The current No Child Left Behind legislation is based on the idea that every student is capable of being proficient, with performance that falls “in the middle,” between basic and advanced achievement. Regardless of educational background, available family and community support networks, and the in- and out-of-school environment, every child can reach this average level of performance.
The problem is that striving for an average level of proficiency actually dilutes student achievement. As the Education Week article “NCLB Seen as Curbing Low, High Achievers’ Gains” reports, the focus on teaching to the average level of student proficiency leaves students who achieve at higher and lower levels behind. Teachers work to to ensure students reach the mandated adequate yearly progress scores, but in the end, students who are above or below average lose. High achievers arent challenged to move beyond average performance, and struggling students are not given the support they need to reach proficiency.
In the NCLB classroom, curriculum is structured to focus on helping the average student do well on a single win-or-lose test. The result is that the literacy skills that all students bring to the classroom can go unacknowledged and unsupported. The only literacy skills that matter are those that apply to the test. Teachers of the youngest students actually take class time to instruct students on how to fill in bubbles on test forms. Learning to color in the lines becomes curriculum instead of true literacy instruction.
We must demand change. No Child Left Behind needs to live up to its name. We need a program that supports the wide range of literacy skills students need in the 21st century and the vast differences among students in the classroom.
To move beyond a system that encourages teaching aimed at the average student and average proficiency, we need to demand the following characteristics become the goal in ensuring every child succeeds:
- Student achievement should be measured by locally created performance assessments, not one-size-fits-all tests that ignore students who dont fit in.
- Curriculum and performance should focus on teaching the full range of literacy skills, not just the literacy of test-taking.
- School experiences should prepare students with the deep knowledge necessary for success in a global society, not success in filling in the right bubbles on test forms.
- Assessment should provide timely, concrete feedback to teachers, parents, and students, not numbers with no context and no process for learning from past work.
- The growth and achievement among English Language Learners should be measured with multiple sources of evidence that document the full range of students literacy abilities. English Language Learners should not be assessed with premature tests of English skills that result in misjudged or underrated results.
- Curriculum and testing should be based on scientifically-valid research that fits the best methods to specific questions. Research is not one-size-fits-all either.
- Instructional decisions should be based on an archive of powerful research gathered from direct observation of student learning in a range of authentic school settings, not on research that inadequately represents how students learn to read and write.
In truth, no child is average. Every child is different, and we must demand legislation that recognizes that fact. You can help by taking a few minutes to write your members of Congress and letting them know how they can make the NCLB law work for students, teachers, and schools. Take action now and help ensure that no child is treated like an average student.