The No Child Left Behind Act and Special Education

What is the “No Child Left Behind Act?”

The No Child Left Behind Act ( NCLB ) of 2001 has been called President George Bush’s “landmark education act.” One of its primary purposes is to make schools and teachers accountable for how well their students are learning. Through standardized testing, students’ progress is measured in reading, math, science, and other academic content. The test scores are broken down to show how specific racial and socio-economic groups are performing. The goal is to prevent schools from teaching to the middle-class white children, while “leaving behind” children from other ethnicities who may learn differently. Schools who meet federal standards are rewarded with funding and schools which fall short are penalized.

Supporters and Critics

The NCLB has many supporters and many harsh critics. Some applaud the idea that teachers and schools are being held accountable for results, and that parents are being provided with specific information about the effectiveness of their children’s schools. However, others argue that standardized testing will limit the creativity of teachers and impede their ability to teach in new innovative ways. Still others believe that standardized testing is an inaccurate and poor measure of true results, since some children who are learning successfully simply do not perform well on exams. For the purpose of this blog, I will focus on what I believe are the positive aspects of the NCLB:

Early Intervention Programs

In the realm of Special Education, NCLBA does support early intervention and learning in the early years. Through IDEA 2004 and NCLB, funds may be used by schools to develop early intervention services for children who are not currently enrolled in special education, but will likely need it in the future.

Accommodations for Standardized Testing

Students with disabilities are included in the standardized testing of NCLB, but with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 (IDEA) working in partnership, requirements have been revised. Students with disabilities will be allowed accommodations during test-taking, and alternate kinds of assessments are available.

Also, the standards themselves for academic achievement have been revised for special-needs children, along with the measurement of their functional performance. The annual yearly progress (AYP) of special-needs children is assessed as an accepted subgroup.

What does it mean for you and your child?

1. Higher Quality Teachers.

Special Education teachers, according to NCLB and IDEA 2004, must be qualified and highly-trained to meet the standards they set. There is no longer a “waiver” in cases of emergency or provision to allow for personnel who are not licensed or certified.

2. Schools have more resources.

With added funding, 15 percent of federal funds reserved for special education are to be directed toward high-risk students and teacher professional development. Special Education professionals will receive greater training.

3. More information for you, regarding your child’s school, his teacher, and his academic progress.

IEPs (Individualized Education Programs) for special-needs students are now required to include a statement of measurable annual goals that relates to academic and functional goals. You should therefore have more measurable, specific information regarding your child’s academic progress. You may also request NCLB statistics with reference to your child’s teacher and school.

4. More parental options.

Parents have the right to remove their child from a school or class which they feel is not meeting the educational needs of their child. Parents with children enrolled in schools which fall below NCLB standards can transfer them to another local school which does meet the standards. For parents of special-needs students, this may be complicated, as not all schools have special education programs, and parents will have to work with the school district to place their child in the most appropriate school.