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.