Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Comments on Being Overly "Standardized"

Sure, a lot of people think standardized, or "high-stakes" tests are great for accountability (I saw this shirt once that said "High Stakes are for Tomatoes" if anyone ever finds it for me), but what's the reality?

It's overdone. It's ridiculous. It's so far beyond the line of realistic and doable that it's chasing people out of the profession and chasing students away from the love of learning. Or, at least that's my opinion.

Here are some quotes from our union newsletter. These are not the quotes I think are extreme and silly. These are the ones I agree with.

I used to work in an “at-risk,” low socio-economic school. The school had not met AYP for three years. I transferred to a school in a middle class neighborhood that was closer to my house. This school did well on AYP.

My fellow teachers at the at-risk school were highly qualified professionals who also work hard. NCLB punishes teachers working in at-risk schools for things they have no control over. Children cannot learn if they have no health care, food to eat, and stable homes with responsible parents.

Last year we didn’t meet our goals. So mid-year, the state arrived with all kinds of experts going through our classrooms and criticizing our instruction. All grade levels were given strict daily schedules: all math and language in about four hours before lunch. No P.E. No health. No social studies. No arts. No more curricular trips. No music or chants or raps in the morning.

I am a National Board Certified Teacher. Young children need teaching strategies that meet multiple learning modalities. They need to feel creative. But my voice and other educators’ voices don’t seem to matter anymore. If teachers don’t follow the program, we’re reprimanded, written up, given poor evaluations, told to leave. How can a country claim to respect education when they don’t respect educators?

In the last four years, because of student scores, our department has had to totally revamp our English II curriculum. We met for many, many hours and plotted out English II every day of the year, down to page numbers. Every teacher is teaching the same material at the same time. We did this to not only make sure we were covering every objective, but also because we were under great pressure from our district administrators to prove we were doing our jobs. In standardizing our curriculum, we had to eliminate most creative student projects, in-depth class discussions, thematic research opportunities, and group work.

I have extensive training in using music and art in my classroom. I lost almost every opportunity to use these important lesson enhancers. Kids went from saying, “Mrs. Meigs’ English class is so cool; she uses music all the time!” to “I hate English II!”

I am a veteran teacher and former Association vice president, who also has the dubious distinction of working at the first and only elementary school in California to enter into fifth-year program improvement. Two-thirds of the school's teachers and all of the administrators were reassigned to other school sites because of test scores.

Furthermore, the school’s teachers were directed by the administration not to allow students to use crayons in the classroom because it was not time spent directly engaged in print.
Teachers were virtually not allowed to teach art, so I had to inform district officials that I was unable to give trimester grades for art. Completing report cards for a class of 32 students went from a manageable three-hour task to an unbelievable 15 hours of uncompensated work time.

Teachers at program-improvment schools throughout our district have been overwhelmed with extra staff development, training, book studies, curriculum-mapping activities, and more without adequate compensation for the extra work hours, and usually with no compensation at all.

NCLB is designed with 47 ways for a school site and a district to fail and only one way for them to pass. It is inevitable that all California schools will be in program-improvement status within a few years. I am now at a different school site that is currently not in program-improvement status; however, I know that the nightmare NCLB program-improvement status is always only a test away. NCLB hurts teachers, and NCLB hurts students. NCLB is leavi
ng the schools, and everyone in them, behind.

"I have been a special education teacher for 30 years . I have always worked to have my students make as much progress at their level as they could. I have tried to follow IEP goals, and have always told parents that if the goal was reached, we would push further. Now, I am told to teach the students at grade level, to disregard the previously written goals, and to teach the students no matter how frustrated they become. "I now have students crying, using every avoidance technique they can muster (feigning illness to avoid coming to school) because the material is so far beyond their learning ability. The ESEA/NCLB goal of grade-level ability by 2014 is never going to be obtainable by severely handicapped students."

Before NCLB, I taught physical science to ninth-grade (mostly Latino) kids and physics to twelfth graders. I designed my ninth-grade physical science class curriculum to allow me to teach mostly physics, so as to discover and recruit exceptional students for my twelfth-grade physics class. I created standards and pre- and post-tested my ninth graders to ensure that the students learned the material and were able to demonstrate their knowledge. The students had to demonstrate skills, including the ability to interpret and use physics equations, to rewrite those equations and solve for different variables, and to combine equations to discover new, deeper relationships buried in the math/physical science concepts. As a result, the number of students taking physics over the years jumped from about 20 in the beginning to over 80.

