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During my proctoring of our NCLB-mandated state assessment program, I had plenty of time to get some reading done. I also had plenty of time to think (A person, after all, can only sit in one attitude for so long before going a bit stir-crazy; I have it on authority from Caroline Bingley). As I sat and thought, I figured out exactly why I hate (yes, it is a strong word) NCLB.

It's unfair to my students.

Yes, I know I posted a diary about this just a few days ago, but I don't just mean that it's unfair to students in the sense that it judges their ability to take a test rather than their actual accumulated learning or intellectual abilities.

1. NCLB turns students into one of the following in the eyes of district and building administrations: a commodity, a number, a data figure, a potential return on investment. As I sat and proctored the final day for freshmen, their maths test, the principal came into my room to remind me to actively proctor, and especially to make sure the kids don't put their heads down and give up because the maths test is hard, because, you know, we need to bring those test scores up. My initial response to this was a frail smile and a nod, because the kids were already in the room testing, quietly working their way through the test. As he walked toward the door, though, my thoughts turned more toward the, "Oh wait, I'm sorry - did you say make sure the kids are feeling all right? Make sure they have what they need to do well? Because for a minute I thought you were just worried about what score they'll get." Thank goodness that last bit was my inside voice rather than my out loud one.

2. The tests required by NCLB contribute to students receiving mixed signals from administrators about routine expectations. Yes I know kids will push any boundary they can, but adults are supposed to be better about remaining consistent in their expectations.  However, during the week of the state assessment, consistency with discipline goes into an absolute free-for-all. We normally have a "restricted dress code," which the kids call a uniform, and certain behaviors that are not at all tolerated. However, during testing week, dress code infractions are largely ignored, due to the fact that we need a certain percentage of attendance and test participation in order for our scores to even "count." So, instead of writing the normal disciplinary referral for a student who is yet again out of dress code, the principal - the highest disciplinary authority in the building - instead told a group of students that were out of dress code, "I'm boring holes through your jeans with my laser beam eyes because you're not supposed to be wearing them!" The students didn't even turn around. Oh, except for the one who had to go back the other way to get to her testing room. They knew, because of an announcement the week before, that nothing would happen to them this week; someone in administration thought it would be wise to announce to the entire student body that, if they came out of dress code during testing week, they would be suspended the week after. In addition to those relatively minor dress code infractions, several students pressed the emergency call buttons in their testing rooms throughout the week. Yet again, the principal arrived only to wag his finger rather than to enforce order. Attendance and participation during test week is just too important.

3. NCLB is unfair to students is because it expects them to all be the same, and as a result they are so over it. As I did my duty at the "bubbling party" (I explained in a previous diary that all of the freshmen test proctors had to "clean up" the completed test books),  I had the chance to look at the 9th and 10th grade reading and writing tests. I'm not a maths person, but I would say that a good 3/4 of the reading materials in the 9th and 10th grade tests were the same. Not only that, but as a result of being tested repeatedly, our students have come to look at the tests as a joke. Several students, most likely because they are not familiar with The Bartleby Project and didn't know to write "I prefer not to take your test," wrote completely unrelated answers to some of the questions. In one response to the prompt about new graduation requirements, one student composed a perfectly structured essay about why the government should forgo this "medicinal" business and just legalize marijuana altogether. In yet another response to a prompt about government officials performing some sort of service, a student reasoned through the fact that Wal-Mart really should smell better because it has a whole aisle of air-freshening products. Yes, I know, kids should follow directions; but we all must remember that, at one point or another, we idolized John Bender.

Based on the examples above, it's easy to see that the students are over the process; but to truly understand how over it they are, one has to consider the battery of tests to which they must submit during the school year - apart from the yearly state-mandated test - all as a result of NCLB's mandate for growth data. Students in grades 3-10 complete progress testing three times a year (MAPS tests - Measures of Academic Progress, the results of which are actually useful in the classroom) and unit-based district assessments - also multiple-choice bubble tests themselves. As teachers, we can only tell them so many times, "This test really matters" (a fact that one of my co-workers brought up to the superintendent at an all-building staff meeting; here's wishing upon a star that he actually gets renewed for next year).

