No Child Left Behind Act Raises the Accountability Bar for Schools

by Mary Mehaffey, Ed.D.

The first step toward creating a strong school accountability system is setting the bar for academic achievement. Virginia is one of many states with a system in place to assist local education agencies in assessing the academic performance of their students.

According to the State Education Accountability Indicator Report: Status of Reports Across the States (United States Department of Education, 2002c), all 50 states and the District of Columbia have some type of accountability system as a part of their individual state improvement plans. However, other steps are necessary to ensure that no child is left behind. On January 8, 2002, President Bush signed into law an act that sweeps deeper and broader than the Standards of Learning in Virginia. This legislation is the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act commonly known as the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act of 2001. NCLB will help close the achievement gap between disadvantaged, minority, and limited-English proficient students, and students with disabilities when compared with their peers. As stated by the U.S. Department of Education (2002b), the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 is based on four principles: stronger accountability for results, increased flexibility and local control, expanded options for parents and students, and an emphasis on teaching methods that have been proven to work (www.ed.gov/offices/OESE/index.html). These principles are further explained below.

Stronger Accountability for Results

The No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act will make the current accountability systems stronger by requiring states to focus on accountability for all schools and all students. As specified by the U.S. Department of Education (2002d), these systems are to include standards in reading and mathematics, annual testing for all students in grades 3-8, and annual statewide progress objectives ensuring that all groups of students reach proficiency in 12 years. Further assessment results and state progress objectives must be disaggregated by poverty, race, ethnicity, disability, and limited-English proficiency to ensure that no group is left behind (www.ed.gov/ offices/OESE/esea/exec-summ.html).

Adequate yearly progress (AYP) toward statewide proficiency goals is expected. According to the U.S. Department of Education (2002a), failure to make AYP over time comes with consequences, whereas meeting or exceeding AYP will be rewarded (www.nclb.gov/start/facts/ testing.html).

Increased Flexibility and Local Control

While prior flexibility efforts focused on waiving program requirements whenever possible, the No Child Left Behind Act surpasses this approach by giving states and schools an unprecedented flexibility in their use of federal education monies. In turn, this new and improved flexibility requires strong accountability for results. States and local education agencies may transfer up to 50 percent of the funding they receive from Teacher Quality State Grants, Educational Technology, Innovative Programs, and Safe and Drug-Free Schools to any one of the programs or to Title I (www.edu.gov/offices/ OESE/ esea/exec-summ.html). This flexibility does not include Title VI-B Special Education funds, however.

More Options for Parents and Students

The No Child Left Behind Act increases the "choices" available to the parents of students in Title I schools that fail to meet state standards. Immediate relief comes during the 2002-03 school year for students in Title I schools that were previously identified as schools in need of improvement. When necessary, school divisions must provide transportation for students to the "choice" schools and must use at least 5 percent of allocated Title I funds for this purpose (www.ed.gov/offices/OESE/esea/exec-summ.html). According to information presented at the No Child Left Behind Academy in Williamsburg, Virginia, on May 2-3, 2002, local school boards in Virginia will have some flexibility in the designation of "choice" schools.

Emphasis on Teaching Methods Proven to Work

The No Child Left Behind Act is focusing on ensuring that every child can read by the end of third grade. The new Reading First initiative increases the federal government's investment in early reading programs that are scientifically based. If this program works as planned, a reduction in the identification of students with disabilities could occur. This may be true, especially for those who are in need of special services due to a lack of appropriate reading instruction between kindergarten and third grade.

Statewide Testing Requirements of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act

Annual testing in reading and mathematics in grades 3-8 is a requirement of NCLB by 2005-06. Testing in science is mandated by 2007-08, once in grades 3-5, 6-9, and 10-12. In Virginia, new Standards of Learning (SOL) reading and mathematics tests will be developed for grades 4, 6, and 7 to augment the current SOL testing program. Development of the new tests will begin with the subject of mathematics. English standards being revised in 2002-03 and development of new tests will be postponed until the revision of the standards is complete. Development and field-testing of new items will occur over the next few years. To meet NCLB requirements, Virginia's new reading and mathematics tests will be implemented by 2005-2006. Some revisions to science tests based upon modifications in the science standards will also occur. In addition, school divisions in Virginia must annually administer an assessment of English proficiency to all limited-English proficient (LEP) students. Beginning with 2002-03, the application for subgrants to support instruction of LEP students will require the assurance by school divisions that such assessments will be administered annually. (Adapted from notes from the Virginia Department of Education [VDOE] NCLB Academy, May 2-3, 2002.)

What Virginia Had in Place Prior to NCLB
  1. Tests aligned with standards in the content areas of English, mathematics, history/social sciences, and science in grades 3, 5, and 8 at the end of certain high school courses.

  2. Substitute tests and alternate assessments.

  3. Progress in schools determined by student performance on tests.

  4. National Assessment of Educational Programs in reading and mathematics.

  5. Student achievement on statewide assessments.

  6. Annual benchmarks.

Adapted from notes from the VDOE NCLB Academy, May 2-3, 2002.

What Virginia Has Left to Complete
  1. Annual testing in reading and mathematics in grades 3-8 by 2005-06.

  2. Testing in science by 2007-08, once in grades 3-5, 6-9, and 10-12.

  3. Development of new Standards of Learning (SOL) reading and mathematics tests for grades 4, 6, and 7 to augment the current SOL testing program.

  4. Development and field-testing of new test items in mathematics and English over the next few years.

  5. Some revisions to science tests based upon modification of the science standards.

  6. Annual testing of Limited-English Proficient (LEP) students and assurances from school divisions in grant applications that this is occurring.

Adapted from notes from the VDOE NCLB Academy, May 2-3, 2002.

In conclusion, the No Child Left Behind Act raises the bar for accountability in schools. The Commonwealth of Virginia is making steady progress towards implementation of this legislation that was signed into law on January 8, 2002. Virginia already measures student achievement on statewide assessments and tracks progress, has annual benchmarks established by the Virginia Board of Education, increases benchmarks annually, identifies schools that are meeting and failing to meet standards, and applies rewards and sanctions. Virginia is preparing to address adequate yearly progress for students with disabilities, limited-English proficient, economically disadvantaged, and minority as well as students who do not fall into these four subgroups. Having the Standards of Learning (SOLs) in place puts Virginia far ahead of many other states with implementation of NCLB. Interfacing the Standards of Learning with the No Child Left Behind Act will make the accountability difference for all students, whether they live in our community, neighboring localities, our state, or our nation.

References

U.S. Department of Education. (2002a). No Child Left Behind. Retrieved August 6, 2002, from www.nclb.gov/start/facts/testing.html.

U.S. Department of Education. (2002b). Office of Elementary and Secondary Education: No Child Left Behind. Retrieved August 6, 2002, from www.ed.gov/offices/OESE/index.html.

U.S. Department of Education. (2002c). State Education Accountability Indicator Report: Status of Reports across the States. Washington, DC: Council of Chief State School Officers.

U.S. Department of Education. (2002d). The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001: Executive Summary. Retrieved August 6, 2002, from www.ed.gov/offices/OESE/ esea/exec-summ.html.

Virginia Department of Education. (2002). No Child Left Behind Academy. Williamsburg, VA: Virginia Department of Education.

Date: September/October 2002