No Child Left Behind = More High School Dropouts

An article in School Library Journal’s “Extra Helping” newsletter reports bad news about the No Child Left Behind program.

“Here’s a new and significant research finding that won’t surprise many of No Child Left Behind’s (NCLB) school-based critics: high-stakes, test-based accountability—exactly what the law promotes—has a direct, negative impact on graduation rates,” writes Joan Oleck.

Though the article does not directly discuss science education, those of us concerned about science and other subjects that place the development of critical thinking skills above the acquisition of factual information are indeed not surprised that teaching to the test is counter-productive educationally.

The SLJ article extends the critique of NCLB in Tested: One American School Struggles to Make the Grade by Linda Perlstein, published last fall by Henry Holt.

My Science Shelf Review of Tested states, in part:

Politics aside, this book is a tale of a team of ordinary people doing extraordinary work to succeed against the odds, caring adults striving to make the world better for children.

Chapter by chapter, the tension grows. The devil they face is in the details that all schools confront: discipline problems, learning disabilities, emotional turmoil at home, or simply parents struggling to stay afloat. Poor schools have additional problems, including student and faculty turnover. How can this team, including several newcomers in critical positions, do even better than last year’s performance?

Like any good drama, this one reveals deeper truths. Tested offers plenty of grist for critics who argue that No Child Left Behind forces good teachers to focus on test-taking skills rather than true learning. Creativity and critical thinking suffer in the push for higher test scores. Science and social studies lessons are neglected. Lessons on how to write formulaic “brief constructed responses” (correct spelling and grammar optional) replace exercises in crafting sentences and paragraphs.

But its central message is more important. This behind-the-scenes view of a real school at work reveals that Tyler Heights would be a success story whether its students are tested or not.


  1. The provisions of NCLB did not promote innovation or high expectations nor did it encourage the development of 21st century skills in public schools. NCLB has further created a national obsession with standardized tests that do not measure depth, application, nor provide multiple ways for students to demonstrate what they have learned. Education acts, such as NCLB, that lack adequate funding to all states and school districts and shared responsibility of parents, communities, educators, and policymakers, do not provide all children an opportunity for a great public school education. The pitfall of NCLB is that it was neither specifically designed to close the achievement gap nor increase student achievement. Rather, it simply set an achievement benchmark and passed it on as a federal mandate for all public schools to achieve.

    NCLB Overlooked Significant Factors to Create Effective Educational Programs:

    To ensure that educational programs are effective in increasing student achievement, educational leaders must be held accountable to create programs guided by a concise understanding of the school community and socio-cultural dynamics; particularly, within schools serving greater numbers of low income and minority populations. Program administrators and developers of educational offerings should create procedures that ensure programs are implemented as they are designed, with built-in accommodations to support and supplement broken and absent systems. Leaders in education should understand that what works in one community will not necessarily work in another and there is no one size fits all solution to creating effective educational programs. The reality is that successful education programs accommodate systemic needs of the school community, for example:

  2. This whole idea is ridiculous. They punish schools that can’t reach their ridiculous standards and then punish them again when they don’t improve. This doesn’t seem good for our school systems and it certainly doesn’t seem to be encouraging our students.


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