4. As I reflected, I settled on the final reason NCLB is unfair to students: the people who review the tests don't even know the students, and some of them have never even had any sort of educational training. I learned this from an article, and I plan on reading the book written about the same topic, despite the fact that it might make me crazy. Thanks again to Grassroots Mom for the link. I teach kiddos that are very slow to trust. They come out of their shells bit by bit, and then, when finally convinced they can trust me, they try their hardest and blow me away. It's Maslow's Theory in all its fundamental glory. They could care less about some random person - no less Scantron machine - and what that person thinks of their essay. Me, they don't want to disappoint.

I took a lot of time to reflect on this - after all, reflecting is one of the necessary functions of any decent educator. It occurred to me as I'm finishing that I didn't even include my feelings as a mother, and just as a general citizen of our society. I think, though, that this is enough for now.

Originally posted to Shakespeares Sister on Sun Mar 13, 2011 at 05:15 AM PDT.

Also republished by Colorado COmmunity and Educator Voices.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (16+ / 0-)

    "There are worse crimes than burning books. One of them is not reading them." - Joseph Brodsky

    by Shakespeares Sister on Sun Mar 13, 2011 at 05:15:02 AM PDT

  •  We all share your frustration... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ban nock

    ...but what's the solution.  What do you think of this one?

  •  Quality control (4+ / 0-)

    Unfortunately, it seems that education is being treated like manufacturing.  The kids are widgets and the tests are quality control to make sure they all turn out exactly the same.

    Fools are the teachers of the wise. It is foolish to disrespect one's teachers. - Old Man

    by A Voice on Sun Mar 13, 2011 at 05:45:43 AM PDT

  •  NCLB saved my kid's education (3+ / 0-)

    I realize that its very unpopular, and of course Bush's motives in submitting it to Congress and getting it passed were evil.

    But I don't think we should condemn the entire bill.  I think teachers and parents need to think about all the "reforms" in the bill and not throw the baby out with the bathwater.

    Around the time NCLB was passed, my son was entering JHS in public school in NYC.  He was zoned for a school that is so bad I don't really have words.

    One component of the bill required school choice within a public school system, especially for kids zoned for failing schools.

    We applied for a "variance" to go to a better school.  At that point, I learned about just how horrible the average school district administration is.  There already was a limited right to transfer in NY, but NCLB made it mandatory.  We wrote letters, sat in for days at the district super's office, etc.  Their attitude was sort of like the attitude of a Soviet era commissar or French aristocrat -- basically we are the state and we don't have to listen to you.  We don't have to take your phone calls or meet with you or read your stupid letters.  "L'État, c'est moi."

    It wasn't until we sent a threatening letter with the excerpted language of NCLB that the district relented and allowed my son a transfer.

    That experience, plus sitting in some public hearings with school officials, teachers, principals and elected officials taught me that the system is horrible and needed shaking up.  I realize that many means of shaking up the system are counter productive, but given the existing system things could hardly get worse.

    It may be that NCLB treats kids like number, profit centers, whatever.

    But the school system of most urban areas before being shaken up treated children like prison inmates -- there primarily to generate employment, and the first step on the road to the juvenile "justice" system, Rikers Island and eventually upstate prison.

    •  but this is part of the larger problem... (8+ / 0-)
      We applied for a "variance" to go to a better school.  At that point, I learned about just how horrible the average school district administration is.  

      The fact that you, as a concerned parent that I totally respect, because I am one myself, pulled your kid out of a failing school is, in reality, contributing to the "brain drain" from urban and failing schools, and helping them to fail faster.

      And about administration...the general public has focused on teachers as the problem, but I'd like to know who's going to start paying attention to their habits as well. After all, as teachers in a building, we have to make sure we do what they tell us, or risk non-renewal or remediation.

      "There are worse crimes than burning books. One of them is not reading them." - Joseph Brodsky

      by Shakespeares Sister on Sun Mar 13, 2011 at 06:43:42 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Administration (9+ / 0-)

        The leadership in any school comes primarily from the administration. If bad teaching, poor communication with parents, and inconsistent discipline is the norm, then the teacher is left to swim upstream.

