What Leaving No Child Behind Really Means
By Lynda Katz, Ph.D.
As our government seeks input on reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, educators need to emphasize the critical importance of arming teachers with not only the freedom to support each child’s learning style, but also the knowledge to properly educate students in America with learning disabilities.
There is logic in the new Common Core Standards for English and math, which were created by the Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governors Association. Such standards can and should be applicable to students with LD, and we need to most of all support teachers in helping these students succeed.
The National Center for Learning Disabilities has developed core principles for the reauthorization to guide discussions related to students with learning disabilities. The new law will, I hope, support these students and help improve graduation rates by fostering early intervention and effective teaching.
As an educator who leads a college devoted to students with learning disabilities and who has spent a career studying and following other research in this area, I know that learning disabilities are neurologically based and do not go away.
While our country has made progress in improving educational outcomes for these students in recent years, more can and must be done. Of the 13.5 percent of students with LD in America’s public schools, nearly half perform more than three grades below their enrolled grade in math and reading. Tragically, one quarter drop out of high school, compared with less than 10 percent of the general student population.
Contrary to what the public might think, improving success for these students does not mean relaxing standards. The same standards must apply to all students, including those with learning disabilities. No Child Left Behind allowed states, districts and schools to hide hundreds of thousands of students’ scores.
We need to end test accommodations and alternate assessment policies for students with disabilities by creating tests that present the material based on the concept of universal design. This is not “dumbing down” the material; it is a scientifically proven method that allows several types of learners to understand the material and demonstrate their knowledge. This would not only benefit students with LD, but also many male students, minority students and students from low socio-economic backgrounds who, research has shown, learn differently.
We need to identify struggling learners as early as preschool, which means the new law should include support for professional development for teachers so they can improve literacy instruction. We need to embrace universal design to ensure that all students who struggle have better access to grade-level instruction, materials, appropriate assistive technologies, and appropriate teaching methods and assessments.
No Child Left Behind did open the way for improvement by requiring an understanding of a student’s current performance in relationship to educational standards. Including students with disabilities in state assessments was a critical first step toward improving student achievement, and there was an increase in the number of students with LD in general education classrooms in some states.
But No Child Left Behind essentially crippled good teachers, forcing them to teach to tests rather than addressing individual student needs. We cannot make that same mistake again.
We need national benchmarks for all students. High school graduation with a standard diploma and college readiness should be goals for ALL students, not just those who are easiest to teach. #
Dr. Lynda Katz is president of Landmark College, the nation’s premier college for high-potential students with learning disabilities and ADHD. Originally published by Education Week.