No Child Left Behind has Left the Gifted Children Behind

What we are seeing since the inception of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) program is that now the children that are being ‘left behind’ are those who are deemed over-achievers. The NCLB program was implemented by President Bush back in 2002 to “Improve the academic achievement of the disadvantaged” (ED, 2004). Stated in the purpose of this program explicitly conveys that the focus is on under-achieving students. I will quote directly because I feel that the weight of the statements may be lessened if I were to paraphrase. From the U.S. Department of Education (ED) website for the NCLB program Section 001: Statement of Purpose says, “meeting the educational needs of low-achieving children in our Nation’s highest-poverty schools, limited English proficient children, migratory children, children with disabilities, Indian children, neglected or delinquent children, and young children in need of reading assistance; closing the achievement gap between high- and low-performing children, especially the achievement gaps between minority and nonminority students, and between disadvantaged children and their more advantaged peers”(ED, 2004). While this program has great implications, a well-intentioned goal, and encompasses the very thing that our school system should strive to achieve, it is less than unfair that our gifted children have been pushed to the sidelines to incorporate such a program. And that is exactly what is happening.

Since the focus has shifted to ensuring that all students receive a similar education, thus emphasizing that the children in the bottom 10% of classrooms are being instructed properly – they are actually the ones who receive the majority of the attention. While this isn’t what the NCLB program intended, it is how it has been interpreted by the states and schools. What this means is that those children who are above average intelligence are left to their own devices because they are smart enough to figure it out on their own or they grasp the concepts easily and therefore do not need lengthy instruction. In my state, the requirement to be deemed gifted and to gain acceptance into the Gifted and Talented program the student must pass an IQ test with a score of 130 or higher, score within the 97 percentile range on standardized tests, and “pass” a series of aptitude tests. What is happening is that these gifted children are left for extended periods of time in class without attention and instruction; they become bored, unchallenged, and neglected.  Sure, there are Gifted and Talented (GT) classes available for those deemed high-achieving, but these classes typically only meet for an hour a day, and many times not even all five days of the school week which leave at least thirty hours of instruction a week where these children are left in waiting.  According to Kristen Stephens and Jan Riggsbee, both of which are gifted education specialists at Duke University, these gifted children are left sitting idle in classrooms awaiting instruction that nurtures their capabilities, challenges their intellect, and engages them in coursework that is relevant to their level of comprehension (Stephens & Riggsbee, 2007). As a result, these children not only become bored, but they lose passion in their coursework, they become frustrated and unmotivated from the lack of commitment and challenges, and they become lost in the shuffle; and their talent many times is left underdeveloped (Stephens & Riggsbee, 2007).

We have all been introduced to Rosenthal’s Pygmalion in the Classroom experiment multiple times as psychology majors, and we have all come to learn what a great example it is of a self-fulfilling prophecy within the education system. But what if we were to put a spin on it. A perhaps unorthodox correlation to applied social psychology in regards to the gifted student can be seen through the self-fulfilling prophecy. A self-fulfilling prophecy refers to a set of expectations about another person that directly influences the way you perceive that person and in turn behave toward that person. Your perception > expectation > and then behavior towards that person in turn influences the way in which that person behaves in response to you. Now that they have responded in a way that is congruent with your expectations, your initial beliefs have now been confirmed and solidified (Schneider, et al, 2012). Back to the gifted student. Say you are a teacher and you have a gifted young lady named Alyssa in your class. Alyssa performs better on class assignments, standardized tests, and because of her abilities finishes her assignments much quicker than her classmates. As her teacher, you can give Alyssa an assignment and ask her if she needs instruction to which she declines and she completes her assignment quickly with no (or minimal) mistakes. You then realize that she does not need detailed instruction and that you can focus your attention on other students in class. You continue to give her assignments without instruction and she continues to turn them in without mistakes. While this type of self-fulfilling prophecy does not sound bad, the lack of instruction that occurs, coupled with the obvious distinction between Alyssa and her classmates, can cause negative side effects.

A teacher’s subjective expectations/assumptions about a student’s demonstrated academic ability can often become an objective reality as other teachers may adopt the same treatment towards the student. By treating the gifted student in this way, the teacher has strictly defined her expectations of both the gifted and non-gifted students by the way she differentiates the amount of teaching time per student, to whom she shares praise or exerts control, and the practice of autonomy within her classroom (Marsh, et al, 1995) – all of these actions performed by the teacher then turns her expectations into reality. This differential treatment between the gifted and non-gifted students, and the labelling of the gifted student (whether explicit or implicit) shows the gifted student that she has traits that distinguish her from her peers. Having a student that is treated differently from her classmates may seem like a privilege, but over time this student will start to form the idea that since she is treated differently, than she must be different. As gifted students mature, and as they become more aware that they are distinguished from their classmates for a specific reason, their self-concept can decline and become more negative in nature (Marsh, et al, 1995).