        I wish I could find the link, but I read a study not too long ago that said the top reason for leaving a school or the teaching professional all together was lack of support or abusive administration.

        I'm really tired of hearing about "bad teachers" as though they are the norm. I'm even more tired of hearing how "bad teachers" can't be fired due to tenure. The only way a "bad teacher" makes tenure - something that take four years in IL and can be extended to five years - is if the administration is not doing its job. Once tenured, the only way a teacher can't be fired is if the administration again doesn't do it's job, as tenure does not prevent dismissal, just limits it to dismissal for cause (e.g. poor teaching ability).

        Imagination is more important than knowledge. Albert Einstein

        by michael in chicago on Sun Mar 13, 2011 at 07:02:05 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  I strongly disagree (3+ / 0-)

        Perhaps I should have explained more.  I've written about this several times in response to Teacherken's diaries.

        It's an odd situation, but I think it illustrates the problems urban school districts face.

        I live in eastern Queens, New York City.  The area is overwhelming African American.  There are four junior high schools relatively near to each other.

        The demographics in terms of income, race, etc., are almost identical in the zones for all four schools.

        Historically, this part of Queens used to be more segregated into white and black areas, and one school appears to have been built as blacks moved in, as the "black school" to keep them out of areas that were still white.  But today, the entire area is demographically the same.

        The odd thing is that the "black school" that was built to be terrible in the 1960s is still terrible -- one of the worst.  The former white schools are now all black, but are still terrific schools 40 years later.  So I pulled my son out of one urban school and put him in another urban school of almost exactly the same demographics.

        This is I think one of the things that we don't talk about -- how there are just awful school, awful by reputation, awful because of decades of low morale, awful because parents don't want to send their kids there and good teachers don't want to teach there.

        Instead, at least at DK, we tend to blame the parents or demographics.  But the evidence of eastern Queens seems to contradict that narrative.

        •  that would be an interesting examination (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          JanL, sandblaster, ban nock

          here, in Colorado, it's generally not that mixed.

          what I see here are either predominantly white schools, or predominantly Hispanic schools.

          I'd love to take a look at the demographics, SES, and other factors for the schools you mentioned and figure out how they're experiencing success.

          "There are worse crimes than burning books. One of them is not reading them." - Joseph Brodsky

          by Shakespeares Sister on Sun Mar 13, 2011 at 07:36:19 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

        •  Demographics (3+ / 0-)

          Your description of the "good" schools in an impoverished area or district are not statistically within the "normal" range. Most schools that teach students of any racial, religious, or ethnic background but who are from homes with low incomes do poorly on standardized tests.  PLEASE note I am not saying these students are not intelligent, or capable - they just do not test well. It is stunning that poor test scores have ONLY this positive correlation to poverty.
          The methods that districts use to raise standardized test scores for students living in poverty are not easily nor cheaply reproduced. It seems to be a combination of staff and administrative cohesiveness and collaboration, plus getting parents involved, plus wise use of money, plus confidence and luck, that improve scores. In my urban district we see gains for a year or two but it is not often sustained growth.
          If 82% of the nation's schools will be considered failing by 2014, then something has gone drastically wrong.

          Think what you are doing today. -Fred Rogers

          by JanL on Sun Mar 13, 2011 at 08:22:41 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  This is not an impoverished area (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            ban nock

            In fact, this area is statistically sometimes considered the "most middle class" black neighborhood in the country.  By that I don't mean affluent, but truly the middle of the middle of the middle.

            Where did you get "impoverished" from my description?

            I said predominantly African American.  That is not the same as "impoverished."

            The lesson here is that in urban middle and working class neighborhoods there can be really terrible schools.  No one should have to send their children to them.

            •  My mis-reading, sorry (4+ / 0-)

              You are correct, no student should have to attend a terrible school. I think my definition of a terrible school might be no different that most parent's - I am a mom and grandma first - and frankly poor test scores don't trouble me too much. Poor staff morale, lack of fair discipline, poor attendance by students and teachers, lack of imaginative and positive lessons, and the overall "feel" or culture of a school building or district worry me, especially if the situation continues for year after year.
              Sadly, in my district in the midwest, there are very few middle-class African-Americans. Decades of racial inequality and isolation have taken a dreadful toll on my town and there are virtully no middle-class people of any other color that pasty white, and those people have moved out of the city.
              If I knew an answer to fixing 'terrible' schools, I would certainly be shouting it from the rooftops...but it is complicated and touches racial and socio-economic aspects of our culture that will make finding and implementing the answers difficult.

