A FairTest Position Statement on NCLB

Why “No Child Left Behind”

Will Fail Our Children

A FairTest Position Statement on

“No Child Left Behind,” the name of the federal
Elementary and Secondary Education Act, describes a worthy goal
for our nation. Tragically, the legislation will exacerbate,
not solve, the real problems that cause many children to be left
• The gauge of student progress in most states will
be reduced to reading and math test scores. Many schools will
narrow instruction to what is tested. Education will be damaged,
especially in low-income and minority schools, as students are
coached to pass a test rather than learning a rich curriculum
to prepare them for life in the 21st century.
• Most schools will fail to meet the unrealistic demands
imposed by the law’s “adequate yearly progress”
provision. Virtually no schools serving low-income children will
clear the arbitrary hurdles. Many successful schools will be
declared “failing” and forced to drop what works for
• Sanctions intended to force school improvement will do
the opposite. They will pit parent against teacher, parent against
parent, and school against school. They take funding away from
all students to be used by relatively few students. The law’s
ultimate sanctions–privatizing school management, firing
staff, state takeovers, and similar measures–have no proven
record of success.
• The federal government has failed to adequately fund the
law. Most states are now cutting budgets to the bone, watching
their education resources dwindle just as they are hit with the
demands of the law. Neither federal nor state governments are
addressing the deepening poverty that makes it difficult for
so many children to learn.
What Would Really Help Children?

The federal law should be transformed from one that
uses punishments to control schools to one that supports teachers
and students; from one that relies primarily on standardized
tests to one that encourages high-quality assessments. Elected
representatives should listen to educators and parents to determine
the real needs of schools. Congress should work with the states
to ensure that all schools are adequately funded and that all
children have adequate food, housing, medical care, and other
basic human needs to enable their success in school.
In the short term, Congress should amend the law to stop the
destructive inflexibility of the “adequate yearly progress”
provisions and eliminate the requirement for states to annually
assess all students in grades 3 to 8 in reading and math. The
amount of required testing should be reduced and the draconian
penalties removed. Congress must appropriate the full amount
authorized for Title I of ESEA without cutting overall ESEA appropriations.
FairTest also calls for a helpful accountability system that
would emphasize local, classroom-based student assessment information
combined with limited standardized testing, as is being developed
in Maine and Nebraska. Each school would report its progress
and problems to its own community and discuss with the community
how to improve the schools. Each school would also produce an
opportunity-to-learn index, including such factors as per-pupil
funding, class size, number of books in libraries, teacher qualifications,
and school climate and satisfaction surveys. Where schools have
adequate resources but fail to provide a good education, the
district or state should intervene with methods shown to succeed.