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No Child Left Behind Act and English Language Learners

No Child Left Behind is a federal law that was signed in the year 2002. This was after it was passed in the year 2001 by the House of Representatives. In the United States, it is also known as NCLB. Through This law, there was re-authorization of various federal programs which were aimed at improving primary and secondary schools performance in the United States. Through this, the accountability standards for states, school districts, and schools would be increased. Through No Child Left Behind, student’s parents would have the flexibility of choosing the schools that they would want their students to attend. This includes both secondary and primary schools (Abedi, 2004).

There have been so many debates carried out by scholars on the effectiveness of the measures found in the No Child Left Behind and their effectiveness too. There have been so many critics of No Child left behind. According to them, No Child Left Behind plays a big role in reducing effective instruction and also reducing student learning.

The argument is that it can make a state lower the desired goals that are necessary for student success. This can also influence teachers to carry out teaching to the test so that students just pass their exams. In this case, when systematic testing is carried out, data is provided that helps in showing the schools that are not teaching the basic skills quite effectively. Through such interventions, it can be quite easy to reduce the gap between disabled and disadvantaged students.

Analysis of the No Child Left behind shows that the entire legislation deals with theories of education reform that are standard based. In the beginning, it was known as an education that is outcome-based. In this, there is a strong belief that setting high expectations and goals constantly results in students succeeding in their education by scoring very high marks.

According to No Child Left Behind, it is a requirement that the assessment criterion should be given to students in specific grades. According to the No Child Left Behind, it is preferred that standards of students achievement be set at the state level and not having a nation achievement standard.

This is normally done considering the skills that have been acquired by the students. For instance, after students being taught basic mathematics, then they can be assessed on the same. The NCLB also requires that all the students’ particulars be distributed to military recruiters. The information required includes the name of every student, address, and telephone contacts. This should be carried out unless the parent of the student is against it for justifiable reasons.

There are various requirements that are stipulated in the No Child Left Behind. One of them is that both secondary and primary teachers have to be qualified. It is a requirement that any teacher teaching in these schools has to be highly qualified and he or she should have licensing and state certification (Shaul, 2006).

In this case, every teacher has to have the necessary expertise in relation to their teaching subjects. Any teacher who is new in the profession just has to demonstrate great knowledge in their teaching subject, and they should have a minimum of a bachelor’s degree. The essential skills required include language, writing, mathematics, and arts. All these areas are quite fundamental according to the elementary school curriculum.

Teachers for high and middle schools also have to demonstrate high competency in their areas of specialization. It is a requirement that they go through various tests to ascertain their competency. In case there is a teacher who has not done a bachelor’s degree, then it is a requirement that they must have done a course that is equivalent to an undergraduate major in relation to their specific teaching subject.

Various studies have been carried out on the effect of the No Child Left Behind, and its effect on English language learners. Six years after No Child Left Behind was passed, research indicates that this law is not favoring English language learners. In the NCLB system, there is an emphasis on schools being accountable. No Child Left Behind encourages standardized testing at the state level. This highly encourages teachers to teach a subset that is quite narrow of the skills. This makes the teachers not go into the deeper details of the various subjects.. This, of course, does not favor English language learners to gain very little from lessons because they do not understand even the little skills taught. ‘Educational standards have greatly declined since the incorporation of NCLB act, teachers are focusing on students passing exams and not gaining skills and knowledge’ says Bass, 2006.

This has really caused so much attention to be focused on English language learners. The law greatly relies on invalid assessments, arbitrary ways of achievement targets, and through these inaccurate determinations about the quality of schools is quite inevitable. Research indicates that this type of accountability system is not the best for early English learners (Shaul, 2006).

No Child Left Behind has got various frameworks carried out in relation to the standardization of tests and decision-making about schools. Research indicates that the NCLB does not have reliable and valid assessments for English language learners (ELLs). Further research shows that there is minimal likelihood that there ever will be. This is after considering all the diversities of ELLs in relation to levels of English expertise.

The achievement tests that are designed for native English speakers are not reliable for English language learners. It is very clear that when students don’t understand the language that is used to set the questions, then it becomes very hard for them to answer the questions correctly. This makes English language learners fail their exams.

The No Child Left behind allows for native language assessments, although this is only a solution to minority cases because this facility is unavailable for most languages except Spanish (Bass, 2006).

While it is a requirement in NCLB that performance targets be made for students’ yearly progress, this approach does not make sense for English language learners. This is because these students have got diverse cultural and language backgrounds. They also have got different prior schooling; socioeconomic status and all these factors play a big part in determining the length of time one takes to learn the English language. This results in very wide variations on how long they take to learn the English language. Research carried out in the year 2006 shows that it can take approximately one to six years for non-native students to learn the English language (oral). It can take them approximately four to nine years to be proficient in academic English.

Therefore judging the ELL students’ performance through arbitrary standards is like automatically allowing them to fail their exams. Abedi 2004 says, ‘NCLB Act has really played a big role in exam failure of ELLs.’ In relation to this, NCLB then holds schools accountable for this failure, not considering the quality of instruction given. In No Child Left Behind, English language learners are considered as a subgroup. This category is not appropriate in relation to accountability issues.

