‘No Child Left Behind’ Left Schools and Children Behind


Angelina Pena, Staff Writer

 In the midst of the Keystone season, you may be wondering why these tests originally started, and why they play such an important role in our school. Keystones were created to replace the grade 11 PSSAs and to help guide school districts toward meeting state standards. But, we can blame the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) for the intense pressure and importance that comes with passing the test, not only for students themselves but for the school district as well.

The No Child Left Behind Act was started in 2002 with the goal of providing more educational opportunities for students. The act was passed to hold schools accountable for how much kids learned and achieved academically. Schools now had adequate yearly progress (AYP) to meet through state testing scores. If they were able to meet their AYP, they’d receive federal funding for improvement, but if they were unable to, funding would be removed from the district.

Schools with a majority of low-income students were labeled “Title-1 schools.” If Title 1 schools were unable to make their AYP, the NCLB would now allow the state to change the school’s leadership team, or even shut down the school. These punishments were only applied to Title-1 schools, contradicting one of NCLB’s goals, which was to provide more education opportunities for students in poverty.

State testing was now a much larger priority than before. Schools didn’t want to risk losing their funding, so they turned to narrowing the curriculum. State testing focuses mainly on reading and math so that now became the main focus in school curriculums, leaving behind other subjects such as social studies and arts. Any subject that isn’t explicitly used in state testing, is deemed less important because schools now have to focus more on those main testing subjects, rather than creating a well-rounded curriculum for their students.

Many teachers now feel pressured to “teach to test,” in order to keep their school’s scores high enough. Teaching to test is teaching only the most vital information that will be on the state test, and leaving subjects deemed less important behind, continuing to narrow the curriculum. Everyone in the district is affected by budget cuts, so teachers feel it’s up to them to do the most they can to prevent them. This pressure can give teachers mountains of unwanted stress and can end up affecting their personal lives.  Teachers will express their stress to their students, which adds stress to the students’ lives as well. 38% of students admit to having constant test anxiety, which can affect their ability to perform to their best ability during tests, especially ones as overly emphasized as state tests.  

The strict requirements of NCLB can be a financial drain for schools and districts. A major issue of NCLB is funding and underfunded mandates. Education funding is not a high priority in the United States, as many schools see budget cuts year after year regardless of what they do. This makes it incredibly difficult for schools to afford basic items for their classrooms, let alone the implement policies required. In lower-income districts, many teachers find themselves having to buy supplies using their own money, because of their lack of funding. 

One of the main goals for NCLB was to provide educational opportunities to four main groups: students in poverty, students of color, students receiving special education services, and those who don’t speak or know limited English. Yet, with the pressure to make their AYP, some school districts feel tempted to exclude students they know will perform poorly, such as developmentally delayed students, or those whose first language isn’t English, and tend to favor those they know will get higher marks.

In 2015, the No Child Behind Act was replaced by the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). With this new act in place, a few changes were made. States now had the ability to set their own goals for their student’s achievement, and states also now had flexibility on when and how they’d administer their state testing. They could either continue to do it in the form of one larger test or break it down into multiple smaller tests throughout the year. AYP’s were now completely eliminated, taking off the overwhelming pressure on schools. 

Even with all of the benefits that arrived with the new name, ESSA still has its own flaws. ESSA gave some control back to the states, but little was actually changed on a practical level. States are still held responsible for testing requirements, reporting data, and sanctioning underperformance which continues to keep high pressure on schools. ESSA doesn’t significantly change how school performance is measured. Educators still have concerns about narrow circulars, as principles still feel immense pressure to raise test scores, regardless of the changes made. 

Both ESSA and NCLB made great efforts to try and improve the school system, but ultimately failed at doing so. All they ended up doing, was creating unneeded stress for school districts, staff, and students. Many students would agree that Keystones bring them anxiety, and stress into their lives-all over a few tests. If more consideration and time was put into this act, it could’ve been far more successful and created a much better learning environment for all.