressing toward their goals.
• Adequate yearly progress: Schools must show that they are making “Adequate Yearly Progress” toward the goal of 100 percent proficiency within 12 years in 2014. If schools do not reach this progress, actions are taken to improve the school.
Nothing but good intentions were behind the act, and on paper, no one would object to increased accountability in schools. But there have also been many unintended negative consequences. A common gripe among educators is that such an extreme focus on test results actually takes away from students’ educations instead of enhancing it.
I have witnessed this firsthand in the classroom. A requirement of education coursework is that students log a certain number of hours observing teachers in different schools. I observed a teacher in an urban charter school last semester, and there was an annoying amount of focus on performing well on standardized tests.
The teacher I observed consistently expressed concerns about “getting her kids caught up” from their low reading level to a grade-proficient level. She also explained to me that students who were “chosen” for supplemental Saturday tutoring were students who were on the borderline between passing and failing on their standardized tests. She said that students who were failing horribly were not bothered with because there was no way they would bring the average score up.
This teacher was not a bad person or even a bad teacher; she, like many American educators, felt the pressure for her kids to perform well on standardized tests and be at a “grade-appropriate level.” A major component of No Child Left Behind is setting standards for children and expecting them to be able to master those standards. These are not national standards, and each state is responsible for creating their own standards.
Having standards is great, but should all students within a state be held to the same standards? It is ignorant to believe that all students should be able to achieve the same academic level because there is a diversity in student ability and experience.
Even within Oklahoma, there is a vast diversity among students. A student who goes to a rural, small-town school is going to have a very different background than someone who goes to an urban Oklahoma City school.
Student academic achievement depends on a variety of factors, with good instruction being just one of them. The reality is that students are often not equal in ability or background, but acknowledging this reality is not unjust. It is unjust to try and force the same standards on children who come from varying backgrounds and thus have varying needs.
With the waiver Oklahoma has received, my hope is that each school district can determine what curriculum and skills are most needed for its body of students and create its own system of standards and accountability.
According to the Center on Education Policy, half of all public schools last year did not meet the requirements of the act. It is good that the demands of No Child Left Behind are being loosened in Oklahoma and other states. Though the accountability through high-stakes testing that the act provided seemed like a good idea, it has strangled the creativity of teachers and ignored the individual academic needs of students.
Janna Gentry is an English education senior.