Troubleshooting Creativity : No Child Left Behind

No Child Left Behind’s test-based policies


The No Child Left Behind education measure was signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2002. As an update of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, it was a product of the Bush administration, both democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill, as well as civil rights and business groups. The Bush administration and the Obama administration committed to the test-based policies by giving federal grants through initiatives such as the School Improvement Grants, Flexibility Waivers, and Race to the Top among others (Hursh, 2007). These grants from the federal government were aimed at pushing schools, districts, and states to focus on No Child Left Behind by supporting policies that use test scores in high-stakes evaluation of principals and teachers. This was envisioned to advance American competitiveness, close the achievement gap between minority and poor students and their peers who are more advantaged. It had the good intention to maintain universally high expectations for schools, principals, teachers and consequently for students. Debates around No Child Left Behind are focused on which grades should be tested, how many tests should be given and the roles to be played by federal and state governments. Missing conspicuously is the question of whether equitable educational opportunities through significantly improved schooling will be produced by test-based accountability policies.

How and Why No Child Left Behind is failing

To label a policy or legislative initiative as a failure is an act of politics that not only identifies something as problematic but also appropriates responsibility for its failure to someone or a particular group of people. In order to assess things that go wrong in economic and political policies, debates on failure act as tool to evaluate where the responsibility falls. The recognition and definition of failure or success is necessary in the identification of a public policy’s turning point. This is so because it forces the community involved and policymakers as well to re-examine the measures they use to interpret and evaluate policy and highlight the problems involved. Failure debates are also crucial because they invite technical assessment and evaluation at the nuts and bolts level, which helps to identify the known and redefine the collective image of success.

Equality was the goal of the No Child Left Behind. The No Child Left Behind law was put in place to close the ever-increasing opportunity gaps and achievement gaps through testing. At the time, it was believed that if children were subjected to testing and if educators were then held responsible for improving test scores, then by 2014 most students would be scoring at the proficient level. This was not to be. It however emerged that testing is a functional documentation tool but is least effective in changing whatever problems have been identified. Instead of closing the gap, this testing-based system has not been able to address effectively the inevitably increasing opportunity gaps and achievement gaps that are a result of fewer resources and deep-rooted trends of ever-increasing educational and social needs. No Child Left Behind was an unsuccessful solution to the real problems of inequitably distributed opportunities for children to learn, grow, and thrive.

No Child Left Behind policy largely ignores the numerous opportunity gaps faced by children outside the school setting that have a huge impact on performance at school and fails to provide schooling support necessary for the success of students. Although No Child Left Behind included additional funding from the federal government for public schools, the funding was insufficient. The No Child Left Behind law operates within narrow confines and that it is time it was replaced by a law that not only increases flexibility but also provides more resources to educators and schools. According to a broad consensus among researchers, the No Child Left Behind policy is only ineffective but also counterproductive to the goal of achieving equality in opportunity and achievement (Hursh, 2007).

Possible creative solution to the underlying problems facing No Child Left Behind

In 2007, Congress was scheduled to rewrite the law but they never got round to doing it until mid-February of 2015, when the legislation to rewrite the No Child Left Behind that includes an annual testing mandate was approved by the House education committee(Strauss, 2015). To achieve the goal of meaningfully improved school outcomes and student opportunities, policymakers and the nation at large needs to engage in responsible conversations regarding evidence-based approaches that have a genuine potential to deliver this goal. As Congress moves to address this problem, proposals that earnestly aim to transform as opposed to gilding the test-based educational strategies should be adopted. Winning proposals should clearly indicate how they intend to reverse the negative consequences of the test score educational strategies. They should indicate how schooling could be made more creative and engaging with a strong commitment to pursue learning that fully encompasses science, social studies, music, and the arts. Skills and values that enable students to develop the ability to reason, solve problems, cooperate, function effectively as democratic citizens and make sound judgments should be encouraged and prioritized in the process.

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