At President Bush's urging, Congress enacted the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. The law was based on the belief that by setting national standards and measurable goals for every child attending a public school, each one would receive a quality education. And there was no doubt that something needed to be done about our failing schools.
In theory, NCLB made a lot of sense. America's high school and college graduates were no longer leading the way as some of the most educated and well-prepared to enter the workforce and to eventually take over as leaders in an increasingly complex world.
It was touted by experts in the field of education, business leaders, the media, and elected officials as a panacea. All children, whether they lived in urban, suburban, or rural communities; or came from wealthy, middle class, or poor families would receive the same high level of academic instruction. They would all be held to statewide standards of achievement, which would be determined by student performances on standardized tests.
Over a dozen years later, NCLB is still the law of the land and the tests are still being given to all children attending any public school receiving federal funding. The results of these standardized tests are then used to judge if a school succeeded or failed to meet Adequate Yearly Progress, a measurement used to determine how every public school and school district in the country is performing and how future federal funds will be allocated.
While the NCLB Act allows each state to have flexibility in defining AYP, it must include the following:
Be the primary factor in the state's measure of AYP in addition to at least one other academic indicator
For high schools, the other academic indicator must be graduation rate
States must also create benchmarks for how students will progress each year to meet the end goal of 100 percent proficiency
Must include separate measures for both reading/language arts and math
At least 95 percent of students in a school must take the state tests, and each meet or exceed the measurable annual objectives set by the state for each year
As a teacher, I firmly believe in the need to test and evaluate students' progress. But I agree with past Assistant Secretary of Education and former NCLB advocate, Diane Ravitch, who now says, "that testing has now become a weapon used against schools and students."
In 2005, Ravitch stated, "We should thank President George W. Bush and Congress for passing No Child Left Behind." Several years later, Ravitch saw a different NCLB and wrote in The Death and Life of the Great American School System, "Instead of raising standards, NCLB has actually lowered them. Many states dumbed down their tests or changed the scoring…to say that more kids are passing than actually are." And even more damaging, the majority of the school year and educational dollars are now being spent teaching to tests and not preparing children to handle the challenges they will face as adults.
Parents across the Country like Kyle and Jennifer Massey from Waco, Texas are now taking action to stop this alarming tread by having their children opt out of testing. In a letter to their children's principals, they wrote:
"We want our children to become critical and creative thinkers, not subservient test-takers. We do not want teachers shackled to a faulty testing product such as the STAAR test, or any standardized test. High-stakes is not the education experience we want for our children, and thus we are choosing to opt all STAAR testing activities.
If we're going follow the dictates of NCLB and use AYP as the gold standard to determine success or failure, then we've got to count No Child Left Behind as the biggest failure of all.
After 12 years and billions of dollars invested, it didn't accomplish the most important goal:
One hundred percent of all students in 100 percent of all public schools become proficient in reading/language arts and mathematics – by spring 2014!
If we care about our children, it's time for parents and all concerned adults to take action, speak up, and demand the right for 100 percent of children to receive quality education in all subject areas - not just reading/language arts and math because those are what "count" on some arbitrary standardized tests.
Attend local school board meetings and voice your concerns. Make sure that your state and federal elected officials know you're serious about providing children with real learning and not just improved test scores. And if you're timid about doing this alone, join with others like the Masseys. There is strength in numbers.
It's time for us to stop looking to simple fixes for the monumental educational challenges we face. It's going to take major investments from all Americans, not just those with children in the public schools. If we don't do it now, we'll all pay dearly for it later, and the cost will be much more than just money - it will be our future and the future of our country.