No Child Left Behind
and What It Means for Music Educators
(with contributions from subscribers to the Music K-8 E-mail Discussion List)

If you’re a public school teacher in the United States and haven’t heard about “The No Child Left Behind” act (Public Law 101-110) of 2001), you’ve either been hiding under a rock or have an administrator that’s not too concerned:-) The major emphasis of this act is accountability for students, especially in reading scores, and the connection between that and aid money to schools. How does this impact music? Highlighted are some of the portions of this act, how some schools are reacting, and ideas for helping your district implement these objectives without foregoing the fine arts. (These highlighted portions are from the NEA website. For a copy of the entire act, click here You will need Adobe Reader to view.

*States must establish a baseline, or starting point, they will use to measure their progress over the next 12 years in meeting a key ESEA goal: All students performing at a “proficient” level or above on state reading and math assessments by 2013-14.

States must also:

  • determine how they will define “proficient” student performance in reading and math.
  • decide what indicators of student performance they will include in their definitions of AYP.
  • set incremental AYP targets that establish minimal levels of increased student performance from 2002-03 through 2013-14.
  • set an initial threshold that is at a minimum the higher of the percent of students proficient in the statewide lowest achieving subgroup or the local
  • school at the 20th percentile in the state.

*States must develop and begin administering tests in math and reading to all students in grades 3–8 and once to all students in grades 9–12, beginning with the 2005-06 school year.

States must also:

  • administer science assessments to all students once in grades 3–5, 6–9 and 9–12, beginning with the 2007-08 school year.
  • design or purchase tests that are aligned with state content and performance standards. If standards span more than one grade, teachers must be informed as to what portion of those multi-grade standards are to be taught at each grade.
  • design or purchase tests that are the same for all children (with appropriate accommodations as needed), but are valid and accessible for all students,
  • including students with limited English proficiency and students with disabilities.
  • design or purchase tests that are consistent with nationally recognized professional and technical standards and use multiple measures that include higher-order thinking skills. Tests must also objectively measure academic achievement, knowledge, and skills without evaluating or assessing family beliefs and attitudes.
  • must produce and provide individual reports of student performance to parents, teachers, and principals in a comprehensible and uniform format.
  • States must also make assessment results to schools no later than the beginning of the following school year, beginning with 2002-03.
    must all participate in the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), otherwise known as the “nation’s report card.” If Congress appropriates sufficient funds, beginning in 2002-03 states must participate in NAEP reading and mathematics assessments at grades 4 and 8 every two years. Until now, state participation in NAEP has been voluntary. ED is expected to use NAEP to confirm state test results in reading and math.

*ESEA requires schools, districts, and states to make Adequate Yearly Progress, a series of steps toward the law’s goal of all students being proficient on state assessments. For schools that fail to meet these targets there are increasingly negative consequences.

For schools to make AYP in any given year, each student subgroup (such as disabled children or language-minority children) must perform at, or above the bar, wherever it is set.

There is an exception: If a particular student subgroup in a school fails to make AYP for one year, the school will be excused if:

  • the percentage of students in the group who failed to reach proficiency decreased by 10 percent;
  • students in the subgroup showed progress on at least one additional area of academic performance, such as increased high school graduation rates.

Schools that fail to make AYP for two years in a row enter the first year of School Improvement and must:

  • notify parents and prepare a two-year improvement plan;
  • use at least 10 percent of Title I funds for professional development;
  • provide public school choice for students, if not prohibited by state law;
  • use 5-15 percent of Title I funds for transportation;
  • receive federal School Improvement funds and technical assistance from the school district.

Schools that fail to make AYP for three years in a row enter the second year of School Improvement and must:

  • continue activities from Year 1 of School Improvement;
  • provide students with supplemental services such as private tutoring;
  • use 5-15 percent of Title I funds for supplemental services or 20 percent combined for public school choice and supplemental services.

Schools that fail to make AYP for four years in a row enter the first year of Corrective Action, and must:

  • continue to provide public school choice and supplemental services, and notify parents about the school’s status.

The local school district must implement at least one of the following:

  • replace staff relevant to the failure;
  • implement a new curriculum odecrease school-level decision-making;
  • extend the school year or day;
  • appoint an outside expert;
  • restructure internal organization.

Schools that fail to make AYP for five years in a row enter the second year of Corrective Action, and must:

  • continue to provide public school choice and supplemental services;
  • prepare a plan and make arrangements for restructuring.

