Magazine article State Legislatures

The Challenges of NCLB: Some Requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act Are Causing More Chaos Than Cures and Driving Teachers, Parents and Administrators Mad

Magazine article State Legislatures

The Challenges of NCLB: Some Requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act Are Causing More Chaos Than Cures and Driving Teachers, Parents and Administrators Mad

Article excerpt

Montgomery High School in New Jerseyhas a record many schools would envy. Nestled in the shadows of prestigious Princeton University, the suburban school boasts one of the top average SAT scores in the state. It has been recognized by the United Nations, won the U.S. Department of Education's Blue Ribbon Award and several state championships in science, math and chemistry. Yet, Montgomery fails to meet the goals of a new federal education law and faces being labeled as a school "in need of improvement" because two of its 29 special education students did not show up to take the 11th grade test.

The federal law is asking schools to meet new and challenging expectations in performance or encounter consequences, such as having to offer school choice or turn over operations to the state. Montgomery's case is not an oddity, though. Many education experts estimate that over the next few years, thousands of schools across the country--possibly all schools--could face a similar situation.

State legislators have been wrestling with the No Child Left Behind Act since its passage in 2001. President Bush's first major piece of legislation created an historic new level of federal involvement and funding in state and local education. State legislators have embraced the primary goal of the act--to raise overall student performance and close the achievement gap between poor and minority students and their counterparts. And states certainly can use the new federal money for education--over $20 billion--as they continue to struggle with significant budget cuts.

At the same time, policymakers are worried about how federal requirements--aspects of which states already have in place--will affect state education reform.

"It [NCLB] has made us stop what we were doing as a state and focus on compliance," says Senator Jane O'Hearn, who is supportive of the law, but concerned about the impact it will have on New Hampshire.

As we approach its two-year anniversary, the implications of the law are becoming clear. Although legislators are still generally supportive of its intent, instances like Montgomery are occurring around the country, placing lawmakers in the middle of controversy, confusion and concern.


At the heart of the law lies the ambitious goal that states improve student performance so that all children reach a "proficient" level of education by the 2013-2014 school year. Schools must make continuous improvements, also know as adequate yearly progress (AYP), in reading and math test scores for grades three through eight and once at the high school level.

The law was aptly named for its focus on low performing "subgroups" of students. Students with disabilities, limited English proficiency, low-income or certain racial backgrounds are receiving considerable attention. Under the yearly progress requirements all subgroups in a school must make the same improvements in test scores as other students.

Entire schools fail the federal criteria if any subcategories of students do not meet the same performance standards as their counterparts. Generally, schools must have around 30 students in one of these categories for them to comprise a subgroup. The more diverse or the larger a school, the more subcategories there will be. Schools will face sanctions if they do not meet improvement benchmarks in the test scores of all students for two consecutive years.

The first list of schools not meeting the new requirements were identified in each of the states this summer. Nearly 90 percent of Florida's public schools missed the federal criteria, including 78 percent of the schools ranked "A" under the state accountability system. In addition, 80 percent of the schools in Idaho; 77 percent of the schools in South Carolina; and 66 percent of the schools in Alabama and New Jersey did not make sufficient progress. The majority of states reported rates around 50 percent. …

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