What the No Child Left Behind Reforms Mean for Your State and School

President George W. Bush’s signature education bill, the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), has received a major overhaul by Congress which was recently signed into law by President Obama. This is in response to the negative view the law has held nationwide. This alternative aims to fix the many damaging aspects of NCLB.

no child left behind

The replacement law, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) revisits and revises many standards set by the Bush-era law, from standardized testing to academic goals.

But how does this law affect your school directly?

The most significant changes were made in regards to standardized testing and how it is implemented nationwide.  Here’s what to expect:

Heavy focus on statewide autonomy

One of the biggest headaches with NCLB was the focus it had on federal control over standards and funding for schools across the country without taking into account unique situations regarding poverty levels, demographics, and educational atmosphere for the students. This bill seeks to rectify many of those problems by localizing a lot of the  standards decisions.

Think of it this way, who knows you better than you do? This new law applies the same principle to education, and allows for a more personal touch in solving academic problems.

Unfortunately, standardized testing is here to stay, but there is a silver lining: the standards, scores, and frequency of testing will be now decided by the states and districts. This allows more specific changes to be made for unique situations that can’t be made at the federal level as a “one size fits all” policy.

No more nationwide 100% proficiency standard

Previously, under the No Child Left Behind Act, schools were required by law to follow the same standards and goals set by the federal government, including a requirement of 100% proficiency in math and reading by the year 2014. Unfortunately, NCLB did not make this a reality.

In order to try and reach the 100% proficiency goal, many states  lowered their own standards in what was dubbed the “Race to the Bottom” to avoid being labelled failures by the federal government. Even with standards falling from the sky, however, universal proficiency was never achieved, and other problems with education standards were left unfixed. Under the new Every Student Succeeds Act, funding and testing decisions, including proficiency standards, are being left to the individual states.

Test score autonomy is also a large factor in this transfer of power. Now your school will be subject to scoring standards that have been set by your own state, which can take into account the unique learning curves, demographics, disabilities, and educational climate of that particular region.

What about solving the problems of failing schools?

Similar to the decentralization described above, the ESSA also shifts the problem solving authority for failing schools from the federal government back to the states so that solutions can be tailored to fit specific needs.

Instead of a universal standard for lagging test scores and funding set by bureaucrats in Washington, statewide policy makers can decide when and whether a school is worth intervening in and saving from continual failure.

Opting out of testing? You guessed it, that’s up to your state.

Under the NCLB, schools were required to maintain a 95% participation rate in testing for eligible students and were punished by the federal government if these numbers were not met. The aim was to discourage schools from preventing sub-par students taking standardized tests, in order to raise the school’s average scores.

With the ESSA, states can now decide how much the participation rates matter in the overall weight of school ratings, while it still maintains the 95% participation rate requirement.

Additional changes

In addition to the numerous transitions of federal power to the states, some terminology and definitions have been added to the legislation which either alter policy decisions or fix issues created by NCLB.

Under NCLB, the term “core academic subjects” was used to put a focus on subjects like mathematics and english, leaving others like social studies and the arts to be swept to the wayside. The ESSA now uses the term “well-rounded education” to include those subjects along with the previously considered core subjects.

This new bill also makes strides to define “technology” in regards to education tech and other terms such as “blended learning” so that policies surrounding these issues can be better crafted. For instance, the ESSA defines  “blended learning” as, “[A] formal education program that leverages both technology-based and face-to-face instructional approaches A) that include an element of online or digital learning, combined with supervised learning time, and student-led learning, in which the elements are connected to provide an integrated learning experience and B) in which students are provided some control over time, path, or pace.”

You learn something new every day.


If history serves as any indicator, this will not be the silver bullet to save the education system in the United States (or the teacher shortage for that matter), but from what I see here, this is certainly a step in the right direction.

What are your thoughts on the ESSA? Do you think it is better or worse than NCLB? Be sure to let us know in the comment section below!

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