Essay Writing Samples

No Child Left Behind: Did it Work?

The No Child Left Behind Act of 2002 was an iteration of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965. The Elementary and Secondary Education Act was a major federal law that authorized federal spending on programs to support K-12 education. This sample essay will discuss how the No Child Left Behind Act required states to test students in reading and math third grade through eighth grade and then once in high school.

There has been much debate over whether or not the No Child Left Behind Act is working. While many actively support the act, others are very vocal in their dissatisfaction with the role standardized testing has taken in the educational system under the NCLBA. Recently, the bill has been replaced by the Every Student Succeeds Act in an attempt to retain data collection without such high stakes.

Elementary and secondary education act of 1965

The Elementary and Secondary Education Act was enacted in 1965 during the Johnson Administration’s War on Poverty campaign. The goal of the law was to improve educational equity for students from low income homes by providing federal money to school districts that serve poor students (“No Child Left Behind”). Typically, schools that served lower-income areas received less state and local funding that their more affluent counterparts and the Elementary and Secondary Education Act sought to remedy that.

In 1994, it was reauthorized as the Improving America’s Schools Act, which put in place standards and accountability elements for state and local school districts that receive funding under the law. The Elementary and Secondary Education Act was reauthorized several times when it was finally renamed the No Child Left Behind Act in 2002. Though this change made adjustments to the program, its main goal of improving the educational opportunities for children from lower income families remains the same.

The No Child Left Behind Act

As states previously, the No Child Left Behind Act requires that all students in grades three through eight be tested in math or reading and then once again in high school. It aims to close achievement gaps by providing children, regardless of socioeconomic status, a fair, equal, and significant opportunity to obtain a high-quality education (“Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA)”).

The bill emphasizes four pillars: accountability, flexibility, research-based education, and parent options. The accountability pillar aims to ensure disadvantaged students are able to achieve academic aptitude. Flexibility refers to allowing districts flexibility in how they choose to use the federal education funds to improve their students’ academic achievement.

Research-based education emphasizes educational programs and practices that scientific research has proven to be effective. Finally, parent options refer to an increase in choices made available to the parents of students who attend Title I schools (“Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA)”). The No Child Left Behind Act requires each state to establish their own academic standards and state testing system that meet the federal requirements put in place.

Each school, school district, and state must publicly report their test results both in the aggregate and for specific subgroups like students with disabilities, English-language learners, and low-income students (“No Child Left Behind”). This accountability requirement is called Adequate Yearly Progress and the hope was that all students would increase their scores each year until all students were 100% proficient in math and reading.

Did the No Child Left Behind Act work?

The No Child Left Behind Act was never very popular. Many feel that the act makes the assumption that teachers do not try as hard with low-income, minority students as they do with middle-class, white children. Susan Neuman, former top Bush education official, stated that,

“The impetus for change built into MCLB was to effectively ‘shame’ schools into improvement.” (Jehlen).

The act came under fire for forcing educators to ‘teach the test’, stressing out students, and exhausting teachers. There was suddenly more emphasis on the test material than on social studies, art, music, etc. (Hatalsky). While states scores were clearly climbing, the science of testing indicated that this was not a sure sign that the No Child Left Behind Act was working.

Harvard University Professor Daniel Koretz is a leading researcher at the university. He explained how the scores rose when you raise the stakes whether or not the students were learning anything. This phenomenon is called Campbell’s Law. For example, if pollsters choose a sample of 1,000 likely voters and poured their energy into winning over those voters, their numbers would probably show encouraging, but not entirely accurate, results.

Standardized tests in schools only cover a sample of the skills that students should be proficient in. When students are skilled at answering problems in that particular format that only require a narrow set of skills, students will do better. The problem, though, is that there is a large part of the curriculum being left out.

Loretz did a study on test scores in an anonymous school district. When the district switched to a new test, the test scores dropped dramatically. However, over the next four years, test scores across the district steadily rose. Then, Loretz gave students the old test and their scores plummeted (Jehlen). This proves that these tests do not prove that No Child Left Behind has boosted achievement.

Luckily, the National Assessment of Educational Progress is a test for which students are not prepped. The test is randomly given to a large, random sample of students periodically (Jehlen). Comparing two sets of National Assessment of Educational Progress scores, one from the1970s and 1980s and another from after the No Child Left Behind Act, reveals some interesting findings.

The older scores, covering 1971 through 1988, show that the achievement gap between black children and white children was closing. This can be attributed to various factors, such as the War on Poverty, smaller class sizes, and school desegregation. The newer scores, from the years 1998 through 2007, showed that the achievement gap between black students and white students is remaining almost exactly the same (Jehlen). This may also be credited to the expansion of Common Core State Standards.