              Think what you are doing today. -Fred Rogers

              by JanL on Sun Mar 13, 2011 at 09:02:21 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

        •  It's harder to teach in urban schools... (6+ / 0-)

          which is why good teachers leave for the suburbs.  With my seven years of university education, I am an oddity in the urban school where I work.  I have taught at other schools in middle-to-upper class communities where parents are involved in the school, the kids get support to do homework, and the kids enter school with a high level of literacy.  

          It is FAR harder to teach in Title I schools as educators deal with the socioeconomic travesties of our society, which include a nation that lacks a social safety net.

          If we want to improve urban schools, we would have to address poverty and class issues.  We would have to spend money to focus on the whole child, rather than mere test outcomes.  We would have to pay those teachers more than their suburban counterparts and give them much more support.

          It is far easier for politicians to blame teachers than to change the tax structures, create robust social programs, and spend more for education (instead of prisons, wars, etc.).

          We cannot solve the problems that we have created with the same thinking that created them." - Albert Einstein

          by CarolinW on Sun Mar 13, 2011 at 11:56:23 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

    •  A couple of years ago (5+ / 0-)

      I wrote about what has happened to middle schools in Denver as a result of NCLB testing and school choice: Epic Fail: NCLB, School Choice and Middle School.

      My sons are now out of the middle school demographic.  However, during the middle school years there was a domino effect of our "assigned" schools failing, one after the other -- in my younger son's 8th grade year the NCLB assigned "non-failing" schools were 8 and 10 miles away.

      What these policies and programs are doing are merely moving and concentrating the problems.  From my diary:

      For the fact is, even with increased Title I funds directed to demographically impoverished schools, schools with a wealthier, and less minority, demographic are better funded schools.  Equality of funding in public schools is a myth.  Schools attended by families with higher incomes rely on those families to make direct monetary donations, which can amount to thousands of dollars more per student per year.  Not surprisingly, those dreaded school fund-raisers of gift wrap and butter braids and wrapping paper are more successful in neighborhoods where the residents have discretionary income, or when parents can take the order forms to work and hit up their co-workers for sales.

      So a vicious cycle sets up: more affluent families transfer their children to the nearest higher achieving school, concentrating poverty and poor-performance in the schools they leave behind, which causes a further decline in both public and parental funding, leading to a cutting of "specials" classes of music, art or physical education, which causes more families to leave, further concentrating the poverty, the test scores decline even further, leading to NCLB sanctions and even more students leaving the school because they finally have the option of transportation.

  •  This year I gave up on Colorado Public Schools (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Shakespeares Sister

    I'm throwing in the towel and entering the kids in a Charter.

    I didn't like doing it. My best friend neighbor is a retired teacher, both my folks were teachers, but I want what's best for my kids. As a state we are underfunding with money and undercutting with Charters. I didn't invent the system, I don't even like it, but it's the system in which we live.

    What is unfair is that other kids, kids whose parents maybe don't follow what is going on in the area or don't speak English so well, aren't even aware that such schools exist.

    Testing is vitally important, it's how your success in life is determined, it's real life. Try going to college without an SAT score, or get accepted to Med School without MCAT.

    "Don't fall or we both go." Derek Hersey 1957-1993

    by ban nock on Sun Mar 13, 2011 at 09:56:49 AM PDT

  •  spot on sister (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Shakespeares Sister, Funkygal

    Especially the "this test really matters". No one cares. Most kids in my classes would do them, and most wouldn't just screw around with it, but I don't know anyone who was actually motivated to do it. Any repercussions from doing badly on the test are far too indirect for the students to care.

