At its simplest, the law aims to improve the basic skills of the nation's public school children, particularly poor and minority students.Fair enough. But how are the kids responding elsewhere? Well, in Rockingham County, N.C., it’s a different story…
At Stanton, it seems to have made a difference. In 2003, fewer than two in 10 kids here met state reading standards; by 2005, about seven in 10 did.
Dianne Campbell, director of testing and accountability, told the American School Board Journal in 2003 that administrators discard as many as 20 test booklets on exam days because children vomit on them.To get young children so upset about testing that they actually spew all over a test booklet is grotesque. And as far as the teachers are concerned…
After five years, the law has even spawned an online petition that, as of Sunday, had about 22,500 signatures of people urging Congress to repeal it.And how exactly can you “game the system”?
Along with his signature, teacher Mark Quig-Hartman of Vallejo, Calif., said: "I am well on my way to becoming an embittered and mediocre teacher who heretofore considered teaching to be a profession, not a job. I once loved what I did. I do not now, nor do my students; school has become a rather grim and joyless place for all."
And if you think it's just teachers who complain, think again: 2006 saw even the law's most ardent supporters complaining, but for a very different reason: They say states and school districts game the system by lowering their standards.
Well, one way is to do what former Houston School Superintendent (and first Bushco Secretary of Education) Rod Paige did, and that is to lie about the dropout rate of a school that was supposedly part of the “Texas Miracle” (NLCB came from Texas, of course, a state which Molly Ivins has referred to as “the breeding ground of bad government”).
This CBS News link has more information…
All in all, 463 kids left Sharpstown High School (in 2001), for a variety of reasons. The school reported zero dropouts, but dozens of the students did just that. School officials hid that fact by classifying, or coding, them as leaving for acceptable reasons: transferring to another school, or returning to their native country.Another way to maintain NCLB funding and make sure the school is listed as “performing” is to make kids repeat a failing class, which would not be a big deal except for the law’s stringent testing requirements. In that regard, the CBS News article tells the story of Perla Arredondo, a Houston school student…
“That’s how you get to zero dropouts. By assigning codes that say, ‘Well, this student, you know, went to another school. He did this or that.’ And basically, all 463 students disappeared. And the school reported zero dropouts for the year,” says (Robert) Kimball (former Asst. principal at Sharpstown H.S.). “They were not counted as dropouts, so the school had an outstanding record.”
Houston also won national acclaim for raising the average scores on a statewide achievement test that was given to 10th graders. Principals were judged on how well their students did on the test.In the USA Today article, Jack Jennings of the Center of Education Policy in Washington, D.C. was quoted as saying that “I don’t think you can go into a teacher meeting in this country without somebody bringing up NCLB.”
But at Houston schools, Kimball says, principals taught addition by subtraction: They raised average test scores by keeping low-performing kids from taking the test. And in some cases, that meant keeping kids from getting to the 10th grade at all.
“What the schools did, and what Sharpstown High School did, they said, ‘OK, you cannot go to the 10th grade unless you pass all these courses in the 9th grade,” says Kimball.
What's wrong with that? Wouldn't this help students get the basics down before moving on?
“Because you failed algebra, you may be in the ninth grade three years, until you pass the course. But that’s not a social promotion if you just allowed the student to go to 10th grade, just you know, let him take algebra again, and work on it there.”
That’s just what happened to Perla Arredondo. She passed all her courses in ninth grade, but was then told she had to repeat the same grade and the same courses.
“I went to my counselor’s office, and I told her, ‘You’re giving me the wrong classes, because I already passed ‘em,” says Perla. “So she said, ‘Don’t worry about it. I know what I’m doing. That’s my job.’”
Perla spent three years in the ninth grade. She failed algebra, but passed it in summer school. Finally, she was promoted – right past 10th grade and that important test -- and into the 11th. Without enough credits to graduate, Perla dropped out. While she worked as a cashier, a secretary, and a waitress, she learned an important lesson: “I know I can’t get a good job without a high school diploma. You know? I can get a job as a waitress. I mean, and I don’t wanna be doing that all my life.”
Why? “For my dad and mom. You know, I wanna give ‘em, I want them to be proud, you know,” says Perla. “That’s another thing I want. I want them to be, you know, proud of what I am.”
Jennings also noted the following (from this article in The Christian Science Monitor)…
"There is a palpable increase in the level of dissatisfaction that I see, but it's not being translated into legislation in Congress," says (Jennings). "There's really a disjuncture here between a growing dissatisfaction and the lack of a political response."And by the way, concerning the USA Today story, I don’t see how something that has produced “a palpable increase in the level of dissatisfaction” can be considered “a truly bipartisan success.”
And how exactly can you fail under NCLB, by the way?
This column from Martin Frost, a former Democratic member of congress from Dallas-Fort Worth, TX, describes the role played by "subgroups" in NCLB testing:
While we clearly want elementary students to improve their math and reading skills, the legislation may be unrealistic in expecting that every single student achieve at grade level in every single school. Students have differing abilities and some may never reach grade level. Is an otherwise excellent school to be condemned as a failure if a few students cannot pass a standardized test (as in the case of Perla Arredondo)?And if a subgroup fails to make “Adequate Yearly Progress” or AYP, the entire school can be affected by the subgroup. This happened in Prince William County in Virginia, as noted in the USA Today story, as noted in this excerpt…
It is equally unfair that many outstanding schools are faced with the inflexible requirement that each subgroup within a school must meet the specified standard each year between now and 2014. Subgroups (minimum numbers for which are determined on the state level and can in some instances be quite small) include the following: African-American, American Indian, Asian/Pacific Islander, English Language Learners (ELI), Socio-Economic Status, Hispanic, Special Education and White.
”It really has brought the Hounds of Hell down on the schools of Prince William County," says Betsie Fobes, a recently retired eighth-grade algebra and pre-algebra teacher at Parkside Middle School in Manassas, Va. "This AYP business is just killing us — absolutely killing us."Does that sound like progress to you, cramming math and reading into our kids so they can regurgitate it as efficiently as possible to pass tests so schools can maintain funding? And doing so at the expense of subjects like science and history?
Parkside, which has seen a large Latino influx, didn't meet its goals two years in a row — so now teachers must attend twice-weekly meetings, often focused on testing. They've built in a tutorial period, and even secretaries do their share of tutoring.
"The entire school is revolving pretty much around these kids who fit into these subgroups," Fobes says.
To me, it sounds like a recipe for disaster. It sounds like, through this bogus law, we’re depriving our kids of the opportunity to receive the best-rounded education that they can (and OK, you’re weeding out an occasion “bad apple” of a teacher in the process, but like everything else with Bushco, the “risk-reward” aspect of this equation stinks).
The new Democratic Congress definitely should revisit this law, because I don’t see how it helps to educate our kids to the point where they can develop their problem solving and creative abilities so they can contribute to this country as workers and overall citizens as much as possible.
If they don’t, then I would venture to guess that Perla Arredondo will have a lot of company.