No Child Left Behind mandates that all school districts are accountable for all students to reach academic proficiency and thus make adequate yearly progress (AYP). Schools are given a limited number of alternate assessments based on modified or altered standards of achievement. When a school does not meet AYP, leadership must have a plan to initiate improvement and parents are permitted to transfer to a performing school. NCLB puts pressures on schools and their leadership to achieve and the game of strategies has developed. Schools then created lower standards of proficiency and weakened rigor on tests to boost achievement. The positive mark of making all schools accountable has unfortunately led some action plans astray (Byrnes, 2013). Did we not leave children behind, or did we meet the children back where they were making progress?
Byrne presents an article by Booher-Jennings, Rationing Education in an Era of Accountability (2006) which agrees that some students are left behind, citing school over focused on students passing than the individual. With the requirements of data driven decision making, these schools have begun targeting students instead of skills and weaknesses within the entire population. As in the article, we at my Virginia middle school call these students “bubble kids.” These students are on the cusp of passing and administrators have decided that pushing interventions and targeted assistance will have the highest return on Annual Yearly Progress (AYP). A well warranted strategy when you want to win the game of showing AYP. However, NCLB was proposed and popular because of its intimation all students would win, not schools and targeted students (2013). Personally, in my classroom this strategy is a huge failure. I teach 6th and 8th grade exceptional education students math in a self-contained classroom. As we are now in intervention season the bubble list was presented last week, and I scanned it. Unfortunately my job was made easy, none of my students made the list. They were on the low side, outside the bubble. They will not receive school interventions outside of what I provide before or after school or during class time–precisely because of this great NCLB push to achieve.
In Virginia we take the Standards of Learning (SOLs) annually for math and reading, with subject tests every few years. Sadly, my students often read far below grade level, do not know their multiplication facts, and many cannot do simple arithmetic. However, they are in 6th or 8th grade and are not left behind so to speak. We pass them forward to the next grade, rewriting annual IEP goals and hoping they will bridge the gap as they move ahead. However, I don’t believe that any IEP placement, setting, service, or accommodation is going to make the difference. The difference for these students is essentially one thing they will never get, time. Great quantities of time to learn at their pace. Instead they are required to stay on pace and are taught the Standards of Learning. Moving so fast, they get a lot of information with zero depth. Comprehension is never achieved. As professionals we know best practices in a classroom are to monitor for student comprehension with formative assessments and make adjustments accordingly before moving on. Sadly, our state is putting district pacing, the curriculum guide, and high-stakes testing scores before best practices; all so we can say we haven’t left any child behind?
Our Virginia SOLs predate the national standards Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and are very similar in intention and foundation. Thurlow (2014) remarks that students with disabilities may be short changed by the lack of attention to policies that hold them accountable to the standards of learning across all states. Standards-based IEP gals may go by the wayside with the lack of legislation. Agreed, policies and high expectations are necessary. However, if the standards state a student will “a. investigate and solve practical problems involving volume and surface area of prisms, cylinders, cones, and pyramids; and b. describe how changing one measured attribute of the figure affects the volume and surface area” and yet that student cannot make 10, tell time, count by 5’s, or multiply past the 2’s than the standard based goals are not suiting the individual needs of a child as required by IDEA. The conflict of exceptional education teachers to offer standard based IEP goals and keep expectations and standards high versus offering real life practical skills that can build the foundation if given enough time is a daily struggle. Daily. Thurlow focuses solely on how to keep students with disabilities achieving at the standards and graduating with the same skills, yet seems to disregard the individual needs of pacing. Standards are a blanket of coverage that doesn’t necessarily fit with a plan based around an individual, so why do we keep legislating and arguing they are the fix?
Booher-Jennings, J. (2006). Rationing Education in an Era of Accountability. Phi Delta Kappan, June 2006, 756-761.
Byrnes, M. (2013). Taking sides: Clashing views in special education (6th ed.). New York, NY: Contemporary Books, Inc. ISBN: 9780078050480.
Thurlow, M. L. (2014). Common Core for All — Reaching the Potential for Students with Disabilities. Social Policy Report, 28(2), 18-20.