NCLB Compliance On Track, But Some Issues Demand Attention

Published September 1, 2004

States have made considerable progress in implementing the federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), but some aspects of the law merit “immediate attention and consideration” from federal officials and state policymakers, according to a new report by the Education Commission of the States (ECS). Those issues include ensuring performance growth of all students, not just low-performing ones, and strengthening the requirements for highly qualified teachers.

All 50 states have met or are “partially on track” toward meeting 20 of the 40 requirements of NCLB, according to the July 2004 study, The ECS Report to the Nation: State Implementation of the No Child Left Behind Act, funded by the U.S. Department of Education. The report reveals how many states, plus the District of Columbia, have met, partially met, or not met the law’s requirements as of March 2004. It also highlights implementation challenges and provides examples of policy strategies.

ECS found states made significant gains in implementation from March 2003 to March 2004. Forty-eight met or were on track to meet 75 percent of the requirements and five states–Connecticut, Kentucky, New York, Oklahoma, and Pennsylvania–had achieved or partially achieved all 40 NCLB requirements.

“The ECS Report to the Nation demonstrates that major shifts in state education policy can occur over a relatively short time,” said Milton Goldberg, ECS distinguished senior fellow. “While adaptations in No Child Left Behind continue to be made, the overall progress is remarkable.”

Progress, however, is uneven. Highlights from the seven policy areas–standards and assessments, accountability, school improvement, safe schools, report cards, teacher quality, and supplemental education services–are as follows:

Standards and Assessments

Forty states are on track to establishing reading standards, 38 on track for math standards, and 48 on track for science standards. The remainder are partially on track to creating them. More than half are on track to having annual assessments in these areas. Nearly all states are on track regarding assessments of English proficiency.

Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP)

Most states are on track toward establishing a single statewide accountability system that includes all schools and students. All but two states are at least partially on track toward making an annual determination of adequate yearly progress.

School Improvement

Slightly more than half of the states are on track toward making timely identification of schools that are not at standard and ensuring that districts notify parents of this status in a timely way. Thirty-four states are on track to providing students in these schools with the option to transfer to a higher-performing school. The remainder are partially on track. Most states are at least partially on track to provide technical assistance to schools not at standard.

Safe Schools

Almost all states are on track to having criteria for unsafe schools and transfer policies for victims of violent crimes and students in unsafe schools.

Supplemental Services

Thirty-one states are on track for ensuring that students in poor performing schools have access to supplemental education services such as tutoring. Forty-eight states are on track for having criteria for supplemental services, and 45 are on track for having a list of approved providers. Twelve do not have standards for monitoring the quality of the providers.

Report Cards

Nineteen states are on track to providing school report cards that provide information on schools’ achievement rates, graduation rates, teacher qualifications, and other indicators. All but one of the rest were partially on track.

Teacher Quality

All but one state is on track or partially on track to determining a definition for a “highly qualified teacher.” Eleven are on track for establishing a system to test subject matter competency of teachers. Most are on track to establishing a test for new elementary teachers.

No state, however, appeared to be on track for establishing an annual goal for districts to increase the percentage of highly qualified teachers so that all teachers would be highly qualified by the end of 2006. None was on track for creating annual measurable objectives for raising the percentage of teachers receiving effective professional development.

Policy Recommendations

The ECS report provided five policy recommendations that, in ECS’s view, required immediate attention from policymakers:

  • The report recommends the nation “embrace NCLB as a civil right” because it offers “an unprecedented opportunity to raise expectations and significantly narrow achievement gaps that persist in U.S. schools.”
  • States should not lose sight of higher-achieving students in their efforts to improve academic achievement of struggling students.
  • Lawmakers should reassess AYP so that it measures academic progress of cohorts of students, because that method “provides a more accurate picture of student performance and how schools and teachers are contributing to the gains.” (See related article on page 18.)
  • States should strengthen highly qualified teacher requirements so they meet both the letter and the spirit of the law.
  • As the number of schools failing to meet state standards grows, states will need to build capacity to help such schools improve.

“The promise of NCLB to raise the achievement of students who have been struggling should not obscure the need to raise the achievement of all students, regardless of current academic standing,” stated the ECS report. “NCLB provides a unique opportunity to ensure improvement for all students.”

The Education Commission of the States is a nonpartisan organization established in 1965 to help state leaders “identify, develop, and implement public policies to improve student learning at all levels.”

Krista Kafer ([email protected]) is senior policy analyst for education at The Heritage Foundation.

For more information …

The July 2004 report from the Education Commission of the States, ECS Report to the Nation: State Implementation of the No Child Left Behind Act, is available online at