The No Child Left Behind Act does not appear to be working. Susan Neuman, the former Bush official, said,

“Vilifying teachers and saying we are going to shame them was not the right approach.” (Jehlen).

It seems clear that the main goal of the NCLBA, closing achievement gaps, was not met.

Support for the No Child Left Behind Act

Despite the fact that is it not entirely popular, the No Child Left Behind Act still maintains some support. The Seattle Times reported that,

“opponents of annual standardized testing, led by teachers unions and some parents, are lobbying to roll back what they call ‘overuse and misuse’ of test scores as a proxy for education quality… But business and civil-rights groups and school superintendents are stepping up their support of the testing regime.” (“Does No Child Left Behind’s Testing Regime Work?”).

Supporters of the act believe that it is necessary for the government to be able to study the data that the test collects. There is a limited amount of funds to be dispersed among schools and the tests help determine where the money should go by providing feedback about which teachers, schools, and programs are succeeding and which are not (Turner). There is also the fear that students are unlikely to learn more if teachers and schools are not held accountable for their progress and success.

Future of the No Child Left Behind Act

Recently, President Obama signed into law a new version of the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act. This new law was called the Every Student Succeeds Act and has completely replaced the No Child Left Behind Act. The ESSA still preserves the requirements for standardized testing for third grade through eighth grade and then again in high school, just like the NCLBA.

The collection of date is still incredibly important and therefore cannot be eradicated completely. Various companies, such as Ford, Dell, and The Gates have donated money to support better data use in education. Data can act as a hammer and a flashlight; where the NCLBA was more of a hammer approach, the ESSA is expected to be more of a flashlight approach, highlighting problem areas and populations (Hall). Contrary to its predecessor, though, the newer law offers the school districts and states much more flexibility in the design of those assessment tools, in addition to accountability for results (Hall).

This differs from the No Child Left Behind Act, which triggered improvement requirements mandated by the federal government for schools and districts that did not meet academic standards. The ESSA still requires that states and districts continue to disaggregate their assessment data by various groups, such as low-income students, special education students, English-language learners, and racial and ethnic groups.

The standards set by the ESSA remain high, but are not the same as the NCLBA’s ‘common core’. The EDDA requires that the states adopt only ‘challenging’ academic standards rather than the Secretary of Education requiring or even encouraging states to adopt a particular set of standards (Hall). Though most states adopted the ‘common core’ standards, they later regretted agreeing to adhere to said standards.

Still, though, The Gates Foundation and others, who poured millions of dollars into supporting the ‘common core’, remain fully committed to it and are working to develop challenging academic requirements as an alternative. Another new practice that will be implemented by the ESSA is that districts can experiment with public school choice programs that allow students to transfer out of low-performing campuses (Hall). The law, though, emphasizes that these programs have to give priority to students who need the option the most.

The ESSA also includes a number of provisions related to teacher preparation, training and evaluation methods. The Teacher Innovation Program is becoming the Teacher and School Leader Innovation Program and will provide grants to districts that aim to experiment with pay-for-performance and similar measures that are implemented to improve teacher quality (Hall). The bill also allows districts to take responsibility for the new flexibility granted to them. The shift in decision making to the local level requires districts to increase their productivity rather than direct their energy toward compliance with federal guidelines.


The No Child Left Behind Act was met with both support and disdain. While studies showed that the main goal of the act, closing achievement gaps, was not being met, the data collected by the standardized testing was very valuable. The bill has recently been revised and is known as the Every Student Succeeds Act, aiming to keep the aspects of the NCLBA that worked and eliminate the parts that did not. It offers many exciting new implementations and the outcome of the ESSA is anxiously awaited.

Works Cited

Hatalsky, Lanae Erickson. “Did No Child Left Behind Work?” Third Way. Third Way, 06 Feb. 2015. Web. 13 Jan. 2016.

“Does No Child Left Behind’s Testing Regime Work?” U.S. News. U.S. World News and Report, LP, n.d. Web. 13 Jan. 2016.

“Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).” Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction. OSPI, n.d. Web. 05 Jan. 2016.

Hall, L.S. “No Child Left Behind is Gone. But What Does the New Ed Law Mean for K-12 Funding?” Inside Philanthropy. Inside Philanthropy, 04 Jan. 2016. Web. 13 Jan. 2016.

Jehlen, Alain. “NCLB: Is it Working?” National Education Association. National Education Association, 1 Jan. 2009. Web. 5 Jan. 2016.

“No Child Left Behind.” Atlas News America. Atlas News America, 02 July 2015. Web. 05 Jan. 2016.

Turner, Cory. “No Child Left Behind: What Worked, What Didn’t.” NPR. NPR, 28 Oct. 2015. Web. 13 Jan. 2016.

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