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The No Child Left Behind Act and Gifted Children

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Updated April 12, 2014

Everyone wants to see children succeed in school and few things are as sad or frustrating as children being left behind in school, not learning the material required for the grade they're in. The No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act was designed to remedy that situation, but what exactly is NCLB and how does it affect gifted children?

NCLB was enacted in January of 2002 with the goal of getting all children to be working at grade level by the year 2014. To meet that goal, states, districts and the schools within them must follow specific steps set forth by the law.

NCLB requires that schools focus on the following:

  • Challenging academic standards in reading, math and science
  • Tests based on those standards
  • Accountability for every student's performance
  • Assuring that only highly qualified teachers will be in every classroom
Every school is responsible for meeting the NCLB goals and reporting on their progress, but only Title I schools must take specific actions to correct failure to meet the standards set by the state, although a state can require non-Title I school to take corrective action as well.

What is a Title I School?
A school is a Title I school if it receives federal funds under Title I of NCLB. A school is eligible to receive funding if at least forty percent of enrolled students come from low-income families. This percentage is usually determined by looking at the percentage of students receiving free or reduced-price lunch.

The funds received by the Title I schools are to be used to improve the academic performance of impoverished children. Schools receiving the funding must meet the goals of their state's AYP or "adequate yearly progress."

Title I schools that fail to meet AYP goals will be identified as needing improvement. Continued failure to meet AYP goals leads to consequences, which can include hiring new teachers, restructuring the school, or giving parents of students the opportunity to send their children to a different school, which the school must pay for. (Consequences for Failure to Make Progress)

Time Line for Reaching Long-Term Goals of NCLB
  • By 2005-06:
    Every state must measure each student's yearly progress in reading and mathematics in grades three through eight. In grades ten through twelve, progress must be measured at least once.
     
  • By the end of 2005-06:
    All teachers must be highly qualified
     
  • By 2007-08:
    Every state must measure each student's progress in science at least once in grades three through five, at least once in both grades six through nine and grades ten through twelve.
     
  • By the end of 2013-2014 school year:
    Each state must demonstrate that every one of its students is achieving at grade level.

Impact of NCLB on Gifted Children

The focus of NCLB is to increase the level of achievement in schools so that every student is meeting grade-level requirements. Clearly that focus does not include gifted children, who are usually working beyond or capable of working beyond grade level.

In most states, gifted education is not mandated or if it is, it may not be funded. Consequently, schools have little incentive to provide appropriate educational services for their gifted students.

Adding to the problem is the fact that many schools claim that the funding provided for meeting the requirements set forth by NCLB is insufficient. That means that schools have even less money than before NCLB to use on gifted education.

In addition, many schools continue to be reluctant to grade skip students even though evidence shows that acceleration is a successful strategy for meeting the academic needs of gifted students and would not require any funding. In 2004, The Templeton Foundation published A Nation Deceived, a report of its nationwide study on the various forms of acceleration. The study adds to fifty years of research providing evidence that acceleration is a good option for gifted children.

Instead, many schools keep gifted children in classes with their age mates and require them to work at grade level when they could easily be working above grade level. Since gifted children generally do exceptionally well on standardized tests, schools have little incentive to provide them with educational experiences that will allow them to progress academically.

Schools have a much greater incentive to see that the low-achieving students are working at grade level since any school failing to meet the goals of NCLB could face serious consequences. Some have even suggested that some schools refuse to accelerate gifted children because the test scores of these children help make the school look good. That would be a difficult charge to prove, but considering the pressure put on schools to perform, it would be hard to blame them.

While the goals of NCLB are admirable and no one would claim that the needs of gifted children should take precedence over those of disadvantaged and low-achieving students, it is clear that NCLB does not take gifted children into account in its goals.
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