What should be happening is that children should be tested on their abilities and placed according to learning styles, academic motivation and capabilities, and intelligence levels within their school. Classrooms should be set up in a way that focuses on the needs of the students, not what is easiest for the school itself. In each classroom in a typical middle school, you may have 1-4 children who have tested in the 97 percentile range or higher and thus have been deemed over-achieving. That roughly equates to 12-36 children per grade that fit into this category. That is enough children to make up an entire classroom. If we provide children with learning challenges a class structure that is adopted to meet their individual needs (Special Education classes) then why can we not provide the same individualized learning environment for high achieving students that are not having their educational needs met? A classroom designed specifically for gifted students taught by properly trained teachers that use appropriate curriculum to meet the needs of the gifted children would be an easy step to take that would pay off immensely in the future. One could argue that money is needed to fund these programs and in response I would say that these children are already being taught in these schools. By gathering them together and putting them in one classroom, which would free up a teacher to teach them, and thus, would require a very minimal (if any) amount of extra funding. For example, the public school that my daughter attended before we pulled her out spends $6,966 per student with a school population of 839 for both 5th and 6th grade; with only 3% of that money allotted for the gifted and talented program (“District Spending,” 2012). And this is an award winning school, deemed amongst the best in the state that has a much larger budget than most schools in the state, but they told us that our daughter was “beyond their curriculum” and “would be better off skipping a few grades or attending a virtual academy that could offer her a challenging environment.” This is of course what we did, but we should not have to. Public schools should incorporate ways in which they can cater to the needs of the advanced while still meeting the needs of the deficient.

Regardless of the approach that is taken to combat this problem, at the very least there should be more research done on the effects of schooling on the gifted child. There is countless journal articles about research conducted on ways in which we can raise the bar for average or under achieving students, but just like in public schools today, gifted children have once again fallen through the cracks. With our own government leaders emphasizing an environment that values research and innovation you would think that more federal money would be allotted to gifted programs rather than to programs that address student deficiencies. In a country that is currently in a transition, facing troubling economic times, and a technology boom – now is the time that we need to give our brightest young minds every tool they need to excel to their fullest potential, because after all, we could all benefit as a result.


District Spending Cabot Middle School North. (2012, November 29). Retrieved from website:

Marsh, H. W. M. W., Chessor, D., Craven, R., & Roche, L. (1995). The Effects of Gifted and Talented Programs on Academic Self-Concept: The Big Fish Strikes Again. American Educational Research Journal, 32(2), 285-319.

Schneider, F. W., Gruman, J. A., & Coutts, L. M. (Eds.). (2012). Applied Social Psychology: Understanding and Addressing Social and Practical Problems (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications.

Stephens, K., & Riggsbee, J. (2007, February 1). The Children Neglected by No Child Left Behind. Retrieved from Duke Today website:

U.S. Department of Education (ED). (2004, September 15). No Child Left Behind. Retrieved from U.S. Department of Education website:


  1. managing safely v3.1 – project

    No Child Left Behind has Left the Gifted Children Behind | Applied Social Psychology (ASP)

  2. Asher Rodriguez

    However well-intentioned, No Child Left Behind Act has proven to be a disaster for the educational system. While I do agree with some of your thoughts I think there are bigger issues with NCLB other than the fact that “gifted” children are under-stimulated. According to a 2012 Gallup survey, 29% of those polled have stated they believe that NCLB has made education worse. Oddly enough 22% of individuals who make less than $30, 000 a year believe that NCLB has made education better not worse. President Obama has waived 32 states from having to participate in this educational Act.
    One of the widely reported flaws of No Child Left Behind was overemphasis on standardized testing. (Schull. 2011) A one size fits all model was implemented, rather than focusing on actually improving how students learn there was more emphasis on the test scores. Less time is spent on teaching and more time is spent on test prep. Another key flaw was the utilization of (SBR) scientifically based research teaching methods. (Schull, 2011) NCLB’s insistence on using on preferred teaching method negates the true teaching environment. (Schull, 2011) Saying there is only one preferred way to teach a classroom full of students who all have different learning styles shows a true lack of understanding of the teaching process.
    Although our educational system needs a serious overhaul, I don’t believe this was the right way to do it; rather than fix key issues NCLB created more. There must been serious educational reform in this country, I just don’t know how we can truly get the conversation started.