This is because, according to the definition in NCLB, a subgroup consists of students who, because of the language barrier, cannot achieve the state standards in academics. This automatically brands all the schools with English language learners to be failures. One of the effects of No Child Left Behind is creating a treadmill effect. In this case, research indicates that the performance of English language learners can never advance. This is because when new students who don’t know how to speak English join the school, then they automatically pull down the rest who were trying to keep up with the language. This makes the average scores decline drastically. Therefore this makes the performance of English language learners not advance very far. (Kahl, 2003)

Research on the No Child Left Behind Act shows that it has encouraged practices that are harmful to English language learners. This is because the accountability system makes it very easy for schools to abandon the best prices. They include the following;

  • Overall, the dismantling of bilingual education programs has resulted in limiting teaching to the English language only and this makes many EEL students not to understand fully.
  • The curriculum has been narrowed to math and language arts as they are the only one that counts in AYP. This makes it hard for teachers to find time to attend to ELL.
  • The NCLB emphasizes on drilling students and ELLs may not learn much even if they pass their exams.
  • Because of the policies in NCLB, many school administrators never want to enroll ELLs because they would drag test scores down. Therefore the effect is denying them a chance to learn like other native English speaking students.
  • There is promotion of approach of heavily phonics in win reading first funding and this is not tailored to meet the needs of the ELLs.

There are the referenced tests that are norm based that are used in the comparison of performance of each student in relation to the others. There are different groups of students that are exempted from this test. This includes the students that English is not their first language and so they are still learning it. This is applicable when the students are in their first year in American school. After the first year, the students can then participate in the assessment tests (Howell, 2002).

The assessment can be carried out either in their native language or in English. The English test for such students is carried out after five years when they are conversant with it. This policy is not keen on knowing that different students can learn the English language at different paces. Therefore what happens after the stipulated years and English learning students has not fully learnt the English language? The effect is automatic failing because one realizes that different backgrounds affect the rate at which students learn the English language. ‘Were ELLs considered when policies in NCLB were being put in place?’ says Blank, 2003.

The graph below shows the decline in English reading among ELLs after incorporation of the No Child Left Behind.

Grade 8 Reading - NAEP.
Figure 1. Grade 8 Reading – NAEP.

The graph shown above is a clear indication of the effect of NCLB in relation to the performance of English language learners. The curriculum does not allow teachers to take time teaching the students. The questions set in English language have influenced many of the English language learning students to fail their examinations (Cosentino, 2005).

The No Child Behind has received various criticisms since it was passed. It was passed in the year 2001 by the House of Representatives that are the United States. Research indicates that the No Child Left Behind has various effects on English language learners. The No Child Left Behind does not have reliable assessments for English language learners. This results in many of them failing their examinations. This has made many school administrators to shun away from enrolling English language learners because they fail their examinations and in the long run the administrators are blamed for the poor performances.

The allowance for assessment to be carried out in native language is limited to Spanish language only and therefore other students do not benefit from it. One of the effects of No Child Left Behind is creating a treadmill effect. The NCLB does not realize that the diverse backgrounds of students automatically affect the rate at which the students learn English language. Therefore, the No Child Left Behind has had negative effects on English language learners.


Abedi, J. (2004): Challenges in the No Child Left Behind for English Language Learners Los Angeles, CA: National Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards, and Student Testing.

American Federation of Teachers (2006): Smart Testing; Let’s Get It Right; how assessment-savvy have states become since NCLB? Washington; DC; American Federation of Teachers.

American Educational Research Association (2004): English Language Learners: Boosting Academic Achievement; Washington; DC; American Educational Research Association.

Bass, F. (2006): Nearly 2 Million Scores Left Behind; New York, NY; the Associated Press.

Blank, R. (2003): Meeting NCLB Goals for Highly Qualified Teachers; Estimates by State from Survey Data. Washington; DC; Council of Chief State School Officers.

Shaul, M. (2006): Hot Air; How States Inflate Their Educational Progress under NCLB; Washington, DC; Education Sector.

Cosentino, C. (2005): Crisis Brewing? Paraprofessionals and the No Child Left Behind. Washington; DC; Urban Institute.

Howell, W. (2002): No Child Left Behind; Results from Three Randomized Field Trials; Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, 21(2), 191–21.

Kahl, S. (2003): NCLB Testing: Is the Assessment Industry up to the Challenge? Dover; NH; Measured Progress.

Shaul, M. (2006): No Child Left Behind; States Face Challenges Measuring Academic Growth; Testimony before the House Committee on Education and the Workforce. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Accountability Office.

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"No Child Left Behind Act and English Language Learners." StudyKraken, 20 Sept. 2021,

1. StudyKraken. "No Child Left Behind Act and English Language Learners." September 20, 2021.


StudyKraken. "No Child Left Behind Act and English Language Learners." September 20, 2021.


StudyKraken. 2021. "No Child Left Behind Act and English Language Learners." September 20, 2021.


StudyKraken. (2021) 'No Child Left Behind Act and English Language Learners'. 20 September.

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