For schools that fail to make AYP for six years in a row, the local school district must:

  • reopen the school as a public charter school;
  • replace all (or most) of the school staff (which may include the principal) who are relevant to the failure oenter into a contract with an entity, such as a private management company, with a demonstrated record of effectiveness;
  • turn school operations over to the state;
  • undertake other major reforms and restructuring.

Basically, everything falls under funding. Many schools are especially nervous because many, no matter how well they’ve done on earlier state assessments nor how many awards they’ve won, have not met the newer, more stringent standards. As a result, districts are developing a variety of methods to meet these standards set by their states. The bottom line is…districts are going to concentrate on reading and math scores and utilize a variety of methods to try to meet these standards.

For instance, in my district, there is an emphasis on “double dipping”, which would be pulling students out of science, social studies, and yes, specials like music and P.E. to get extra work in reading with a teacher designated as the “double dipping” teacher. We had been told at one PDC meeting to work our curriculum to meet the needs of students who might need to be pulled. Also, the district is going to try as much as possible to pull orchestra students out of music or P.E. instead of classroom time. We did have another PDC meeting in which we were given reading objectives, which we were to highlight if they were covered in our own curriculum. The main concentration, however, is this double-dipping.

Reports from other teachers (opinions expressed here are the opinions of the teachers and NOT necessarily the Music Education Madness Site):

From a Texas teacher: Being from Texas and George Bush who created this TAAS test debacle 6 years ago, we have had this problem for awhile now. The parents hate it and have tried to get people to actually boycott the test since so much emphasis is put on it, but to no avail. I actually complained to the superintendent of schools after I got nowhere with the principal at my daughter’s school. She had made straight A’s on her report card all year and then failed the TAAS reading test. They were going to make her drop out of band the following year so she could take 2 classes of English!!! It also required her to take summer school starting the following week of the letter we received, and re-take the test, regardless of any summer vacations that might have been planned!! Unbelievable!! I tried so hard to get them to realize that we are not all Einsteins in this world and thank God there were Beethoven’s and Chopin’s! But, it was pointless because the school’s only way to be recognized was by these stupid tests. So consequently, all teachers do now is teach kids the tricks of taking these tests. Forget any real teaching!

Even in the school I’m teaching, students get tutored during my music class!!!! And then on top of it, students who voluntarily were taking tutoring after school suggested by some teachers, were not allowed to take my after school choir classes! So I offered a before school choir for those poor students! I told the principal that these students need an outlet from academics!!! Don’t take everything away from them!

From a North Carolina teacher: A first grade teacher and I began an after-school club called, Music Makers. We selected the eight lowest performing and eight highest performing first graders to participate. Their selection was based solely on Reading Assessment scores in September. I basically used music to teach/enhance reading and math skills. The first grade teacher helped me to identify first grade standards in reading and math that should be taught. I have written about this club to the list before. We used the charts and songs called,”Growing With Mathematics.” They are published by the Wright Group and go along with their math series. Each song was about a math skill, but we also read them and used them as reading lessons. These students played the songs on the piano, boomwhackers, bells, and Big Foot Keyboard. They read and sang the songs many different ways. I made PowerPoints for each song and used pictures of the children to illustrate them. It was a big success. You would not believe their Reading scores at the end of the year. The slower students all reached grade level proficiency except for two. One has now been identified as SPED and the other missed it by one level. Their growth was still astounding. The Reading Assessment tool that my school system uses says that a child must be at level 16 by the end of first grade. The high achieving students excelled as well. They all exceeded 16 by several levels, one as high as 40. I know that our after-school club was not the sole reason for their academic growth. But…I like to think we had a part in it.

From a Colorado teacher: Two of my three schools do not allow pullouts for strings or band in the 4th and 5th grade. One of these schools is planning on going to an arts based integration instruction. This school will also have all fourth grade students take strings in the 4th grade. Another of my schools, one fourth grade class
that takes strings had about a 2.5 growth increase on the Adams 50. No results yet from the Terra Nova test or the CSAP.
The district is looking at early intervention testing in K-3 grade levels through Dibels testing program to identify what tools the students haven’t acquired in letter identification, short vowels, and compression.
If we are smart enough, we as music teachers need to know what is going on in the classroom and help reinforce those concepts. It doesn’t take 30 minutes to do this. Just a 10 or 20 second mention as “Did you know this is the same thing you did in your class?” We also need to inform the classroom teachers what we do that does help them. For example, reading a song at a specific speed helps tracking and fluency. We need to feed classroom teachers information about how the brain works and grows through our instruction to the kids.
Visual-spatial learners have such a hard time with writing and vocabulary. I think the NCLB was designed by people who are auditory-sequentail and have no
idea how others learn (visual and kinesthetic as well as auditory). In one of my schools 3rd grade CSAP score went down 6% because on one child. In another school in the district a child was worth only .5%

