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Standardized Failure: The Detrimental

Effects of the No Child Left Behind Act

Jonathan Wang
April 11
, 2014
In 2001, a bill proposed to close the achievement gap with accountabilit, !le"ibilit, and
choice, so that no child is le!t behind#
passed through both houses o! $ongress with bipartisan support
and was signed into law b %resident &ush' As that revealing description suggests, the law was the (o
$hild )e!t &ehind Act' *his sounded !antastic, did it not+ (obod wants to see a child le!t behind,
especiall not a politician' A!ter all, a child thriving academicall meant at least one happ parent at the
voting booth' *he law passed with !ling colors, being voted ,-4 !or vs 4. against in the /ouse o!
and 11 !or vs - against in the 2enate
' $learl, this was a popular law'
*he (o $hild )e!t &ehind Act, hence!orth re!erred to as the ($)&A or ($)& in this issue
brie!, intended to accomplish its namesa3e goal mainl b increasing state accountabilit !or students4
academic pro!icienc through annual testing !or all students in grades ,5-#
' *hese tests were meant to
e"amine the basic mathematical reasoning and reading comprehension s3ills o! students, while being
designed in such a wa that the would not intellectuall discriminate against children a!!licted b
povert, race, ethnicit, disabilit, 6or7 limited 8nglish pro!icienc#'
*his sounded wonder!ul and
simple on paper as the ($)&A basicall promoted one idea9 the introduction o! new and improved
standardi:ed testing' /owever, as it turns out, this would eventuall turn out to be a heavil misguided
approach to the improvement o! education' ;ver the ne"t thirteen ears, up to the present da, the
($)&A would end up seeing increasingl poor results in the !ostering and maintaining o! nationwide
education' 8"amining data and rhetoric concerning the ($)&A, it becomes painsta3ingl clear that the
act is !undamentall bro3en, and that the American education sstem re<uires an alternative solution
!or educational re!orm'
Issues Concerning the NCLBA
In general, it can be clearl be seen that the ($)&A has been largel ine!!ective in promoting
academic achievement' *a3e, !or e"ample, the in!ormation seen in the image below, which was !ound
in an annual report on ade<uate earl progress =A>%? b the $enter on 8ducation %olic' *his table
shows a brea3down o! @2 schools based on whether or not the met their A>%, with !urther
organi:ation o! the data arranged b state' *he !ull list was not included in order to conserve space'
/owever, the main trend is abundantl clearA in the ear 2011, an entire decade a!ter the
implementation o! the ($)&A, 4-B o! schools across the nation !ailed to show ade<uate earl
As can be seen, this was determined !rom a sample o! nearl 12,000 schools, and nearl hal! o! those
schools !ailed to meet e"pectations, despite the presence o! a law which literall ma3es it mandator to
accomplish Cust that' According to the same report, 2011 mar3ed the capstone on a histor o! worsening
academic progress since 200D, when the
percentage o! schools which !ailed to ma3e
A>% was onl at 21B' In addition, there is
little to no evidence that the ($)&A is even
meeting its main goal o! creating a !air and
balanced educational sstem !or
disadvantaged children' $onsider this graphic which shows the di!!erence between test scores o!
A!rican American
children and white children' As can clearl be seen, !rom 11E1 up to 11--, the gap between scores was
shrin3ing dramaticall' *here was an e<uali:ing e!!ect running through the American education sstem'
In !act, according to this data, it would seem li3e huge strides were being made in the blac3
communit, as blac3 children made a 20 point gain in average test scores, while white children saw
little movement over all with regards to test scores' /ere, however, is data !rom post52001, in other
words, post5($)&9
*he gap between racial test scores has
stopped shrin3ing' In !act, it widened,
as average scores !or white children
went up about 10 points, while the test
scores o! A!rican Americans have
stagnated' *his is not indicative o! the
balanced plaing !ield ($)& promised'
I! anthing, it is proo! that something
happened in modern times which sti!led
the tremendous growth in A!rican American education which was witnessed during the previous three
*his sort o! evidence is littered everwhere one loo3s in the wa3e o! ($)&' *he act is renown
!or being either ine!!ective or even detrimental to our educational sstem, and the damage it has caused
is appallingl apparent' 8ven hardline conservative senator 0ic3 2antorum said that he regrets voting
!or the law'
(ow o! course, the act is not purel terrible' 2ome technical bene!its are associated with
this law, including record high standardi:ed test scores and supplemental aid being given to over
4.0,000 3ids who were deemed to be struggling b ($)&'
/owever, these are !lims improvements
at best' *est scores are high because teachers are learning how to teach to a test, instead o! educating
their students in a manner more conducive to the needs o! the actual children' 4.0,000 children ma be
receiving help, but there are even more students who become disengaged !rom their education due to
the painsta3ing, stress!ul nature o! standardi:ed testing, and are su!!ering without reali:ing it, as
teachers engage in teaching methods and behaviors that are more conducive to scoring well on a test, as
opposed to helping cultivate the creative, curious spirit that is the academic ideal !or a student to
possess' (o, ultimatel the (o $hild )e!t &ehind Act, however well intentioned, is a harm!ul piece o!
legislation which inCurious to the ver nature o! education' In straight !orward terms, its !laws include9
Assuming that the academic worth o! a student can be measured solel !rom the results o!
standardi:ed testing'
Assuming, somewhat ironicall, that a one si:e !its all# approach to testing will !airl
encompass all students, regardless o! their natural aptitude, socioeconomic status, or native
Alienating teachers !rom their pro!ession and purpose b enacting penalties and punishments
based on student per!ormance on tests'
8ncouraging school sstems to adopt lower standards and engage in unethical behaviors out o!
