When No Child Left Behind was put into effect in 2002, educators all over the country experienced a drastic shift in curriculum, standards and testing. In order to qualify for federal funding (an absolute necessity for many schools), districts were required to administer a statewide standardized test. Schools were graded on their students’ performance and a government regulated “report-card” determined if a school could remain open. English, reading and math classes took precedence over art, music and PE. Many teachers lost autonomy and creative license over their own classrooms.
It was one of the most dramatic overhauls of America’s educational system ever.
I cannot speak personally about how NCLB changed the teaching profession, because in 2002 I was a 15-year-old freshman. While I was a conscientious student, I must grudgingly admit that I was more interested in my social life than in the changing nature of educational policy.
However, I can vividly recall how NCLB changed my educational experience in high school. Scary sounding acronyms began to threaten our school years. “You must pass the ISAT (Idaho Standards Achievement Test) to graduate!” “Our school must make AYP (Adequate Yearly Progress) if we want to stay open.”
For other takes on Common Core, see Josie Fretwell and Diane Williams. This essay is part of our new feature: TBR Teach, a discussion about school policy among three Boise teachers. Follow their posts here.
My teachers’ attitudes seemed to shift. Many of them were worried or annoyed or even down-right grumpier. Core teachers seemed especially stressed. I can specifically recall a harried English teacher who lamented her inability to assign her favorite novel to my class because the ISATs were approaching and we had to spend more time on grammar.
And, of course, the term “assessments” became commonplace and the news tests became increasingly standardized and micromanaged. Instead of an interesting research project or a collaborative presentation, we filled in yet another bubble sheet for yet another multiple choice test. Forget about a fun class potluck with targeted language descriptions of food terms in foreign language class. No, instead we conjugated verbs to celebrate the end of a hard trimester.
As the name suggests, NCLB was touted as a service to students. I may not be able to speak to its validity as a teacher, but as a student, I can confidently say that NCLB did not improve my education.
In 2010, President Obama’s administration announced a blueprint for reform of NCLB which gave states more flexible options to test their students and show competency. The Common Core State Standards were developed in an effort to produce standards and testing measures that promote higher-level thinking skills (like EVALUATION or SYNTHESIS) rather than the rote memorization of NCLB (like LIST or DEFINE). Moving away from NCLB has allowed teachers to stop teaching to a test and start developing critical skills and abilities.
My school district has started to move away from traditional multiple choice assessments and into the realm of performance tasks. In social studies, this was an easy and welcome transition. Instead of asking students to REMEMBER that Boss Tweed ran Tammany Hall in turn of the century New York City, we now ask students to use primary sources to EXPLAIN how political machines manipulated immigrants and ANALYZE the merits of that behavior.
I understand the trepidation that comes with change. It is scary for teachers, administrators, and parents to put a new curriculum into play. I know that Common Core has bumps to smooth out and hurdles to leap. But we must move forward as we make changes. We cannot return to the rigidity of NCLB. We cannot scare our students with alarmist attitudes about failure. We cannot rob our students of inspired teachers who feel empowered to teach their favorite book. And we cannot focus all of our energy into a test that students forget the answers to in a couple of days.
NCLB failed me as a student. It left me completely clueless about how to do research when I entered college. I felt flabbergasted when asked to critically evaluate a source. I had no idea why the voice of an author mattered in literature. Common Core is giving teachers the tools to reverse this trend. It becomes less important that a student can memorize facts and more important that they can use those facts. No longer will students with poor memories or different types of testing skills be forced into remedial classes because of a standardized test.
With some time and room to grow, Common Core could actually leave no child behind.
The views and opinions expressed here are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of Boise State University or the School of Public Service.