From another North Carolina teacher: I am very much in the minority I realize. My school has not been impacted by NCLB nor has it been negatively impacted by NC testing. The superintendent has stated to staff, and publicly, that tests can’t show the whole worth of a school system. Music, art, computers, and PE are just as valued for all children. No one is held from their specials class to be tutored. Some tutoring has taken place after school but students are not kept from being part of the Show Choir one day a week. They work around it. Our students represent a cross-section of society; our teachers represent the cream of the teaching pool. There lies the
difference I believe.

Curriculum in our system is driven not by testing but by the principles of the Padeia philosophy with kids being taught how to think and how to contribute in seminars, to question, not to parrot. Teachers are pretty much left alone to teach their students creatively in the ways they know work. Kids have a daily snack, and a daily recess, and there is still sufficient time in the school day for teaching. Parents are involved and kids, for the most part, love being in school and are not burnt out by “drill and kill” because it doesn’t exist. Results? A high achieving school with happy staff, happy students, and happy parents. Preliminary results from testing this year show outstanding student achievement.

Thank goodness I could end my career in a system that is doing it right. I fled 3 years ago from system where kids were being so turned off by “drill and kill” and such a heavy emphasis on standards, that teachers were turned off and leaving, kids were failing.

From a Washington state teacher:Our school received a “Washington Reads” grant that provided for an after school reading program. Because of this my 2nd and third
grade after school choir received quite a few perks, which included:
— snacks
— bus ride home
— awards at the end of the year

The reading co-ordinator is a former music teacher. She recognizes how music education can develop vocabulary and phonemic awareness. It was an extremely positive environment. In fact, several of my choir students actually missed a day of after school program each week to attend choir.

A few more thoughts regarding NCLB:

And yes, in Washington, there are parents whose children get great grades and still are not passing our state assessment, the WASL. It tests higher order thinking skills, i.e. the *creative process* is developed and strenghtened through general music and especially the Orff process.

Is everyone aware that the NCLB states that by the year 2014 *everyone* (yes, 100%!) is supposed to pass the state assessment? We used to chuckle at Lake Wobegone’s assertion…a place where every child is above average. With NCLB, school funding is ultimately attached to this preposterous claim.

It’s like trying to fit everyone in the same shoe size.

I am all for raising academic standards, but I am also a believer in multiple intellegences.

(*Note: The Washington Reads grant was a research based grant that targeted struggling/emerging readers. It’s not available anymore.)


Depending on the emphasis a district places on state assessments and the monies they expect, music and other special area classes may be impacted in one of the least desirable ways. How to counteract that and lessen the chance that your children might be pulled out?


  1. Point out to your administration that music, like art and P.E., is still listed as a “core subject”, and should be accorded the respect other areas are.
  2. Make sure, in your lesson plans and objective outlines, you indicate how reading skills are applied in music, and make sure you do it! Think about the wide array of reading objectives met in music (syllables, reading song lyrics, poetry and rhyming, utilizing literature in the music classroom, as well as the math skills of fractions, patterns, division……)
  3. In your assessments, if you do have pull-outs, make sure this is noted, especially if these assessments in any form are going home to parents.
  4. Point out this latest bit of legislation: Resolution Recognizing Benefits and Importance of School-Based Music Education Passed By US House of Representatives
  5. Work together with your classroom teachers with cross-curricular activities and advocacy. At least in my district, most classroom teachers are not at all thrilled with many of the new impositions placed on them.
  6. Again, in the case of our district, we have had PDC sessions presented by Doug Reeves, who is a STRONG advocate of music, art, and P.E., and who has books and ideas on actually simplifying assessments. Many of his ideas bear investigating. Dr. Reeves is also a very open person and accepts input.
  7. A great resource: Denise Gagne materials, including Alphabet Action Songs and Music Play series.

How has NCLB impacted YOUR school and program? Let us know, and we will do a follow-up on this article in the near future. Your input is very important!