!ear o! said penalties'
(eglecting subCects that are not reading, mathematics, or science and !ostering a cultural
imbalance o! academic values'
*he intention o! ($)& was certainl a good one' It was meant to create high standards across
the nation and hold schools and teachers to a higher accountabilit !or their students4 progress'
/owever, the severe mista3e that was made was creating a direct relationship between the per!ormance
o! students and rewardsFpunishments !or educators' According to a report !rom Ganderbilt @niversit,
teachers sa retrospectivel that their morale has declined in the ears since ($)& was signed and
that the !eel !rustrated b a test5driven instructional culture'#
*eachers are the li!eblood o! an
educational sstem' *he are the ones who wor3 with the students, the ones who are ultimatel
responsible !or conveing 3nowledge and instilling a genuine interest in education in their 3ids' And
teachers aren4t the onl ones su!!ering at the hands o! ($)&' E1B o! districts across the nation have
ta3en action to promote reading and mathematics, the cornerstones o! ($)& testing, at the e"pense o!
subCects such as social studies and the arts
, a sacri!ice that is ultimatel harm!ul to students' *he
arti!icial imbalance in curriculum this polic creates inherentl alienates children who possess a lesser
natural aptitude !or the promoted subCects, thus estranging them !rom the learning process as well' In
addition, all 3ids under this sstem su!!er !rom losing e"posure to the arts and humanities, which
develop and spea3 to students4 hearts in a wa that is not possible !or algebra and ancient Hree3
literature' %erhaps the worst result o! the act, however, is the amount o! unethical behavior engaged in
b teachers in an e!!ort to produce better results' With a lot to gain !or generating good test scores and
everthing to lose !or poor ones, teachers are put in a situation where the are !ighting simpl to
survive' *he best interests o! the students are pushed aside as teachers !uriousl teach to the test or even
!lat out cheat to avoid the conse<uences o! a poor per!ormance' An investigation which too3 place in
Atlanta, 2001, revealed that 1E- teachers and principals in nearl hal! the cit4s schools had unlaw!ull
boosted scores on state standardi:ed tests, with the !raud determined to have been caused primaril b
the pressure to meet targets in the data5driven environment#'
*he current environment which promotes
the doctoring o! test scores is absolutel detrimental in ever wa possible !or our educational sstem'
It demeans and devalues the di!!icult and sensitive wor3 which teachers engage in and ultimatel
results in standards being lowered in order to generate higher test scores' It causes our educators to lose
sight o! the great cause towards which the are trul wor3ing'
8ducation is !undamentall the relationship between the student and his or her teacher' When
the two are snchroni:ed in their motives and enthusiasm, then the process o! learning is genuine, and
both parties involved will bene!it greatl !rom the relationship' /owever, such snchronicit can not
ta3e place under the culture o! insensitive standardi:ed testing that ($)& has imprinted upon the
American psche' *he academic success o! our children lives and dies b the virtue o! their teachers
and b our children4s own engagement and belie! in their wor3' /owever, i! we continue to constrict
and pressure the wor3ing environment and mentalit o! our educators and students, we will push such
success beond our grasp'
What Do We Do
8ven though it is heavil !lawed, the ($)&A does point out and attempt to address an
important issue9 ensuring that teachers and school districts are indeed providing 3ids with a strong,
meaning!ul education' *he issue with ($)&, however, was that it did not understand education at a
!undamental level' *he act tried to approach education as i! it were an economic tas3 which could be
solved b appling the right incentives and deterrents to the right people' 8ducation, however, is not
something so mechanical as a corporation' 8ducation is an organic process, involving millions o!
individual students who each have their own individual needs and interests' A sstem as dnamic and
variable as education can not be generali:ed and controlled as ($)& attempted to, nor does it need to
be' As the great educationalist 2ir Ien 0obinson said, With organic sstems, i! the conditions are
right, li!e is inevitable' It happens all the time' >ou ta3e an area, a school, a district, ou change the
conditions to give people a di!!erent sense o! the possibilities6'''7ou cherish and value the relationship
between teachers and learners, ou o!!er people digression to be creative and to innovate in what the
do, and schools that were once bere!t spring to li!e'#
What this essentiall means, is that we need to
begin rewor3ing the ver wa we see education in America' It is not a machine !or churning out highl
competitive diplomas and s3ill5sets, although those are de!initel a subset o! the results o! education,
but rather an instrument b which we cultivate thin3ing, responsible citi:ens to comprise a more
cohesive societ' As such, !orcing children through a series o! pro!icienc# tests li3e parts on an
assembl line will not produce the !uture innovators and leaders that we see3, but rather a group o!