    •  NCLB and Science Education (3+ / 0-)
      NCLB is unfair to students is because it expects them to all be the same, and as a result they are so over it. As I did my duty at the "bubbling party" (I explained in a previous diary that all of the freshmen test proctors had to "clean up" the completed test books),  I had the chance to look at the 9th and 10th grade reading and writing tests. I'm not a maths person, but I would say that a good 3/4 of the reading materials in the 9th and 10th grade tests were the same.

      Well I am and the effects of NCLB on math and science education is atrocious. You can see it on the effect specifically in some of the charter schools where they cherry-pick students that do well on the tests. Case in point is Liberty Commons here in Fort Collins. Science is presented as a series of "facts" not as a process for obtaining knowledge. This in turns has produced a hostility to all science. The result: the research budget -- not just for controversial subjects like climate change  but also biomedical research --  is almost completely eliminated when the Republicans won the House.

      · In this context it is important to note that many biology textbooks present all aspects of evolution—from microevolution to macroevolution—as being equally supported by experimental and empirical evidence. Liberty will strive to accurately present the strengths and weaknesses of evolutionary theory and seek textbooks which present a more scientific and unbiased analysis of evolution.

      · Teachers are encouraged to include discussions of alternate scientific theories and the data that supports and contradicts [sic] existing theories. This is consistent with the Poudre School District policy IMB: “Teaching about Controversial/SensitiveIssues.”

      · Students should understand the difference between science based on direct observation and/or experimentation, and historical science, which is based on the study of past events. Historical science can be found in the fields of astronomy,geology, evolutionary biology, and archeology, and has led to such theories as the”Big Bang,” tectonic plate theory, and the theory of evolution. Because it is based on past events, historical science generally depends on a higher degree of inference than science based on direct observation and experimentation.

      NCLB testing underscores this facile approach to science. The problem is not charter schools per se. Note what Peak to Peak Charter School in Boulder teaches and how they don't teach to the test:

      Science 90: Advanced Placement Biology: 10 credits. Weighted. Prerequisites: Science 20 or 25 and Science 30 or 35 and departmental approval. This is a full-year course in general biology as commonly offered to college freshmen. The course prepares students to take the AP Biology exam in the spring. Students will explore molecules, cells, heredity, evolution, organisms, and populations. The themes of science as a process, energy transfer, continuity and change, relationship of structure to function, regulation, interdependence in nature, and science, technology, & society are woven throughout the course. The course places a heavy emphasis on laboratory investigations, with 12 required labs designed specifically for AP Biology. Students in this course are expected to take the AP Biology exam.

      NCLB and Race to the Top were sold as as a means to produce more and better scientists and engineers. That's all well and good but most people are not like me, a professional in the sciences. What everybody needs are an understanding of key mathematical and scientific concepts and processes in order that they can be good citizens.  This is so we are not sold a bill of goods like the Koch brothers are trying to do. That means a good understanding and appreciation of the arts and humanities, too.  None of this happens under NCLB and our culture and civilization is poorer because of it.

      •  I certainly agree with you there (0+ / 0-)

        But I'm a little confused by your last blockquote. Isn't that saying the class is entirely dedicated to the AP Bio test? I mean, that makes sense, that's what all AP classes do, but how does that reinforce "how they don't teach to the test"?

        •  A Clarification (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Shakespeares Sister, JanL

          The reason while the test is one of the goals I say they don't teach to the test is this:

          The course places a heavy emphasis on laboratory investigations, with 12 required labs designed specifically for AP Biology.

          Testing is inevitable but teaching to the test isn't. You can teach the concepts and critical thinking skills in order to score well on the test or you can just target the test. My own daughter's experience is that that the AP classes she took at FCHS did the former. Looking at the successful AP programs I believe would be helpful in threading the needle between wanting measurable performance and still teaching the necessary skills for lifelong learning. Tests should be a tool and not an end in themselves. In my daughter's case having the background that came from the AP classes was more important than the college credits she received.

  •  Thanks for sharing. I know Dan, the guy who wrote (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Shakespeares Sister, JanL

    the hit piece on test scoring. A very bright young man.

    Nov 2, 2010: Voters to Obama: "Yes, we did. We looked forward, not backward".

    by Funkygal on Sun Mar 13, 2011 at 04:29:06 PM PDT

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