Education News

Educators share how No Child Left Behind has affected their classroom

by Colleen Flaherty

Steve Eklund is a retired California teacher who has seen what overzealous testing can do in public schools.

“I used to love teaching,” said Eklund. “Four words drove me into retirement—No Child Left Behind. I could no longer attend to the needs and wants of my students. All I was supposed to do was to get them ready to take tests.”

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Educators and public education supporters across the country are speaking out, emailing their legislators, sharing their stories and signing the ESEA petition to let Congress know one important message—the current Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), also known as No Child Left Behind, is not working.

Rather than closing achievement gaps and providing equal opportunities for all students, the focus has shifted from student learning towards testing, labeling and punishing schools.

Here are more stories of what No Child Left Behind has meant for teachers and their classrooms:

“I am a high school art teacher of eight years. It is amazing to me how significantly standardized testing has negatively impacted the learning environment in that relatively short time.

“Ultimately, kids that do not perform well on standardized tests come from low-income homes or in live poverty. Any teacher can tell you that if a student is hungry, or is not receiving proper sleep or medical care, or has no computer at home, or has to work outside of school to help keep a roof over the family’s head, grades are going to suffer. Roughly 50 percent of students nationwide are now receiving free and reduced lunch.

“These things need to be addressed outside of standardized testing. Inclusion is not allowing these considerations to be adequately addressed. NCLB is not successful legislation. Let’s think about the future of our young people and the future of our country and do the right thing. Educators have been trained to create meaningful assessment, which should include strong emphasis on applying what a student knows to meaningful project-based assignment. Stop the madness of NCLB and the ridiculous amount of standardized testing associated with it. It is time to do the right thing for our children and grandchildren, and for the future of this country.”

– Leslie O., Virginia 


“I have seen my students drained by the weekly testing used to ‘prepare’ them for the state tests. Their love of learning that all children are born with is being diminished by the drills and worksheets used to get them ready for the big test. It is sad that they can’t enjoy and explore their interests in school, whether that be art or civics.”

– Ashley B., Texas


“I am 29 years old and I have been teaching for 7 years. I got into teaching because I care about kids. I believe that being excited about learning is important, and I believe that all students should be shown that they can achieve their own goals and their own success if they put their minds to what they want to accomplish.

“My class time has been cut in half this year. I am told to teach to a test. I am told that they need to just be exposed to what they will be tested on, and that mastery doesn’t matter. At the same time, my students are being held to the same standard as the honor students in the school. The test they will be taking is on grade level. My students are not on grade level. They are far below, and giving them a test that they cannot do yet because they haven’t been given a foundation is unfair.

“As I look at the second half of the year, all I am seeing is test after test, after test. I have only been teacher 7 years. I am burnt out. I don’t know what else to do. I don’t know what fight to fight. I don’t know who to turn to. I don’t want to give up on my kids because they are the ones that I feel like are being cheated, but I am tired and I do not see an end in sight. Our system is broken. It needs to be fixed. Not a temporary fix, but a real one.”

-Samantha M., New Jersey


“Last year my entire classroom was filled with students who struggle academically—25 percent on IEP; 60 percent less than proficient in reading and math; and 80 percent less than proficient in writing. They were fifth graders. All their academic lives they were told they didn’t measure up to some standard.

“Over 70 percent of my classroom were on the free and reduced lunch program. Many came from homes that had been disrupted due to a variety of economic, social and medical reasons. These students brought me to tears when I saw how hard they worked and how much they grew the year I was blessed to be their teacher.

“Reducing children (and teachers, too) to data points and numbers demoralizes us. Children (and teachers, too) are more than a number or a rating on a rubric. It is time to reclaim the whole child (and the whole teacher). It is time for legislatures to wake up and stop this toxic testing which is destroying both children and teachers. Education is about the whole child. Accountability, yes! Reducing people to numbers, NO!”

-Kathleen B., Colorado


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9 responses to “Educators share how No Child Left Behind has affected their classroom

  1. What we teachers need to do is take on education reform like those in the civil rights movement took on disegregation and equal rights. We need to fully communicate the damage that is being done to students and become conscientious objectors to participating in testing. We need to point out the totalitarian aspects of the current Race to the Top and question the efficacy of such a system when we chastise governments which operate in a like fashion. And unfortunately, we need to be prepared to withstand the heavy handed tactics that will happen. Many of us have paid a price for speaking out. And we must insure the public conversation is how teachers are looking out for the best interest of the students. We must take on the role of hero.

