Tuesday, April 29, 2008
No Test Left Behind
So it's Ohio Achievement Test week. Hooray! What we teachers have worked for all year. I'm sure you've heard a lot of horrible things about the No Child Left Behind Act - and they're all true. It's based on a one-size-fits-all approach to learning and assessment. Too bad all children aren't the same size. If a school is struggling because say, many of their children are transient and have attended 5-7 different schools by the time they're in fifth grade - or say the school is too poor to provide resources for all the neglected, abused and foster children that attend there - or say the school can't control how many pregnant teenagers took drugs while pregnant and their children are riddled with all sorts of disorders and learning and behavior problems - say - so what? Does NCLB help a struggling school? No - it punishes - it takes away funding and has the power to "reorganize" the school or shut it down. Billions of dollars go to illegal immigrants and the war - but there doesn't seem to be enough money for American education. Demands are put on schools with minimal funds to achieve them. Surveys have shown that more than half of teachers claim to spend more than 50% of the school year on testing. We have no choice. Learning and discovery are no longer important - only test results. I administer these tests and there are reading selections that even I can't relate to, but we expect urban, suburban and rural children to all understand them in the same way.
Yesterday was the reading portion of the test. (By the way each of the 4 subtests each take an entire morning) One of my students was visibly upset when she came into my room. She wouldn't look at the test and began crying. (We're on a time schedule of course.) I tried to talk to her but she didn't want to talk to anyone. She just kept crying and I could tell it wasn't about the test. This little girl has had a great year, but last year went through a horrible trauma. About two months ago her aunt and uncle were shot by their son- the uncle died, the aunt is still hospitalized. So here I stand trying to tell her how important this damn test is. Then I stopped. She wanted to take it. For awhile her tears fell on the test booklet, but then somehow she continued and did fine. The experience just reminded me how UNIMPORTANT tests are to children compared to what's going on in their real lives.
No Child Left Behind certainly has a good intention behind it because, in fact, no child should be left behind whether they are poor, minority, disabled, immigrant or anything else. But I think the act assumes that teachers are at fault. The act is really testing us to see if we're doing our jobs. I'm sure there are bad, uncaring teachers, but I've worked with dozens of teachers over my career and maybe 1% of them were what I would call bad. Yet, we are blamed for everything. In today's Plain Dealer some moron wrote "The first intelligent action is that the states and cities must stop rewarding the teachers and administrators with endless raises for producing an endless stream of functional illiterates with no hirable skills or training. Until this action is taken we will continuously fall behind all other industrial nations."(States and cities don't pay us - that's negotiated with the school board.)
So we're supposed to work all day with difficult children, under difficult working conditions and the pressure of test scores - earn our Master's degrees and work for free?
Sir, the problem goes way beyond what teachers are humanly capable of in a six hour school day.
Can improvements be made? Sure, but ample personnel for all that a school needs to tackle every day takes money. Keeping up with technology and the way children learn in 2008 takes a whole heap of money.
Who's making money? The school testing and testing service industry is now an estimated $2.3 billion a year enterprise, with just five big companies controlling 90% of the statewide testing revenue. Give that money and the money wasted on school vouchers that goes to charter schools run by businessmen back to the public schools and let us do the job we are yearning to do. See, we really get a kick out of seeing children learn and grow - that's why we became teachers in the first place.