"After NCLB, my school district eliminated ninth-grade physical science, and in its place substituted earth science. According to the school district, this was done because the district believed our students would do better on the state NCLB tests in earth science. Today, the number of physics students has dropped to around 40 per year, and I project the number will continue to drop in the future.

"I have been forced to conclude from my experience that NCLB is not about teaching science to students, it is about our school district raising test scores. In this case, teaching science and raising test scores are mutually exclusive concepts producing scientific illiteracy and, at the same time, higher NCLB test scores. When I controlled the curriculum, I could teach science, math, reading, and writing. Now, I teach standards that have no connection to the rest of the school curriculum. My students' education has suffered but, by God, their test scores are up!"

"I was the proud teacher of English language learners. I spent between 10 and 12 hours every day planning lessons and designing curriculum that would not only teach students English but also expand their world and change and enhance their lives and that of their families. I didn't mind the hard work. I could see the benefit to students, and I was invigorated by it.

"My students stayed in school, graduated at a higher rate than the rest of the high school population, and have gone on to wonderful careers. The bilingual and ESL programs I created were viewed as models by universities in our area.
"My ESL students designed the first student-created Web site in our school district after they read the novel Holes. My students read and wrote meaningful, expressive poetry. Some of them even had their work published in the school literary magazine. My students read Shakespeare and performed their own versions of Romeo and Juliet in a contemporary setting. My students acted out the courtroom scene from To Kill A Mockingbird with a jury composed of students, and they wrote papers about racism. These projects changed their lives. I have had former students come back to me years later and tell me the exact moment they experienced transformation.

"Jacob Martinez told me, 'I knew I could work in the computer industry when we made that Web site. Today, I am a project manager for Sony PlayStation.' Gabriela Nunez told me, 'I had the confidence I needed to attend college after being in your class. I knew I could read and think about great books, and I wrote papers that were read aloud in class. My classmates thought I had something important to say.' Messifa Ankou old me, 'To Kill a Mockingbird is the best book I ever read. I will always remember Atticus when I feel afraid to speak up about things that are wrong.' No student has ever come up to me and said, 'My life is better because you had me do lots of worksheets and test preparations and take standardized tests so you could keep your job.'

"What has happened to us? I don't know any educator who thinks we are going in the right direction. I still love students and want to teach, but I don't like what I'm being forced to do right now. I've turned into something I'm not proud of. Please, I want to teach. I want to help students in meaningful ways. I want to be a great teacher again.
"My students don't do any of these things anymore. We prepare for tests and are tested. I have been forced to squander 17 days of class time because of standardized tests. One of the curriculum changes I have had to make is to use boring vocabulary drills. Last spring, one of my students said to me, 'Mrs. Jordan, when my brother had you in class, everyone made a poetry book. When are we going to write poetry?' I answered, 'We don't have time for poetry any more. We have to get ready for the test.'

"Another student said, 'Can't we read a book instead? I heard we were going to read some cool books this year, and we've only read two.' Tears welled in my eyes as I replied, 'We don't have time to read books in English class. I'm sorry kids, I'm so sorry. I don't know what happened to us.'


There are more here: http://www.nea.org/esea/nclbstories/states.html. I have tons of my own stories, but the one thing that mine and every other story I've read or heard of have in common is that many, many kids have lost any joy they had in learning.

One teacher wrote about how she would tell her kids who were behind that they were smart and they could succeed, and not to let anyone tell them they weren't good enough. During the big state test, one of her kids put her head down on her desk, cried, and said, "Teacher, you lied to me. You said I was smart enough, and I'm not."

I had a child in class, let's call her "Lacey," who, upon getting ONE MORE assessment from the district, threw it on the floor and said, "Why we have to take all these stinky tests?!?" I explained to her NCLB and accountability and that the government wanted to make sure they were getting taught, and she said, "No Child Left Behind? They ain't leaving us behind! I wish they would leave us behind!"

No Child Left Behind (NCLB) is going to be re-voted on again in Congress in September. Talk to every teacher you know about the effects of NCLB. Then, please, please, please write to your representatives, write to your Senators, and tell them what you think about NCLB. Please forward this to all your friends and acquaintances and ask them to write to their representatives. Get every child you know to write. They deserve better than this.

In the meantime, I have another district assessment to give the kids this week.

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