    No Child Left Behind Rated More Negatively Than Positively. (n.d.). No Child Left Behind Rated More Negatively Than Positively. Retrieved March 30, 2014, from

    Zhao, E. (2012, August 21). No Child Left Behind Worsened Education, 48 Percent Of Americans ‘Very Familiar’ With The Law Say In Gallup Poll. The Huffington Post. Retrieved March 27, 2014, from

  3. Excellent analysis of the No Child Left Behind program and its effects on gifted children. There is a lot of controversy surrounding this program since its establishment in 2002 as it benefits some and hinders others. With the example of Alyssa, the teacher engaged less with her because she proved early on that she could be successful on her own. This is both beneficial and detrimental to Alyssa’s education. While self-teaching herself, Alyssa is learning important skills that will contribute to her success later on in life. For example, in college students have minimal time in large classrooms where teachers do not have the ability to personally assist every single student. Therefore, understanding how to self-teach and problem solve without one-on-one instruction will clearly help Alyssa to succeed in her classes. However, working alone through primary school can also be a hinderance to a different skill set. For instance, Alyssa will not have the practice working with adult figures and effectively communicating things she does or does not understand.

    A teacher’s expectations definitely have a major influence on student academic performance. This can clearly be seen in the experiment by Rosenthal and Jacobsen (1968) where certain students were identified early on as having more academic potential. This additional identified academic potential in the 1960s is equivalent to the requirements for the gifted program. Students are tested and identified early on as gifted students with high IQs and advance academic potential. Teachers are informed of who these students are and therefore, the result of a self-fulfilling prophecy occurs – just as it did in the research by Rosenthal and Jacobsen (1968). Rosenthal and Jacobsen’s (1968) experiment revealed that teachers will treat students identified as exception (regardless of actually IQ) with more attention, feedback, and challenging tasks. In the end, students identified as exception did in fact, perform better than their peers. Clearly one can see the relationship then between a mere identification of potential (true or untrue), expectations and behaviors. In the NCLB program, students are identified as low performers or the bottom 10% (U.S. Department of Education, 2004). Just as with the identification of top achievers and gifted students, teachers form expectations regarding these students and in return, behave in a manner that will confirm these expectations. Therefore, the NCLB program and the gifted program are both susceptible to the self-fulfilling prophecy hindering student potential. This is a huge flaw within programs such as these.

    Your suggestion of testing and grouping based on learning styles and motivation is an excellent one. To take this one step further, eliminating the testing of intelligence all together may prove even more effective. This would reduce or completely eliminate teacher expectation and subsequent behaviors according to academic achievement and potential. Rather, the focus will be on striving to teach students according to their learning styles which would provide a more tailored yet realistic approach to teaching larger groups of children at one time. Many students have strong academic potential that is hidden by their anxiety of standardized tests, different learning styles etc. By using a strategy that would work with students based on factors such as this will provide all students with the academic environment to grow and prosper.


    Rosenthal, R. & Jaconbsen, L. (1968). Pygmalion in the classroom: Teacher expectation and pupils’ intellectual development. New York, NY: Holt, Rinehart & Winston.

    U.S. Department of Education. (2004). No Child Left Behind. Retrieved from

  4. The No Child Left Behind Act has had many flaws. I think one of the biggest was the impact on the dropout rate. The NCLB act was designed to only look at test scores. Graduation rates were not considered. Because schools are under pressure to do well on statewide exams, the emphasis is on the test scores. Students who do poorly and drop out will increase the school’s overall scores. This means more money for the schools. According to one article, schools were letting students drop out in order to improve test scores and qualify for funding (, 2008). A study in 2008 found that test scores grouped by race singled out low performing students and increased incentives for schools to allow those students to drop out in order to protect their school’s over-all scores (, 2008).

    Attempts have since been made to address the problem. In 2008, federal requirements were established for reporting graduate statistics. States can be granted waivers from the No Child Left Behind Act. The waivers include the stipulation that states must replace the NCLB act with a plan that addresses students’ readiness for college and work. These plans must also develop systems that reward high-achieving schools that consist of low-income students, and evaluate educators on the academic progress of their students. The problem is that some states are ignoring some of the requirements (, 2013). The Every Student Counts Act was introduced in 2011. The act was designed to set graduation rate goals for all students. It failed to pass the House and Senate.

    The No Child Left Behind Act has ignored the needs of gifted children, and made it far too easy for struggling students to give up. Some schools are letting children slip through the cracks in their desperation to meet standards that can dictate if a school thrives or closes. Other schools are ignoring regulations that were intended to help ensure that all students’ needs are met. It makes me wonder what type of leadership this country will have in the future. We’re looking at a future population consisting of some adults that weren’t given the chance to live up to their full potential, and others that were allowed to ignore theirs.
    New study offers reality check: no child left behind is increasing dropout rates. Retrieved from:
    Study says no child left behind waiver weakens graduation rate accountability. Retrieved from:
    Why some schools may be happy about dropouts. Retrieved from:

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