By Sophie Degener, Ed.D., Assistant Professor of Reading and Language
The fate of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) is in the hands of our congressmen. Members of the House of Representatives will have to decide whether or not to renew the legislation, and what form that legislation will take. A scheduled vote on Friday, Feb. 27 was postponed, but Congress will have to vote soon.
There are many educators, including professors and researchers at National Louis University, who are hoping to influence our lawmakers as they consider NCLB’s future.
Most people have heard of the No Child Left Behind Act, and may recognize it as a well-meaning piece of legislation, aimed at improving our nation’s schools, that was passed in 2001 with bipartisan support. NCLB is probably best known for putting into place a system of accountability in order to measure the progress of students and schools. Through this legislation, the federal government began using standardized assessments as a yardstick for measuring school quality. Schools that made Annual Yearly Progress (AYP) on these assessments were praised and continued to receive federal funding; those that did not were punished with increasingly strident consequences. Many in education believe that this heavy focus on standardized assessments has had an extremely negative impact on schools.
Here at National Louis, 22 faculty members have signed a petition, written by two professors at the University of Colorado, that urges Congress and the Obama administration to reconsider its stance on test-based reforms. As of this writing, over 2,000 educational researchers and professors from around the country have signed the petition.
So what is the problem with test-based reforms? According to the petition, a lot. Included with the petition is a 13-page memo, outlining exactly what those of us who conduct research in higher education have learned about the impact of high stakes testing on schools. In 15 years, according to the research, we have very little to show for test-based reforms. The huge gains in student learning that were promised by proponents of NCLB have not materialized, and in addition, there have been many unintended consequences, including:
- The narrowing of school curricula, with huge emphasis on subjects being tested (reading and math) and a troubling decrease in other subjects, including the arts, science, and social studies;
- Schools that are less creative and engaging;
- Disparagement and devaluing of teachers and the teaching profession;
- Diminished emphasis on critical thinking, collaboration, problem solving, and reasoning.
In addition, though NCLB has documented inequities in education by disaggregating test score data so that we can see how our special education students, English Learners, low income students and students of color are faring on these tests.
NCLB has failed to provide resources that allow schools to adequately meet the needs of these students. The petition that so many NLU professors have signed asks Congress to rebalance the equation so that we spend less money on assessments and test-based reforms, and more on equitable distribution of resources that will most impact the success of all children, particularly our most marginalized students and their schools.
You can read the policy memo in its entirety here: http://nepc.colorado.edu/publication/esea and see the petition being submitted to Congress here: http://bit.ly/1uHBt5g.