Most students’ memories of grade school include art projects, field trips and a genuine excitement about learning. However, thanks to education reforms made in Washington, some current students’ memories will be filled with Scantrons and standardized testing. With President Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act, elementary and middle schools disturbingly have focused more on passing tests than providing a well-rounded education. Under the pressure to pass benchmark tests, schools at risk of losing funding are cutting back on many educational programs to focus more on reading and math – a measure that has left students in struggling schools with an incomplete education.

Sarah Royce

The NCLB act has created the rather misguided mindset in school administrators across the country that standardized testing is the best way to measure student progress. NCLB requires schools to make sufficient progress over two consecutive years as measured by tests, and if the schools fail to meet the mandated achievement levels, they are labeled “in need of improvement.” However, this measure doesn’t account for schools that have been steadily raising their test scores, but not fast enough to keep up with federal benchmarks. With the short timeline low-performing schools are given to meet standards, a school district can still be punished even when it is improving.

To add to the list of pressures put on school districts by NCLB, the program costs school districts $1.4 billion annually, yet 97 percent of these costs go unfunded by the federal government. It seems the federal government is “in need of improvement” when it comes to adequately funding its own program, which in itself is riddled with flaws. Schools must bear the financial burden of these standards, and the quality of education is sacrificed given limited time and financial resources. State governments also deserve some blame for allowing the unequal funding of school districts, which contributes to wide achievement gaps, especially between urban areas and wealthier suburbs.

NCLB has recently made news for the drastic narrowing of the curriculum it has caused at schools across the country. A survey by the Center on Education Policy found that 71 percent of America’s 15,000 school districts have begun cutting back on subjects such as science, social studies and the arts to make more time for reading and math. Because the act mandates that children be tested annually in math and reading from third through eighth grade and once during high school, many schools have taken this narrow focus in their education agenda.

This barebones curriculum has hurt students in schools that fail to keep up with federal standards, disproportionately affecting low-income and low-performing school districts. In perhaps the most dangerous effect of NCLB, students who are given a stripped-down curriculum lose the chance to explore their interests. In some schools, students who fail to meet proficiency standards are forced to dedicate nearly all their day to catching up in reading and math. Some teachers just shrug off this punitive approach as an incentive for students to do better the next year.

Although they may have stronger literacy and math skills, these students miss out on other areas of knowledge, which will impair their ability to be well rounded, actively thinking citizens. With this strict test regimen, students become homogenized thinkers, teachers only teach to the test and education can lose its spark altogether. The education reforms the Bush administration mandated have failed to address the real problems plaguing the nation’s schools and have only managed to further impair public school districts instead of boosting students’ education.

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