No Child Left Behind and the Pattern of Education

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The No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act despite its beneficial purposes has been the subject of criticism and controversy which has brought increased attention to many of its reforms. In this paper, the main point of controversy is discussed which is the unified grading system and its obvious consequences. In a demonstrative attempt, this paper shows several examples of how the test scores can be misleading in showing the success of the Act’s implementation.

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The No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act of 2001 has been the subject of a lot of controversies during its short existence. Despite its great intentions to provide better education to school-age children, many issues in this program remain unresolved. The main criticism of the act is the lack of a uniform grading standard for the United States as a whole. Each state has its policies and grading standard, which result in a qualitative difference among students within the states. Some states have been accused of having grading standards that are quite low to create an impression that the school’s academic performance is very good. The focus is put on math, science, and reading with relatively low importance on other areas of study. This paper is a study on the ineffectiveness of the NCLB Act regarding the above-mentioned issues. It is well known that the NCLB does not improve the quality of education in the United States due to a lack of national performance assessment measures and neglect of disciplines, where “the goals of public education in the U.S. extend beyond the teaching of reading and math skills.” (Haney, 2006)

The No Child Left Behind Act was created to help endorse the Elementary and Secondary Education Act but has been dogged by controversies since its implementation in 2001. The NLCB Act has caused a lot of issues to arise and very few of them are being viewed as positive. The NCLB has been the primary focus in our education system that it even became a point of discussion in the recently concluded Presidential Election campaign. There are many Americans that are hopeful that substantial changes will be made by the new presidential administration.

Reasons and evidence

Lack of national performance assessment measures: One of the main criticisms against this education plan is the lack of a uniform policy, that will provide fair and adequate testing and performance assessment measures among different states in the country. Numerous people speculate that certain states have made tests easier in some subjects so it will not give an impression that good quality education is not being provided to the students. “Many states have scaled tests down to increase their schools’ proficiency rates, and created disparities that insure at least two-thirds of American children attend schools with low expectations.” (Education Portal, 2007) The Thomas B. Fordham Institute and the Northwest Evaluation Association have compiled data from twenty-six schools across the country and referred to the practice as a proficiency illusion. The study was performed for two topics specifically, reading proficiency and math. A few graphs are inserted to show the difference in standards that can be seen across different states. This chart provides evidence that there is a problem with the lack of a uniform proficiency testing scale.

Reading Proficiency Standards

When viewing this graph Colorado, has the lowest proficiency which is below ten, Wisconsin, New Jersey, and Michigan are only slightly ahead with fifteen. On the other side, there are California and Massachusetts that have a score of approximately fifty-five and sixty-one respectively. These results provided by using the NWEA scale are extremely high for math proficiency for third graders. Here, the same states mentioned above lie at the bottom of the scale with only their order changed. Colorado and Michigan have percentages below ten in this case, while New Jersey scores approximately twelve. It is observed that the better performing states, here again, California and Massachusetts come out on top with scores ranging between fifty and sixty. Another example is provided that shows the scores for eighth-graders on the same topics mentioned above.

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Reading Proficiency Standards

Here Colorado, Wisconsin, and Delaware are rated as the poor performers while South Carolina is way ahead with a score of more than seventy-two. In the case of math scores for eighth-graders, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Colorado come at the bottom, while Washington and Montana are among the better performers.

Two major issues arise due to the inconsistency in standards and grading. The first issue is that the quality of students among different states varies widely, which evaluates a national average as meaningless. The second issue is that students from these bottom performers who need only a lower grade for passing will find the subjects tough when they reach middle and high school levels. In addition, “the differences among states in apparent stringency can be due, in part, to reasonable differences in the assessment frameworks, the types of item formats employed, and the psychometric characteristics of the tests.” (National Center for Education Statistics, 2007)

Lack of focus on all disciplines

The NCLB aims to achieve a literacy level of 100% and provide increased educational quality by the year 2014. It is also observed that the schools are only required to focus on items like reading skills or math proficiency tending to ignore other areas like language and history, which are also necessary for the round development of the students. “Only reading and math scores count towards the progress measure, science scores do not. As a result, many individuals in the science community feel that their content is undermined because the school dedicates its class time and resources on math and reading.” (Boisseau, 2008) This feeling is also endorsed by teachers of other subjects such as art and history. A report from the National Academy of Sciences in 2005 revealed that high-quality knowledge in both math and science subjects is essential for national development, especially concerning its economic growth. In this scenario, the focus on two areas of education and the lack of a national policy on education will surely make the quality of students poorer when compared to other countries like Japan.

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Other areas of concern

The sole purpose of the NCLB plan is that no child be left behind, which has caused extreme overcrowding in schools across the country. Funding by the state for schools that are struggling financially is not readily available. The diverse results in tests across the country could point out another aspect of the problem, whereas mentioned by an Oregon-based testing organization, “two schools could have the same student achievement and student growth, but if these two schools are located across a state line in two different states, there is a very real chance that one school may be viewed as ‘at risk’ while the other is not.” (Pillow, 2003)

There is a noticeable difference between the African American community and the white community about children dropping out of school or not attending college. Following this issue, it could be noted in the example of a study conducted on Florida’s NAEP scores, that “Florida started flunking many more students, disproportionately minority students, to repeat grade 3”, and in that manner boosting the results of Grade 4 students. (Haney, 2006, p. 4)


No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act was drafted with the hope to boost the academic performance of students and ensure that all students are given equal access to the education they deserve. Nevertheless, the research suggests that the intended results of the act are quite opposite. NCLB fosters the widening of the performance gap and deprives minority children of the opportunity to obtain a quality education. The lack of national performance assessment standards allows states the freedom of setting state-level requirements that may differ significantly across the United States. With that being stated, emphasis on specific subjects narrows the academic development of children and places limits on the focus of other subjects, which is not good for the scholastic growth of a child. NCLB does not fulfill its objectives and should not be used as a guide to decide on which schools receive funding for its education.


Boisseau, R. (2008). Science and Math Education Challenges Face Next President, Congress. Inside Science News Service. Web.

Education Portal (2007). State Tests Dumbed Down to Create a False Impression of NCLB Success. Web.

Haney, W. M. (2006). Evidence on Education under NCLB (and How Florida Boosted NAEP Scores and Reduced the Race Gap). Web.

National Center for Education Statistics (2007). Mapping 2005 State Proficiency Standards Onto the NAEP Scales. Web.

Pillow, P. (2003). New study confirms vast differences in state goals for academic ‘proficiency’ under NCLB. Web.

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"No Child Left Behind and the Pattern of Education." ChalkyPapers, 30 June 2022,


ChalkyPapers. (2022) 'No Child Left Behind and the Pattern of Education'. 30 June.


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ChalkyPapers. "No Child Left Behind and the Pattern of Education." June 30, 2022.