No Child Left Behind: New Issues in Education
In January of 2002, President Bush signed a landmark piece of legislation into law, referred to as the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act. This legislation was intended to ensure that every child complete the first several years of school with the required reading skills to successfully negotiate the increasingly complex curriculum from grades 4 through 12 (Simpson, LaCava, & Graner, 2004; Yell, Katsiyannas, & Shiner, 2006). The legislation requires states to implement a statewide plan for reading instruction, based on research-proven reading instructional principles, to ensure that no child is left behind in reading prior to grade 3.
With the passage of No Child Left Behind, a variety of issues have arisen that impact educators, generally, and special educators, in particular. These include, at a minimum, the issue of high-stakes assessment, meeting adequate yearly progress (often called AYP; Yell et al., 2006) toward achieving statewide educational goals, and the issue of the qualifications of teachers themselves—namely, the "highly qualified" teacher. These issues have been hotly debated among educators and likely will continue to be critical issues for teachers in the years to come.
While various state assessments have always been part of the education scene, only as recently as 1997 did federal legislation mandate that students with disabilities were to be included in statewide assessment programs (Kohl, McLaughlin, & Nagel, 2006). Such a mandate resulted from the worthy goal of ensuring that students with disabilities can participate in the benefits derived from studying the general education curriculum; thus, this mandate was a part of the broader national move toward inclusion.
More recently, the No Child Left Behind legislation has mandated that states develop a series of high educational standards and institute appropriate required assessments to document that students are meeting these standards (Elliott & Marquart, 2004; Fletcher et al., 2006; Ysseldyke et al., 2004). In essence, the federal legislation requires states to administer assessments periodically and to ensure that all students—and, in particular, various subgroups of students within the schools, such as racial minorities or students with -disabilities—are achieving success toward learning the standards in the school curriculum. This was the origin of the title for this legislation—no child should be left behind in reading during the early grades.
Whereas NCLB only dealt with assessment in the elementary grades (Yell et al., 2006), this emphasis on assessment has revitalized the entire "assessment for accountability" issue. In many states, passage from grade to grade, or even graduation from high school, may be associated with successful completion of the required assessments in various grade levels. Thus, some of these assessments have high stakes (i.e., serious effects and implications) for various learners, including students with disabilities. Of course, accommodations for various disabilities are allowed under the guidelines; for example, many practitioners allow extra time as one accommodation for students with learning disabilities (Elliott & Marquart, 2004; Kohl et al., 2006).
Still, there is considerable debate—not to mention some degree of anger—among special educators relative to the implementation of the various high-stakes assessments, as well as other provisions of the No Child Left Behind legislation. One recent press release by the Council for Exceptional Children proclaimed, "No Child Left Behind Makes No Sense for Students with Disabilities" (CEC, 2003). In the national press, high-stakes testing has both been praised as resulting in improved education for students with disabilities as well as cursed for resulting in higher dropout rates (Ysseldyke et al., 2004). Further, while more research is certainly needed, the extant research indicates that such testing is having both positive and negative effects on students with disabilities. Interest Box 14.1 presents some of the research conclusions—both positive and negative—relative to implementation of high-stakes testing.
While the NCLB legislation did not initiate the move toward high-stakes testing, the use of assessments has certainly received increased emphasis because of NCLB. As an educator, you will hear many debates about both NCLB and high-stakes assessment during your teaching career, and you may find that your school struggles with various provisions of that legislation for many years to come.
Interest Box 14.1: Possible Positive and Negative Effects of High-Stakes Assessment
Possible Positive Effects of High-Stakes Testing Mentioned In the Literature
- Improved performance of students with disabilities on statewide assessments. This may suggest increased study efforts on the part of the students.
- Increased participation rates of students with disabilities. While many states historically excluded students with disabilities from local or statewide testing programs, the NCLB legislation has decreased such exclusion and increased participation on these assessments.
- Increased expectations for students with disabilities due to the setting of higher curriculum standards.
- Increased alignment between IEP goals and objectives and standards on the state curriculum. Thus, special education students have benefited from increased exposure to the general education curriculum content.
- More students with special needs are placed in general education classes.
- Increased graduation rates among students with disabilities, according to some research reports.
Possible Negative Effects of High-Stakes Testing Mentioned In the Literature
- Increase in students referred and identified for special education services.
- Increased dropouts resulting from high-stakes testing required for high school graduation.
- Narrowing of curricular emphasis to include only content assessed on the tests.
- Less teacher flexibility to emphasize local content that may not be emphasized on the statewide assessment (i.e., teachers may be less likely to teach about the science of the cleanup of Lake Erie for schools located on the lake, or to teach Civil War history for schools located near Civil War battlefields).
- Possible detrimental effects on motivation of students with special needs, or other learners who are challenged by the curriculum.
- Increased test anxiety or school anxiety among students with learning disabilities.
These are some of the possible positive and negative effects of high-stakes testing mentioned in the literature (Elliott & Marquart, 2004; Fletcher et al., 2006; Ysseldyke et al., 2004). More research is needed before these effects can be documented with certainty.
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