The Elementary & Secondary Education Act (ESEA) of 1965 currently known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB) challenges states and school districts to increase efforts to improve student academic achievement. Its accountability provisions focus attention on low-performing groups of students, intending to close the achievement gap.
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. 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
- 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 anIndividualized 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.
Why Is It So Important That Children With Learning Disabilities Be Included in State Assessments?
No Child Left Behind is intended to improve the education of all children. As part of the law, all states are required to release easy-to-read, detailed report cards every year that provide parents and the general public with a measure of how schools are doing. These report cards must include information on how students in each district, as well as each school, performed on state assessments. The report cards must state student performance on three levels: basic, proficient, and advanced. The data must also be broken down by various student subgroups, including students with disabilities. Just like all other subgroups, NCLB requires that students with disabilities reach proficient levels of achievement. This is not extra pressure on the children. This is a mandate for schools to provide a better education for students with disabilities, including learning disabilities.
In addition, each state is required to set Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) standards that schools must meet. In defining AYP, each state must set the minimum levels of improvement, measurable in terms of student performance that school districts and schools must achieve within the time frame specified by the law. Basically, states have to continue to raise the bar on academic achievement, and by 2013–2014 all subgroups in all schools in all states must be achieving proficient levels in reading and math on state assessments. This includes students with learning disabilities. Unlike in the past, NCLB is setting a way (the state assessments) for schools to be held accountable for what their students with learning disabilities are learning and achieving.
How Else Does NCLB Set Out to Improve Public Education?
Here is a brief summary of other ways NCLB will ensure a better education for students with LD.
- Increased flexibility and local control: NCLB gives both states and local school districts greater flexibility in the use of federal funds than they previously had. This flexibility allows for the reallocation of certain funds to programs dedicated to teacher quality improvement, technology, safe and drug-free schools, and many others. This flexibility is dependent on improved results on state assessments and does not include IDEA funds, or the possibility of transferring money out of Title 1* programs.
- Expanded options for parents: Under NCLB, all parents must receive local and district report cards before the beginning of every school year. If a Title 1 school fails to meet its AYP goal for two consecutive years, parents may choose to place their children in non-failing schools in their district. Under NCLB, school districts must pay the cost of transporting students to the other public school. After three years of failure to meet AYP goals, schools must also offer supplemental services to the children remaining there, including tutoring, after-school programs and summer school paid for by the district.
- Improved teaching qualifications: NCLB requires that all teachers be highly qualified. That means they hold at least a bachelor’s degree and have passed a state test of subject knowledge. Elementary school teachers must demonstrate knowledge of teaching math and reading; while teachers in higher grades must demonstrate knowledge of the subject they teach, or must have majored in the subject. Special education teachers must be knowledgeable about the content area(s) they teach as well as special education, unless they provide consultative services to highly qualified general education teachers.
ESEA and Students With Learning Disabilities
The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) is the nation’s oldest and largest federal education law. Intended to ensure that all children — including those with disabilities — have a fair, equal, and significant opportunity to obtain a high-quality education, ESEA provisions are critically important to students with learning disabilities.
Find out more about how No Child Left Behind affects kids on Understood.org.