Skip to main content Accessibility help


  • Kate Menken


The most recent federal education policy in the United States, titled No Child Left Behind (NCLB), was passed into law in 2001. High-stakes testing is the core of NCLB, as tests are used to hold each school, district, and state accountable for student performance, therein affording the federal government greater control over the constitutionally decentralized national system of U.S. education. Because the tests being used are administered in English, English language learners (ELLs) typically fail to meet the law's annual progress requirements, resulting in serious consequences for the students and their schools. This article reviews research about the effects of NCLB on language policies in education. Empirical studies show that the law—which is at face value merely an educational policy—is in actuality a de facto language policy. After explaining the law's assessment mandates, this article provides analyses of the wording of NCLB from a language policy perspective. It also reviews studies about the limitations of the required tests as instruments to carry out the law's demands, and about the effects of the law on instruction and the educational experiences of ELLs.



Hide All
Evans, B., & Hornberger, N. (2005). No Child Left Behind: Repealing and unpeeling federal language education policy in the United States. Language Policy, 4, 87106.
Johnson, D. (2007). Language policy within and without the school district of Philadelphia. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia.
Menken, K. (2008a). English learners left behind: Standardized testing as language policy. Clevedon, England: Multilingual Matters.
Menken, K., & Shohamy, E. (Eds.). (2008, September). No Child Left Behind and U.S. language education policy. Thematic issue. Language Policy, 7 (3).
Solórzano, R. (2008, June). High stakes testing: Issues, implications, and remedies for English language learners. Review of Educational Research, 78 (2), 260329.
Wiley, T., & Wright, W. (2004). Against the undertow: Language-minority education policy and politics in the “age of accountability.” Educational Policy, 18 (1), 142168.
Abedi, J., & Dietal, R. (2004, Winter). Challenges in the No Child Left Behind Act for English language learners. (CRESST Policy Brief 7.) Los Angeles: National Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards, and Student Testing.
Abedi, J., Hofstetter, C., & Lord, C. (2004, Spring). Assessment accommodations for English language learners: Implications for policy-based empirical research. Review of Educational Research, 74 (1), 128.
Byrnes, H. (2005) Perspectives, No Child Left Behind. Modern Language Journal 89 (2), 246282.
Center on Education Policy. (2005). States try harder, but gaps persist: High school exit exams. Washington, DC: Author.
Crawford, J. (2002, Summer). Obituary: The Bilingual Education Act, 1968–2002. Rethinking schools online, 16 (4), 14. Retrieved July 25, 2006, from
Crawford, J. (2004). No Child Left Behind: Misguided approach to school accountability for English language learners. Paper for the forum on ideas to improve the NCLB accountability provisions for students with disabilities and English language learners. Washington, DC: Center on Education Policy & National Association for Bilingual Education.
Crawford, J. (2007a). A diminished vision of civil rights: No Child Left Behind and the growing divide in how educational equity is understood. Education Week, 26 (39), 31, 40.
Crawford, J. (2007b, March). The decline of bilingual education: How to reverse a troubling trend? International Multilingual Research Journal, 1 (1), 3337.
Dee, T., & Jacob, B. (2006, April). Do high school exit exams influence educational attainment or labor market performance? (NBER Working Article No. W12199). Retrieved July 11, 2006, from
Gándara, P., & Baca, G. (2008, September). NCLB and California's English language learners: The perfect storm. Language Policy, 7 (3), 201216.
Goldenberg, C. (2008, Summer). Teaching English language learners: What the research does—and does not—say. American Educator, 8–44. Retrieved July 18, 2008, from
González, J. (2002, Summer). Editor's introduction: Bilingual education and the federal role, if any. . . . Bilingual Research Journal, 26 (2), iv.
