When No Child Left Behind (NCLB) was passed in 2001, people were hopeful about the academic future of this nation. The act provided higher expectations, but also accountability, which is what many leaders called for. It expected all students to exceed state standards, to reach 100% proficiency in math and reading, by the year 2013-2014. Academic progress would be measured by yearly tests and every school was expected to meet Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP). If not, then there would be consequences and eventually punishments. NCLB also provided more funding for Title I and special help for students at risk, like English Language Learners (U.S. Department of Education).
In summary, NCLB sounded like a great proposal with ideal goals. However, many would soon realize that while noble, the goals of NCLB were rather unrealistic. They were certainly unrealistic for the Atlanta Public School System. As mentioned in the last blog post, APS presents the case of a typical inner city district with a very high number of Title I students and minority students. Even with the extra help and extra funding, these types of students have historically not been able to progress academically as quickly as others. These students come from impoverished communities, crime filled neighborhoods, and unstable home/family conditions. Research has shown that there is an achievement gap between students who attend high poverty and low poverty schools, and that poverty is associated with decreased school performance (Duncan et al 1998). Minority students have also historically made part of the lower end of the achievement gap, and often their situations are combined with poverty.
Taking all of these facts into consideration, it was not too surprising to me when I found that since NCLB was enacted, Atlanta Public Schools have not met AYP for a single year (Georgia Department of Education). Of their subgroups, the "economically disadvantaged," "students with disabilities," and the "black" and "hispanic" racial categories did not meet AYP this past year. While these problems exist, it is also true that students have progressed. In fact, Atlanta Schools have seen huge gains in testing scores, and much is attributed to superintendent Dr. Hall's policies and programs (Atlanta Board of Education). However, I am skeptical of these gains because we also know that unfortunately, standards have been lowered. Teachers also spend a lot of time teaching for the tests, the CRCT, instead of focusing on regular class work.
NCLB has certainly impacted both students and teachers in Atlanta schools. Most gravely, the policy and the expectation of accountability has put great stresses on teachers. In fact last summer investigations began because of suspicions of teachers cheating on the state exams. This brought about an array of problems, as the truths behind the gains at some schools were revealed.
Since I would like to explore this "cheating scandal" some more, I will save it for my next post.