What is the No Child Left Behind Act?
The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB) is the current version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA)--the principal federal law affecting public education from kindergarten through high school in the United States. The ESEA was originally passed in 1965. NCLB is important legislation for students with learning disabilities (LD), because it ensures that they reach high levels of academic standards, just like other children in America's public schools today.
NCLB is based on four principles of educational reform
- Stronger accountability for results;
- increased flexibility and local control;
- Expanded options for parents and (4) an emphasis on teaching qualifications and methods. Of these four, accountability for results is the principle that has the potential to greatly improve the educational results for children with LD.
How does NCLB hold schools accountable for results?
Several critical elements in NCLB ensure that schools are held accountable for educational results so that the best education possible is provided to each and every student. The three most critical elements to understand are:
- Academic content standards (what students should learn)
- Academic achievement standards (how well they should learn)
- State assessments (whether a school is teaching all students successfully)
Academic content standards and academic achievement standards in reading/language arts, mathematics and science have been defined by each state. These standards define what all children should know and be able to do to be considered "proficient." Information about each state's standards should be available on the state's education department Web site and in print materials.
State assessments are the way schools must prove that they have successfully taught their students. Beginning in 2005-2006, all states must provide annual assessments that are appropriate for all students in grades 3 through 8 and once in high school in both reading/language arts and math (science assessments must be added beginning in 2007-2008). These assessments must include students with disabilities. Schools must also provide the accommodations and alternate assessments that may be needed by students with disabilities. Accommodations are changes to the assessment materials or procedures that allow for students to demonstrate their knowledge and skills rather than the effects of their disabilities. Students with learning disabilities should be participating in the regular state assessments with or without accommodations. Alternate assessments are assessments designed to measure the performance of students with disabilities who are unable to participate in state and district assessments even with appropriate accommodations. These alternate assessments are typically designed for students with complex disabilities and probably would not be appropriate for most students with learning disabilities.
How does NCLB work with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)?
IDEA specifically provides services to students with disabilities. Each student served under IDEA has an Individualized Education Program (IEP) that defines the special education and related services needed by the student. NCLB holds schools accountable for the educational outcomes of those children, as well as all others. In the past, students with disabilities were frequently left out of state and district level assessment and accountability systems; and in many cases did not have access to the general curriculum on which these assessments are based. Because this type of access and assessment did not happen, there was no external measure to indicate whether special education students were learning enough to move on to a post-secondary education or to get a job.
The IEP that is designed for each individual IDEA-eligible student must address how that student will participate in state assessments. Students with disabilities may participate in state assessments in the same way as other students, or with accommodations or by participating in alternate assessments. The IEP team should not be deciding whether a student will participate in state assessments, but how, so as to hold the educational system responsible for the student's learning. If the IEP team determines that an accommodation or modification needed by a child will invalidate a test's results for state accountability (such as, perhaps, having questions read aloud to the student), the team should decide how that student can appropriately be assessed through alternate methods.