on education

thoughts from a graduate student at the university of mary washington

IDEA, NCLB, & me. week five.


I’d like to start off with IDEA, or the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.
This came about in Congress in 1975, and its aim was to extend free and appropriate education to students with disabilities. This particular law matters very much to me, not only as an educator, but as a mother. My son was diagnosed with autism at an early age. He was also diagnosed with developmental aphasia (mixed expressive/receptive language disorder), and sensory disturbance. He also has a severe speech delay. He’s 4. He is enrolled in our school system’s early childhood special education preschool program. It has helped him so much, though he has been cut out of services he needs because of technicalities and just-high-enough test scores. Right out of the gate, I’m already all too familiar with this law and what it does for families and learning disabled children. I think it puts me in a good place, though, to know exactly how it will affect my classroom.

I don’t need research to tell me that this will be tricky. No doubt I will have a handful (or more) of kids on IEPs in my classroom for various learning disabilities. Not only will I need to take into account all of the mainstream, general education students and their learning styles, but I will also need to incorporate the needs of several different children into my lessons and assessments. I know what I expect from my son’s teacher to help him succeed; I need be prepared to have several sets of parents holding me to high expectations for their kids, too. Meeting the needs of an LD student requires much forethought, coordination, and planning. Ideally, the parents would be involved. As a new teacher, I would hope to have a mentor teacher helping me through the process, as well as an administrator to answer my questions when I’m not sure how to do something. I am shameless, and I’m not afraid to scream for help when I feel like I’m in over my head. And multiple children with learning disabilities would almost undoubtedly leave me up to my eyeballs in papers and planning in my first year.

NCLB, or No Child Left Behind, was approved in 2001 under President Bush. Its goal is to raise performance of low-achieving schools through standards and assessments. The 2001-2002 school year was my last year of high school. Even at that early stage, my teachers were groaning about what this would mean for education in our country. A decade later, I can’t say that I disagree with their assessment. While I think that the overarching goals are well-intentioned, I feel like the law itself is completely misguided. Increasingly, states are seeking and winning waivers to NCLB because their schools simply cannot meet its requirements by the 2014 deadline to avoid punitive sanctions. “If, after several years, a school still fails to meet yearly progress goals, its students are eligible to transfer to another public school in the district. Still further failure to make adequate progress subjects schools to ‘corrective action’ or ‘restructuring,’ which includes replacing all or part of the faculty and administration, conversion to charter-school status, or takeover by an outside organization…” (Ornstein, Levine, & Gutek, 2011, p. 384) According to a Huffington Post article (Resmovits, 2012), 32 states and the District of Columbia now have waivers for NCLB, citing the goals it set as completely unattainable. With that kind of outcome sure to hit most school districts, it’s no wonder that over half of our nation is seeking relief from such a draconian law.

Hanging a teacher’s livelihood on the results of one test hardly seems fair or reasonable. Furthermore, it is equally shameful to sum an entire school year up in one test to determine whether or not a student’s achievement is acceptable. To add insult to injury, the federally mandated law isn’t funded with very many federal dollars. Having little money makes it pretty hard to meet lofty goals when you’re talking in terms of millions of children.

In the video case we watched for this week, the educators and administrators expressed the view that a child’s progress should not be based on one drop in the bucket; it’s impossible to gauge a child’s performance by one test and not a cumulative picture. Likewise, they expressed the opinion that teachers and schools should not be judged on one test, either. It can sometimes be difficult to get those high proficiency numbers because a child could be having an off day, or going through a personal trial or trauma. They tend to view the results of this one examination as a bit arbitrary, because despite them not being labeled as proficient, they may have made solid gains over the course of the year.

Here’s a news clip I found regarding No Child Left Behind in Florida and the waiver the state received. Pay special attention to the parent that’s interviewed — I feel like this opinion is part of the reason we’ve moved from a norm-referenced assessment system into high stakes testing in the first place.

This video is a fantastic history of IDEA, and what it means, exactly, and how it has evolved through the years. It also gives you a look at where we were before its inception. It’s about 9 minutes long, but it is so worth it.




Ornstein, A., Levine, D., & Gutek, G. (2011). Foundations of education. (11 ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning.

Resmovits, J. (2012, 07 19). No child left behind waivers granted to 33 u.s. states, some with strings attached. Huffington Post. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/19/no-child-left-behind-waiver_n_1684504.html

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