burned out individuals, whose main s3ill the received !rom their education was how to learn !or a test'
2o, i! standardi:ed testing is not the wa to ensure that our 3ids are receiving the high <ualit
education that the should be, what is+ *o answer this <uestion, we should e"amine the practices o! top
per!orming countries !rom around the world' In particular, the nations which stand out in international
academic per!ormance are 2outh Iorea, $hina, 2ingapore, and Jinland' Interestingl enough, the
8astern Asian countries accomplish their incredible academic trac3 records b essentiall pushing
everthing (o $hild )e!t &ehind advocates, but to the e"treme' *he pressure to do well in school in
these countries is utterl un!athomable to Western students' 2ingapore and $hina both have a long
tradition in which high per!ormance and standardi:ed testing have been ingrained into their cultures !or
generations upon generations' 2outh Iorea has the highest student suicide rate among the ;rgani:ation
!or 8conomic $ooperation and Kevelopment'
8ven though 8astern Asian educational sstems utili:e
high amounts o! control and testing, the culture surrounding academic achievement is incomparable to
what we 3now or would be com!ortable with in America' As such, it is incredibl impractical to
attempt to loo3 !or educational alternatives in the Jar 8ast'
With that being said, we now loo3 at Jinland, the onl countr to consistentl per!orm around
the same levels o! pro!icienc as the 8astern Asian countries in the %rogramme !or International
2tudent Assessment, or %I2A tests'
*he Jinnish school sstem would appear to be utterl bi:arre to
us' *here are no standardi:ed tests given in Jinland, the teachers are given nearl complete autonom
in the classroom when it comes to designing their curriculum, and educational sstems are prohibited
b law to impose an sort o! tuition'
*his !lies in the !ace o! man o! the assumptions we believe are
necessar to develop an e"cellent school sstem, et Jinland consistentl outper!orms the @nited
2tates, enCos an incredible average standard o! living, and boasts a less than 1B high school dropout
rate, compared to the @nited 2tate4s 2.B'
Jinnish teachers are re<uired to have a masters degree at
least, are treated more as s3illed specialists rather than laborers, and are revered in Jinnish societ'
Kespite comparable starting salaries, there is !ar more competition !or Jinnish teaching opportunities
than American ones, and Jinnish teachers pursue a whatever it ta3es# mindset when it comes to
helping a struggling student succeed'

$learl this is all ver impressive, but what does lauding Jinnish academia tell us+ Well, man
things reall' *he Jinnish sstem is proo! that getting out o! the wa o! teachers and eliminating our
tampering with the relationship between them and their students can not onl wor3, but thrive' *heir
low dropout rate combined with their lac3 o! standardi:ed testing and encouragement o! creative,
individual wor3 shows us that it is possible to academicall engage students in a wa that is enCoable
to them' & studing the Jinnish, we reali:e that when teachers trul believe in what the teach and
encouraged to build their own personali:ed sstems o! interacting with their students at an intimate
level, learning becomes a naturall occurring process, as opposed to the laborious tas3 that the vast
maCorit o! American students see it as toda' I4m not proposing that we cop the Jinnish sstem in its
entiret, but we should de!initel be observing and incorporating elements o! it into our own
educations' I! we are serious about improving our academic per!ormance as a nation, then we are going
to have to open our minds to the !act that what we re<uire is not a new set o! top5down policies, higher
levels o! standardi:ed testing, or even more !unding' We spend more mone on education than an
other nation in the world'
$learl, !inances are not the issue' What we need is a shi!t in our academic
culture' We need to stop viewing teachers as mere wor3ers and begin treating them with the respect and
trust that, as pro!essionals in their !ield, the deserve' We must recogni:e that there is no !ormula to
mass produce tomorrow4s arm o! engineers, doctors, entrepreneurs, that ever student is uni<ue in his
or her passions and interests, and that we must let our teachers, who 3now them so well, innovate and
!acilitate courses and curriculum which will appeal to the inherent curiosit and :eal !or li!e that is
present in each and ever child' We must reali:e that the bond between teacher and student is sacred,
and that while we can and should do everthing to supplement it, we must never obstruct it' *he !irst
step to wal3ing this path is to abolish the (o $hild )e!t &ehind Act which, despite its name, leaves
man children behind with its detrimental methods'
We do not have room to ma3e errors when it comes to the education o! our children' (ot onl
does it a!!ect their own prospects in li!e, but an ill5educated populace bodes nothing well !or the
societies which the will end up composing, nor the generations the will end up raising' As science5
!iction writer /'H' Wells once said, $ivili:ation is in a race between education and catastrophe'# *he
(o $hild )e!t &ehind Act will cause America to lag behind in that race with its policies vili! teachers,
promote teaching to the test# and cheating over true teaching, and harms countless oung students b
assuming that ever child can be evaluated b a set o! tests which onl e"amine a !raction o! student
potential' It is there!ore imperative that we cast o!! this !ailed attempt to remed the American
educational sstem and began to build a new academic culture, where we see education and the
individuals involved with !or what the reall are9 not an economic machine, but a living !orm o! art'
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