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Doing Your Homework:
Do Legal Definitions in NCLB Apply to General Ed Programs?
by Suzanne Whitney, Research Editor, Wrightslaw

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Note: Congress has reauthorized the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), the statute formerly known as No Child Left Behind. The new statute, Every Student Succeeds Act, was signed into law by President Obama on December 10, 2015.


Question: I received a call from a school board member who was told that the legal definitions of "reading," "essential components of reading instruction" and "scientifically based reading research" in No Child Left Behind only apply to intervention programs, not to general education programs.

Is this true? If so, can you tell me where to find this in the law?

Sue Answers: The legal definitions of "reading," "essential components of reading instruction" and "scientifically based reading research" are in No Child Left Behind, a general education law. The definitions are in the section that describes adequate reading programs designed to teach children to read by grade 3.

Whether a particular school or school district must meet all standards in NCLB depends on which NCLB grants they receive. However, I cannot imagine that informed taxpayers would ask their school board to provide an education that does not meet national and state minimum standards.

The national standards are outlined in Guidance for the Reading First Program.
You will find your state minimum standards on your state department of education website. These minimum standards may be called curriculum content standards or grade equivalents. The standards apply to all students. The only way to effectively teach all students is by following research based guidelines.

Suggest that your school board member get a copy of the law and read Title I for himself. Then he will not have to operate on rumor (or misinformation).

Or send him to No Child Left Behind at Wrightslaw where he will find the full text of the law, articles, analysis, and links that will save him time getting up to speed on what he needs to know to do his job.

To learn about possible consequences if his district does not adopt minimum federal and state standards, he should read NCLB for Attorneys & Advocates: Reading Instruction, Research & Assessments.

If your school board does not want to use the federal definitions of these terms, ask them, for the record, what definitions they plan to use instead, and their reasoning for choosing these alternate definitions.

Good luck!

Links to Information about Legal Definitions of Reading, Essential Components of Reading Programs & Scientifically Based Reading Research

Guidance for the Reading First Program - The purpose of Reading First is to ensure that all children are proficient readers by the end of third grade. This 55-page publication is the final guidance for Reading First programs from the U. S. Department of Education. (April 2002)

Four Great Definitions about Reading in NCLB

A Parent's Guide to No Child Left Behind

What Teachers, Principals & School Administrators Need to Know About NCLB

No Child Left Behind for Attorneys & Advocates: Reading Instruction, Research & Assessments

Essential NCLB Articles, News, Publications Online

NCLB Statute Online

Wrightslaw: No Child Left Behind - Full text of the NCLB statute, regulations, and guidance publications, with commentary, analysis, definitions, sample letters. (Note: Wrightslaw: No Child Left Behind is also available on

State Department of Education Websites

Meet Sue Whitney

Sue Whitney of Manchester, New Hampshire, works with families as a special education advocate and is the research editor for Wrightslaw.

Doing Your Homework, Suzanne Whitney gives savvy advice about reading, research based instruction, and creative strategies for using education standards to advocate for children and to improve public schools.

Her articles have been reprinted by,,, The Beacon: Journal of Special Education Law and Practice, the Schafer Autism Report, and have been used in CLE presentations to attorneys.

Sue is the co-author of Wrightslaw: No Child Left Behind (ISBN: 978-1-892320-12-4) that was published by Harbor House Law Press, Inc.

She also served on New Hampshire's Special Education State Advisory Committee on the Education of Students/Children with Disabilities (SAC).

Sue Whitney's bio.

Copyright © 2002-2022 by Suzanne Whitney.

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