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TRINITY Magazine 2006 | No Child Left Behind Act

Trinity Responds to the No Child Left Behind Act

Dr. Suellen Meara

One of the most significant changes in K–12 education swept the nation in 2001 with the passage of the No Child Left Behind Act in 2001. The legislation was a response to public dissatisfaction with student achievement that had remained generally stagnant despite the fact that over $200 billion dollars had been spent on education programs since the 1965 authorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

Many educators and policymakers did not believe that such a substantial change to the K–12 system would ever be implemented. Yet, immediately after assuming office in January of 2001, President George Bush announced a framework for education reform that was based on accountability for schools, choice for parents, flexibility for school systems in their use of federal money and a stronger emphasis on early reading skills. Later that same year, the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB) was passed by Congress and signed by the President. With such swift passage, school systems across the country scrambled to respond and schools of education, including Trinity, assessed and evaluated their teacher preparation programs to ensure that teachers were not only prepared to be successful in the classroom, but also ready to teach within the mandates of NCLB.

No Child Left Behind has several major components, including accountability, school choice and an emphasis on math and reading skills.

Accountability: States were required to submit for approval statewide accountability plans that required high standards in both reading and math for all children in public schools. Annual testing of specific learning objectives was mandated in grades 3–8 for all students in public schools. Further, assessment results were required to be reported by income level, race, ethnicity, disability and limited English proficiency to prove that no single group of children was “left behind.” Individual schools at which the students do not make adequate yearly progress (AYP) are subject to corrective actions and, eventually, restructuring measures would be applied by the state until AYP was attained.

There is considerable discussion among educators and policymakers about certain identified populations being able to make AYP. For example, limited English proficient (LEP) students are no longer categorized as LEP when they reach a beginning level of fluency in English. As a result, the only students designated within the LEP population are those who cannot speak English, making it very difficult for that group to make adequate yearly progress that is comparable to their native English-speaking peers.

School Choice: Parents of students attending already identified low achieving schools were given the option of sending their children to higher achieving schools beginning in the fall of 2002. School districts were then required to use a portion of their federal funds to pay for transportation for these students
to higher achieving schools.

Reading and Math First: NCLB places particular emphasis on the use of research-supported strategies for successfully teaching reading and math to students. The legislation seeks to have all students be able to read at their grade level by the end of third grade. Consequently, additional federal funds that are distributed to state and local education agencies are aimed at K–3 programs.

A Focus on Teaching

The NCLB authors had, obviously, read the current research that indicates that good teaching has the most impact on student success. With all of the emphasis on flexible use of funding, choice of schools and proven instruction based on research, the legislation had to address the definition of “good teaching.”

A requirement added to the legislation mandated that by 2005 all teachers would be highly qualified to teach. Much discussion and debate followed across the country about the definition of “highly qualified” but a standard began to emerge that teachers would be considered highly qualified if they had completed a “state-approved program in teacher education.” This requirement has made the transition to teaching a much more complex process for those who want to change careers from a corporate or military career path to the classroom. In years past, school districts could recruit individuals directly from other professions and, with limited training, these professionals could be in a classroom teaching. The need to complete all of the credits of a “state-approved program” has deterred some career changers from entering the field of education and has constrained an important source of new teachers.

Trinity’s School of Education Responds to NCLB

Trinity has responded to the requirements of NCLB in many ways, all part of the effort to improve the quality of instruction in local school districts. For example, through the Professional Development program in the School of Education, Trinity now offers more reading and math courses to teachers already in the field who need additional credits to improve their qualifications.

The most compelling drive in the wake of NCLB has been to insure that all graduates of Trinity’s School of Education have the appropriate education to provide highly-qualified service to the schools and to the students in their classrooms.

The program approval process in Washington D.C., which Trinity has followed for decades, currently includes review by outside accrediting bodies. However, Trinity, for the first time, sought professional accreditation from the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) for its School of Education. NCATE accreditation is viewed nationally as the most rigorous accreditation agency for schools of education. The process is long and demanding: each program within the School of Education must submit a report to the appropriate specialized professional association (i.e., the International Reading Association). This report indicates how each student in the program meets every standard set by the professional association.

Through the accreditation process, Trinity found that for all programs in the School of Education, there are more than 270 standards that need to be met. Measurement of these standards had to be embedded into courses and the data gathered, compiled and analyzed to prove student mastery of all standards. A review team from the Board of Examiners of NCATE made a five-day visit to Trinity’s campus in April of 2005 to validate the institutional report and the data submitted by the University to both NCATE and the specialized professional associations.

At the end of a four-year journey of preparation and review, Trinity received full accreditation in spring 2006 by NCATE and national recognition from each specialized professional association, and state approval from the District of Columbia. The NCATE seal goes on the diploma of all School of Education graduates, assuring them of certification not only in the District of Columbia but in all surrounding jurisdictions and more than 40 additional states who honor NCATE accreditation.

Moving Forward With No Child Left Behind

No Child Left Behind has permanently changed the landscape of K–12 education and schools of education. There are some critics who believe that NCLB unsuccessfully imposes federal standards that are rigid and formulaic when states and local jurisdictions can do a better job of assessing their own educational systems. Others are critical of the focus on testing, resulting, critics say, in educators “teaching to the test,” and earning the legislation the nickname, “No Child Left Untested.” Supporters of the legislation believe that NCLB has implemented much-needed changes to the way in which students are taught and the way that schools and teachers are evaluated, and has imposed national standards on K–12 systems that historically varied dramatically in their delivery of education.

The reality of the impact of NCLB is, of course, somewhere in between these opposing views. NCLB has clearly made strides in elevating the national discourse on the need for quality in our children’s education and has made some contributions to improving that quality, while missing the mark in understanding the differences and nuances within schools and classrooms and among students.

Like it or not, No Child Left Behind is here to stay. And, there is no question that in the nearly six years since its passage in 2001, K–12 school systems are working towards compliance while schools of education, including Trinity, are reinvigorating and positively changing their teacher preparation programs. The bottom line is that in the long run, our nation’s children will benefit.

Dr. Suellen Meara has been dean of Trinity’s School of Education since 2001. She served as the deputy superintendent of the Prince Georges County Schools in Maryland, superintendent of schools for the Cape Henlopen School District in Lewes, Delaware, and district superintendent of the Roseville City School District in California.

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