EDITORIAL | NCLB lets students slip between cracks

By Amanda Finnegan
March 29, 2007

PSSA, HESPA, CAT, CTBS, GEPA. Every year, for a week, these standardized tests ruled our young lives. We were told to get a good night’s rest and eat a full breakfast in order to do our best. Even though we were told the tests were a big deal and they were infinitely long and boring, in the back of our minds we thought they were no big deal.

Since 2002, these state-mandated tests affect more than a student. They affect teachers and how they run their class, along with entire school districts. Because of the No Child Left Behind Act, state-mandated tests determine the fate of American education.

The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, also known as NCLB, was a law signed by President Bush in January of 2002 that reauthorized a number of federal programs that aim to improve the performance of U.S. schools by increasing the standards of accountability for school districts and schools, according to the U.S. Department of Education. The act mainly focuses on making sure students are reaching their grade-level skills in reading, writing and math.

NCLB holds school districts responsible for how well or how poorly students score on a state-mandated test, graduation rates and other assessments. If a particular school tests poorly as a whole, funding is taken away from the school, and if a school scores high, more funding is given, rewarding the school.

Sounds simple enough. Reward the schools and teachers that excel and punish those that do not meet standards. But if only it was really that simple. NCLB contradicts the fundamentals of American education. We pride ourselves on our educational system and giving students the special attention they need but No Child Left Behind does nothing more than leave students behind.

School funding is directly tied with how well a student performs. When schools can pay to have the most qualified teachers and the best resources to conduct programs, students will reach their highest potential. But when money is being taken away from schools that need it the most, students will never be able to succeed. A student needs the most attention when they are doing poorly, not when they are acing every test.

One of the biggest problems with NCLB is that every student learns at a different pace. Yet, they are still expected to meet state requirements. NCLB expects each to fit into the same mold, which is not the case.

NCLB assumes every student is the same, including special needs and English as a second language students. When they can’t pass the test, the government assumes the school is lagging. But if these students could pass the state test, they would in mainstream classrooms. They are given the special attention for a reason.

If students fail the test, the school district has to offer special programs to bring the failing students up to the level. Teachers with special certifications have to be hired to teach these programs, which costs the school money, along with other resources. But if funding is taken away from the school, how are the expected to provide the programs? It becomes a vicious cycle.

Because school districts are losing necessary funding, they are forced to cut programs like physical education, art and music. Not only are the programs being cut because the funding isn’t there, but the time isn’t either. Schools are forced to “teach to the test,” meaning teachers only have enough time to force feed students the information they need to pass the test and graduate. Creativity is being taken out of the classroom and being replaced by analogies and word problems.

No Child Left Behind was designed to hold schools directly accountable for a student’s performance but often discourages teachers and let students slip through the cracks. Statistics and standardized tests have consumed the lives of our students and educators.

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Amanda Finnegan

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