Think About It: Students ‘left behind’ by legislation

If you want to get an education major very excited, very quickly, there are four words you need to know: “No Child Left Behind (NCLB).” President Bush’s rather positive-sounding legislation was enacted in January ’02 as a way to hold schools accountable for the progress of their students. In theory, the idea is simple. Every year from third through eighth grade, and once again in high school, students are given proficiency exams in math and reading and starting next school year, science. If the students are generally in accord with standards for their grade level, the school gets its slice of the federal education budget pie. If there’s a lack of improvement, funding may be denied, teachers may be laid off, and an overall mess will result. Sounds simple, right?

If you assume that the measuring system in place is perfectly reflective of the strengths of the student, and that every student has the same needs, it would be simple. Unfortunately, at the end of the day, NCLB ends up causing more problems than it solves. Here are just a few reasons why this legislation, currently up for renewal or revamping in Congress, needs either serious improvement or serious scrapping:

First and foremost, the extreme focus of NCLB’s measure of student progress is on testing. While there are a great many students who use “I’m a bad tester” as an excuse for some other issue, to focus nearly exclusively on standardized testing produces a flawed and incomplete picture of the successes and failures of the school system in question.

Knowing that test results determine federal funding, I really can’t fault teachers for keeping their students narrowly focused on the items they know will be included on that year’s exam. However, since the focus is on math, reading and science, the other subjects will inevitably suffer, and have already done so in New Jersey schools.

Bilingual students are often given the short end of the stick. While provisions are made for non-English students to be given tests in their own languages, this is not often the reality. Rather, they are given the English versions and perform poorly, predictably enough. Even those who are given foreign language versions are allotted three years in which to master the English language, after which they will be given strictly English-only exams.

Ironically enough, the individual states are responsible for the tests that are administered. It is certainly a temptation for any state to dumb down its own test in order to inflate its students’ progress. It may be a conflict of interest, but federal money can be quite the prize.

Dr. Kathleen Pierce of the Education Department explains that “the very people who could stand to benefit are the ones who are marginalized and left behind.”

I’ve been given a limited space to explain and opine upon a limitlessly complicated issue, one with provisions I haven’t had the space to mention. Please, go pick up a national newspaper, or go to Wikipedia, and read more about NCLB. If you ever plan on having children in America, it’ll be worth your while, I promise.

— JP Krahel

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