by Erin Moore
In grade school, I was friends with this brilliant boy. Michael was a wonderfully gifted student: he loved history and geography in particular, had great drawing abilities, and to top it all off was a great test-taker. In order to get into private high schools, students must take entrance exams. During January of our eighth grade year, we took exams to get into our chosen high schools. Students who achieved high scores on the tests could receive scholarships, and Michael was not only one who earned a scholarship, but because he scored so well, he got the best possible scholarship to Gross Catholic High School. We parted ways in May. I went to Mercy High School, and Michael went off to Gross and was predicted to do very well. Freshman and most of sophomore year flew by, and I thrived socially and academically. One day, I walked in on a conversation my parents were having about Michael. He was leaving Gross. What? Why? His grades were too low so he lost his scholarship. Are you serious? How? I was shocked. My parents shrugged; they understood just as little as I did. Michael went to Central High School, and his grades were just as bad there. When I graduated in the spring of 2013, Michael’s grades were too low. While I heard words of congratulations and well wishes for college, people speculated on his failure to graduate. How did a kid who loved to learn and explore become the one who failed high school? What went wrong?
No Child Left Behind is a law written for the purpose of making improvements to the American education system. The title of the legislation itself implies that situations like Michael’s should not happen. If No Child Left Behind really does live up to its own title of leaving NO children behind in education, why are there still kids, like Michael, who are “left behind”? If this law is to be kept, it needs to be amended to help the children who are struggling to learn and succeed under the current practices of the law. I don’t think it would be effective to scrap the legislation in its entirety, but there are some components of the law which should be altered. These changes would mainly revolve around standardized testing and the problems that come from its misuse.
Standardized testing was intended to be a tool used to assess how well teachers were reaching the end goal of teaching their students well, and to determine if students were learning. It was made to be a measuring stick, but now higher test scores have become an end goal of education. I was discussing ACT scores with my friends one night, and my friend Molly was embarrassed about her score. Because of her shame, I was thinking that she had gotten a score around 20, which would not accurately reflect her academic abilities. She revealed that she got a 27; the same score that I had gotten. Why would anyone be ashamed of a 27? I know that I’m not. A big part of it could be because of a common conception is that a score of 30 or higher means that you’re smart, and lower scores somehow indicate academic inferiority. Jason Stanford, Democratic consultant and writer, contrasts this idea, saying that high-stakes testing has several problems: it does not measure what was learned in the classroom well, stress from the pressure to do well on such tests can have negative effects on scores, and using the scores from standardized tests to judge how well teachers are doing their jobs encourages them to “teach to the test” (Stanford par. 4). Standardized testing often relies heavily on rote memorization of information or on strategic test-taking. This testing does not measure every component of what a person can learn. A person’s ability is more than a test score. Learning is more than repeating verbatim what you read out of a book or heard a teacher say in class. Emphasizing getting high scores on standardized tests fails to promote teaching students so that they understand the material.
This focus on success in standardized testing can lead to emphasis on learning through memorization. There are many students who do not do well in a system which heavily relies on using standardized testing to measure and direct learning. Each person’s brain has a unique way of functioning, and memorization is only one style of learning. According to Saundra K. Ciccarelli, Professor of Psychology at Gulf Coast Community College, and J. Noland White, who is an Associate Professor of Psychology at Georgia College and Georgia’s Public Liberal Arts University, state in their book Psychology: An Introduction, that rote memorization can be used to store information in the long-term memory if the information is repeated enough, however, it is not the best way to remember information (Ciccarelli and White 179). Mere memorization is often an ineffective method of long-term learning. Students should be challenged to think in different, new ways that will help them know and understand material. Learning should bend their brains and stretch their abilities beyond they can currently do. Plus, straight up memorization isn’t usually fun; it’s tedious, time-consuming, and can be very frustrating. For example, I consider my French classes from high school, and how my teacher taught us. Learning languages requires a student to remember vocabulary, accents, context clues, punctuation, conjugations, and pronunciations. Rather than making us solely memorize every aspect of the French language, my teacher had us sing French songs, play games involving vocabulary, learn dialogues and poems, and do other fun activities in class. This was very effective for helping me learn and retain French, and I genuinely enjoyed that class.
While there are some significant problems with No Child Left Behind, it has been a significant component in the process of making improvements to education. This law has set national goals for academic achievement, made aiding struggling students a priority, and focused on the accountability of teachers, administrators, and schools as vital to educational success for students and schools. Cameron Brenchley, director of digital strategy at the U.S. Department of Education, highlights the fruits of No Child Left Behind, saying that the dropout rate of American high school students is decreasing, and the high school graduation rate is the highest it has been in 30 years (Brenchley par. 1, 2). As federal legislation, this law does its job of concentrating on pervasive problems in education well. The results of this law have mainly been positive, and to disregard that fact would be a mistake. It would not be effective to completely repeal No Child Left Behind, but altering the law to focus less on standardized testing scores would be helpful in making education more effective in preparing students for the real world.
Individuals have each have their own problems, such as poverty, illness, or abuse, which can hamper achieving their optimal successes in education. Diana J. LaRocco, Beth A. Taylor and Suzanne C. D’Annolfo, students of the University of Hartford uncovered through their research that many of the problems that affected children were centered around meeting fundamental physical needs, including getting enough food, having shelter, and safety. The authors explain that such deficiencies had a negative impact on physical, emotional, and social health, and these adverse effects could be seen in children’s behaviors and academic performance (LaRocco, Taylor, and D’Annolfo 5). Teachers have noticed that such conflicts in children’s environments can have negative consequences on their learning. I can promise you that if I feel like I am going to see my most recently eaten meal again, or if my body is convinced that it is the perfect time for a nap, or if I am worried about my own well-being and safety, I don’t care as much as I otherwise would about what my teacher is saying. Basic physical and psychological needs have to be met before an individual can progress towards higher objectives such as growth and fulfillment. It is absurd to try to bring in the federal government to solve such problems. While it is important to treat such issues, and at times people do need help to address them, smaller groups and organizations are better suited for such tasks.
No Child Left Behind does need to be refurbished. However, the entire law does not need to be thrown out because there have been some positive effects as a result of its application. There are multitudes of students who are helped by this legislation. The problem is students who are still struggling in school, like Michael did. The law should be rewritten in a way that helps teachers focus less on minimum test scores, and more on actually teaching their students according to their unique needs. If No Child Left Behind is to live up to its title, it needs to turn around and pick up the students who have fallen behind.
Brenchley, Cameron. “High School Graduation Rate at Highest Level in Three Decades.” Homeroom. United States Department of Education, 23 Jan 2013. Web. 2 Mar. 2014.
Ciccarelli, Saundra K., and J. N. White. Psychology: An Exploration. 2nd ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, 2014. Print.
LaRocco, Diana, Beth Taylor, and Suzanne D’Annolfo. “Urban Community Schools: Educator Perceptions of the Effects of Children’s Health and Wellness on Learning.” Current Issues in Education 17.1 (2014): 1-13.Academic Search Complete. Print.
Stanford, Jason. “Kress Now Lobbying for Pre-K… Testing.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, Inc., 13 Feb. 2014. Web. 23 Feb. 2014.