  2. Standardized testing is a virus that has infected our schools. It causes school personnel to dehumanize children by making their score the most important thing they can accomplish. All laughter, curiosity, creativity, and peace are killed or severely inhibited under the dark shadow that fills the building during months of testing. What the public doesn’t understand, but we teachers need you to understand, is that testing dramatically hurts the entire school climate.
    First, let’s break down the testing schedule in Chicago. Kindergarten through 2nd grade takes the NWEA on the computer in the fall, winter, and spring. In addition, they must also take Dibels. NWEA is on the computer, so students rotate through the computer lab to test. This takes about two weeks. Imagine being a kindergartener during your first week of school and being force to sit down on a computer to take a test. Most likely, you don’t even know how to use a computer yet. The test schedule requires you to miss some of your specials classes. The Dibels test must be given one to one by the teacher. Since most teachers at my school have 30 students, it will take at least 300 minutes to administer the Dibels. The other students will somehow have to be occupied with work so every student can take this test. Sounds like an exciting first week of school, doesn’t it?
    Grades 3rd through 8th take the NWEA in the winter and spring. PARCC is also given in the spring. Since students must take the test in a secure testing environment on the computer, our test schedule begins March 9th and ends June 12th all day, every day. As a result, students will have no computer instruction for the rest of the year, because our computer teacher will be only administering test for the rest of the year. During this time, there must be absolute silence in the hallway, in the lunch room; dance class will have to be in the classroom if it is determined that it produces too much noise in the multi-purpose room. If those testing can hear music class being conducted in the room above the computer lab, the music teacher will not be able to use instruments to for music instruction. Imagine elementary students being confined to music theory. There will be no space for planned assemblies, school picnics, or spontaneous chaos.
    This is madness! We have to rise up as a community of civilized people and demand that students be provided with an education that will help them reach their fullest potential as a human being on this planet, a planet full of wonder and diversity. Taking a 56 page reading test will not prepare a student for life; reading 56 books will do that. Taking a 56 page test will not help students develop an understanding of their own creativity; art, music, and dance classes will do that. Taking a 56 page test will not help students develop compassion or empathy; having lots of opportunities to collaborate and experience the world will do that.
    We are headed for a huge crisis. At least 90 percent of my teacher colleagues want to quit the professional altogether. Some of these teachers that said they are ready to quit only just started teaching. Everyone of them is passionate and creative, but they are being obliterated under a system that only cares about numbers; a system that forgot that at the heart of education are little human beings. Teachers are suffering from anxiety, depression, and a real sense that we are not valued at all.

    1. Hello Darcy,

      You have clearly articulated where this particular K-8 teacher is heading, STRAIGHT OUT OF THE PROFESSION ALL TOGETHER! My late husband taught music in private schools for 30 years and he mused just prior to his death that I might not ‘Like’ all the endless tedium put forth by the never ending stream of mandates and minutiae that NCLB has created. Well, Mr. Duncan – you were right on all counts; the daily joy of learning for both Regular Ed and Special Ed students is becoming an impossible dream due to the MOUNTAIN of assessments they’re required to sit for every year. Where will the beauty and grace of humanity come from if not from an education full of the MARROW: Music, Dance, Art, Public Speaking, Cooking, Foreign Languages etcetera, etcetera, etcetera………………… D.D. Duncan

  3. Before high-stakes testing I thoroughly covered 14 or 15 chapters of Algebra 1 with my accelerated eighth grade algebra class. After I had to spend class time preparing them for state-mandated tests, I could only cover 12 chapters. This was not helpful to these students who needed a thorough background to continue on to higher level math courses.
    My colleagues who teach other subjects feel the same way. High-stakes testing is taking the joy out of teaching and, even more importantly, out of learning.

  4. NCLB has caused most if not all students to be left out of the educational process. The impact of more services for a select few and completely and leaving the smarter students to suffer with sorry teaching.Also allowing poor administrative leadership and support teachers working to achieve greater test scores. The act has been expensive and caused dislike among parents and teachers. It has weakened th he schools and ruined the education of countless millions of students. The DC movers and shakers are totally clueless with overall needs of students. The heck with meaningless tests and changing curriculum to appease the aristocrats of DC. PRAYING FOR REVERTING TO A CALMER FULLER EXPERIENCE FOR ALL OUR STUDENTS. TIME F2F OR TEACHERS TO TEACH. THE HECK WITH COMMON CORE!

  5. In addition, some children from disadvantaged backgrounds were born to mothers who did not receive any prenatal care. Some are born to mothers who unfortunately exposed them to alcohol or opiates in utero. This is not intended on a judgment, but these are the documented side effects of poverty. Many of the children who fail these tests did not attend preschool, at least a decent preschool, and many have emotional challenges caused by living in poverty, a distraction to learning. These factors all result in a disproportionate number of these children failing high stakes tests, which causes them to not earn a diploma. How does this help them? To leave them with no diploma, no job, no hope. These tests only perpetuate the cycle of poverty.

  6. I teach in a four-year state university, with about half of our students receiving Pell Grants, and more than half first generation college students. These are the students from challenged backgrounds and schools who navigated all those tests of NCLB *reasonably* well and are now in college. Their education has clearly suffered. They are programmed to respond only to what will be on the test. They have a defensive attitude about learning, worried constantly about tests and unreasonable, unknowable standards. It is very difficult to re-awaken their curiosity. They also are pretty good at a very shallow kind of reading, but don’t know how to read deeply, ask questions of a text, or generally do the kind of critical thinking that is necessary to succeed in college and in professional work. And they are understandably very frustrated. They did what they were told in high school. They mastered the massive numbers of tests. And now, they are learning that those skills will not help them succeed in college, graduate school, and professional careers. For me, it is a struggle. For them, it is a tragedy.

    1. I see this even at the elementary level since NCLB. Students are fearful even to think for themselves. Maybe that’s what those in power wanted; a bunch of mindless sheep.

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