Government Accountability Office. (2006). No Child Left Behind Act: Assistance from education could help states better measure progress of students with limited English proficiency. Washington, DC: Author.
Heubert, J., & Hauser, R. (Eds.). (1999). High stakes testing for tracking, promotion, and graduation. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.
Hornberger, N., & Johnson, D. (2007, September). Slicing the onion ethnographically: Layers and spaces in multilingual language education policy and practice. TESOL Quarterly, 41 (3), 509532.
Kopriva, R. (2000). Ensuring accuracy in testing for English language learners. Washington, DC: Council of Chief State Officers.
McNamara, T., & Roever, C. (2006). Language testing: The social dimension. Oxford, England: Blackwell.
Menken, K. (in press). Policy failures: No Child Left Behind and English language learners. In Groenke, S. & Hatch, A. (Eds.), Small openings: Critical pedagogy in teacher education in neoliberal times. Berlin: Springer.
Menken, K. (2008b, September). Editorial 7.3: Introduction to the thematic issue. Language Policy, 7 (3), 191199.
National Clearinghouse for English Language Acquisition. (2006). History. Washington, DC: Author. Retrieved October 1, 2008, from
Nichols, S., & Berliner, D. (2007). Collateral damage: How high-stakes testing corrupts America's schools. Boston: Harvard Education.
Olneck, M. (2005). The No Child Left Behind Act's abolition of the Bilingual Education Act: Dismantling progress or furthering opportunity? Paper presented at the conference on Accountability, Equity, and Democracy in the Public Schools: The No Child Left Behind Act and the Federal Role in Education, University of Wisconsin, Madison.
Palmer, D., & Lynch, A. (2008, September). A bilingual education for a monolingual test? The pressure to prepare for TAKS and its influence on choices for language of instruction in Texas elementary bilingual classrooms. Language Policy, 7 (3), 217235.
Pennock-Roman, M., & Rivera, C. (2007). Test validity and mean effects of test accommodations for ELLs and non-ELLs: A meta-analysis. Washington, DC: Center for Equity and Excellence in Education, George Washington University.
Rogers, J., Holme, J., & Silver, D. (2006). More questions than answers: CAHSEE results, opportunity to learn, & the class of 2006. Los Angeles: UCLA/IDEA. Retrieved August 10, 2008, from
Rotberg, I. (2000, March 29). Campaign 2000: Notes to the next president on education policy. Education Week, 19 (28).
Reyes, L. (2008, September). Systemic crisis for English language learners in New York City. Unpublished memorandum to State Commissioner Mills. Retrieved September 28, 2008, from
Rivera, C., & Collum, E. (Eds.). (2006). State assessment policy and practice for English language learners: A national perspective. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
Ruiz, R. (1984). Orientations in language planning.NABE Journal, 8, 1534.
Shohamy, E. (2001). The power of tests: A critical view of the uses of language tests. Essex, England: Pearson, Longman.
Shohamy, E. (2008). Language policy and language assessment: The relationship. Overview. Current Issues in Language Planning, 9 (3), 363373.
Spolsky, B. (2004). Language policy. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.
Stansfield, C., & Rivera, C. (2002). How will English language learners be accommodated in state assessments? In Lissitz, R. & Scafer, W. (Eds.), Assessment in educational reform: Both means and ends (pp. 125144). Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.
Sullivan, P., Yeager, M., Chudowsky, N., Kober, N., O'Brien, E., & Gayler, K. (2005). State high school exit exams: States try harder, but gaps persist. Washington, DC: Center on Education Policy.
Warren, J., Jenkins, K., & Kulick, R. (2005). High school exit examinations and state level completion and GED rates, 1975–2002. Paper prepared for presentation at the annual meeting of the Population Association of America, Boston, April 2004. Retrieved July 11, 2006, from
Wright, W., & Li, X. (2008, September). Language Policy, 7 (3), 237266.
Zehler, A., Fleishman, H., Hopstock, P., Stephenson, T., Pendzik, M., & Sapru, S. (2003). Descriptive study of services to LEP students and to LEP students with disabilities; Policy report: Summary of findings related to LEP and SpEd-LEP students. Arlington, VA: Development Associates.

Related content

Powered by UNSILO


  • Kate Menken


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed.