May 29, 2007 -- School is about to let out for summer, but on Capitol Hill, debate about it is kicking into full gear.
Five years after it was implemented to help improve America's schools, Congress is wondering whether to continue the controversial No Child Left Behind program.
Under the program, all schools are required to test students every year in reading and math. If students don't meet minimum standards, schools must take action. And substandard schools that don't show enough progress can be penalized — in the worst cases, shut down.
Many critics say the program results in empty "teaching to the test." But ABC News spent months on an investigation to see how No Child Left Behind is doing, and found something critics may be surprised to learn — in a lot of places, it's working.
The state and national numbers on reading and math show some progress. So on its report card, ABC News gave No Child Left Behind's central element — testing students to meet standards — an A-.
To be sure, the law has plenty of real problems. The standards themselves got a C. They are inconsistent — usually set too low by the individual states, critics say.
Equal money to schools got a D. Most states still spend more of their money on the wealthy schools.
Improving teacher quality earned a C. Teacher standards are rare — and talented teachers have no incentive to go to struggling schools.
The handling of special needs and non-English speaking students got a C. Those students are forced to take the same tests, often skewing results.
Rescue plans for failing schools got a D. Right now the plans are a band-aid fix, like extra tutoring.
Using Statistics to Improve Education
Many educators welcome the data — good or bad.
"It's just caused us to look specifically at every child," said Matthew Devan, principal of Viers Mill Elementary School in Maryland.
Viers Mill, with a substantial population of low-income, non-English speaking Hispanic students, has seized the challenge and turned into a blue-ribbon school.
"If you look at the test, you would see it's what you want every child to be able to do," said Viers Mill staff development teacher Susan Freiman.
At nearby Suitland High School, which has been judged a "failing school" two years in a row, some teachers like the attention, even if it's negative.
"Assessment drives instruction," said English teacher Stephanie Butler. "If I don't know the weaknesses of my students, how can I know how to best help them? ... I think the statistics need to drive remedies."