No Child Left Behind - What About Mine?
The federal No Child Left Behind
(NCLB) Act was passed in 2001. What does this mean
to you? NCLB requires that schools take whatever
steps are necessary so that all students - including
special education students - become "proficient" by
What is proficiency?
What does "proficient" mean? Under NCLB, each of the
50 states was required to create "content
standards." The content standards spell out what a
student in each grade level should know, and be able
to do, in each subject - like math, reading and
writing, science, and so on. Each state has created
tests (or purchased them from a testing company)
which are given in the spring to find out which
students at each grade level are proficient.
Schools must pay attention
to special ed students
There are some differences from state to state in
the level of difficulty in their standards, and the
tests at each grade level. Many educators have
complained about this. However, one overall result
of NCLB has been to require states to come up with
consistent, common curriculum for each subject and
each grade level for all school districts in the
state - no matter what school a student attends. It
has also required states to begin allowing special
education students to have the same curriculum as
their non-special education peers, instead of a
watered-down substitute. Finally, because there are
penalties ("sanctions") for states that do not meet
NCLB requirements, it has resulted in schools'
working harder to make sure all students - even
special education students - successfully learn the
Annual progress is required
Each fall, when schools and districts get the
results of the tests their students took in the
spring, the test scores of students in special
education are pulled out separately. This is called
a "subgroup." This is so that teachers, principals,
and school district officials can study their
progress closely. Under NCLB, each of the 50 states
requires schools and districts to show that the
special education subgroup is making adequate
progress toward proficiency!
Special education students
now given the same curriculum
Before NCLB, many states allowed school districts to
use a different curriculum for students in special
education. This was based on the philosophy that
disabled students could not learn as quickly and
easily as non-disabled students. Most of us who are
parents of special education students would agree -
sort of. School is hard for our kids. Unfortunately,
before NCLB, many schools and districts had a habit
of not expecting very much from our children. In
some cases, they didn't push them hard enough. In
many, many cases, they didn't expect very much, and
when our kids had trouble, they didn't automatically
look for better ways to help them learn. They simply
had them repeat the same, low-level material again
and again. NCLB has forced schools to look for
better methods to make sure our kids learn what
other kids their age are learning.
Allowances for very disabled
What about students who are so disabled, the grade
level curriculum would be completely inappropriate
for them? Under NCLB, states allow districts to give
a more basic annual test to a few very disabled
students. The number of students taking this test of
very simple skills can be no larger than 1% of the
total students in the district.
What about reading problems?
What about students who are not severely cognitively
disabled, but they are so behind, they can't read
the grade level textbooks? In most cases, these
students must still take the state test, which
concerns many educators, and may feel unfair to
students and parents. However, to catch them up
faster, some schools have put a "replacement
curriculum" in place for reading and writing. These
new programs are dramatically different from the
Remedial Reading programs of the past, where
students typically stayed permanently behind. The
new programs, such as Read 180, Fast Track, and
others, are designed to help students progress
faster. As their reading improves, their other
subjects improve as well.
A year's growth in a year is
In the past, students on Individual Education Plans
were expected to make 1-year growth in math and
language arts each year. Obviously, if they were way
behind when they were first placed in special
education, they never caught up.
The replacement curriculums - which are also used
for regular education students who are behind, as
well as special education students - are
"accelerating" curriculums, not "remedial"
curriculums. Teachers attend several days of
training to learn the precise teaching methods used
in these programs. Some, like Read 180, include a
small segment of work on the computer, but all of
them depend on the skill of the teacher to deliver
the program correctly to get the best results.
How effective schools are
catching kids up
Schools with well-designed programs place students
in replacement curriculums for reading/writing,
where they work until they can read at a level
within two years of their own grade level. Then they
are placed back in the regular English language arts
curriculum, but with daily extra time and support
during the regular school day. The most successful
examples of scheduling for extra time and support
put students in the "pre-teach" class right before
their regular English class, so that they can get
previews of the day's lesson, such as vocabulary
words and concepts that are going to be taught
during the regular class. Both special education and
regular education students may be in the pre-teach
group, and the Resource Specialist may team-teach
the pre-teach class with the regular teacher, and/or
the RS aide may be present to support the special
What about younger students who aren't years behind
yet, but are having trouble learning to read? Newer
elementary school reading programs are designed with
daily time built in for pre-teaching. The teacher
works with one or more small groups every day before
the regular lesson, to do the pre-teaching. These
groups may have different students in them from
lesson to lesson, depending on what is being taught.
In schools that have Reading Recovery programs,
first graders who need extra help are taught
individually by the Reading Recovery teacher for 30
minutes every day for up to 20 weeks before a
decision is made to consider them for special
education. In districts with very strong early
intervention programs, the special education
subgroup is relatively small.
Questions to ask
Parents should ask questions about the programs that
are serving their special education children, such
- What grade levels are my
child's math and reading performance right now?
- How long should I expect my
child to be in this program?
- What is the success rate?
- How will I know my child's
progress from week to week, month to month?
- What will we do if the
program isn't helping?
- How can I arrange to go visit
this program in action?
- Can we discuss how my child
did on the last state test, compared to the one
- What do I need to do as a
parent to make sure this program is successful
for my child?