A couple of weeks ago, we had school wide standardized testing. During which I got to administer four separate tests to six different kids, all of whom got accomodations or modifications. Three got the whole test read to them. Four got calculators. All got extra time.

And Im sitting there, listening to the principal remind me us how go about administering and invalidating a test if necessary, and I remember why No Child Left Behind is killing our schools.

No Child Left Behind, by itself, isnt the problem. It’s a nice idea. One hundred percent of our high school kids will graduate high school.


But, how they’re going about it – the endless standardized testing – is killing kids and schools and teachers.

Teachers are finding their jobs on the line – a school in Chicago has already fired all of their teachers for next year. Fired. ALL OF THEM. The principal wants to start over fresh, with a new group of teachers.

It wont happen.

What will happen is that school will get ever closer to starting, and the school will panic because they dont have the teachers. They’ll rehire whoever will come back, and plug the holes as well as they can. To me, that means teachers who arent qualified, teachers who have little experience in the area they are hired for, teachers who are bitter over their treatment, and who arent going to put effort into it.

Now, dont get me wrong, im hardly a model teacher. Im a slacker who hates paperwork, and currently the special ed secretary has been leaving me death threats because of it. But, Im decent at my job. I am well trained. I work with kids, and I work hard.

Did you know that the very first recommendation from the government for schools who dont make AYP is to fire your current teachers?

AYP is Average Yearly Progress – fail making it too many times, and they shut you down. Failing/Passing AYP is determined by standardized test scores. A certain percentage of all of a schools’ students – including bilingual, including special ed, including new transfers – have to score “Proficient” or higher on the standardized tests.

My school – a school in the middle of the Alaskan bush, where most kids come into kindergarten not knowing their alphabet or how to spell their names, a school where 90% of the kids are considered English Language Learners – my school has never passed AYP. Most of the schools out here dont.

Part of the reason is that the teacher turnover is very high. Teachers spend a year, two years, three years, and then they leave. Tell me, then, if getting a new staff is so helpful, why arent we passing? Why havent we hit AYP?

Those are the easy problems. The problems that can be seen with No Child Left Behind without having to look hard. The other problems are a little more subtle.

Let’s say that a certain percentage of students (I believe it’s 80% of kids) have to measure as “Proficient” on the tests.

Great! You say. Let’s get those test scores up! So, you turn your focus to the lower scoring kids. The kids who try so hard, but don’t have a clue.

No, wait. That isn’t right. You don’t turn your attention to THOSE kids. If you do – I mean, sure you might help them learn something, and their scores might go up, but they won’t go up enough to actually PASS. Don’t focus on those kids.

Focus on the kids in the middle. The kids right on the edge.

The kids who passed are fine, they dont need any help. The kids who failed spectacularly, well, there’s no help for them. It’s these kids, these golden kids right here, that make or break this school.

In theory, it doesnt sound too bad. The kids on the border need help. You help them. The school passes!

But, what about the other kids? What about the kids who dont understand enough of the test to pass it – whether that’s because they have a learning disability, have anxiety about tests, or don’t speak enough English to understand what the questions are asking? What about them? Do they matter?

Most of my kids fall into that lower range. I give them every accommodation I am capable of and everything legally allowed to be given.

Most of them don’t even try, anymore. They already know they’re going to fail. They look around at the other kids – the border kids – the ones who get to come after school and play math and word games on the computers. They look around at the kids who get ice cream for coming to school on test days and awards for passing as “Proficient,” but no one pays a damn bit of attention to the fact this kid went from “Far Below” all the way up to “Below Proficient.”

What do these kids see? What are we teaching our kids? What are we teaching our schools? Our schools are learning how to cheat the system, how to pass kids at any cost, how to invalidate test scores, how to refuse a new student’s entry to school until after the test window.

Is this what we want?

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6 Responses to Standards

  1. shannon says:

    I thought that program was crap from the beginning, and I am pretty sure that opinion was based on a similar conversation we had back then. I wish you could explain it to the world, maybe then everyone could work on a better system.

  2. Melisa says:

    I really love when you get all political in your blog. You are articulate in a way that many people are not. Thank you for pointing out what most people fail to grasp.

  3. Darcey says:

    Sheesh. I don’t know what’s wrong with you, but I welcome any and all opportunities to make my students, especially the ones who don’t speak any english, feel as though they are somehow less important than their peers who had the good sense to be born to english-speaking parents in a school district with a decent tax base. What are you? Some kinda pinko? Commie.

    Miss you, by the way.

  4. I am int he middle of reading “The Homework Myth” by Alfie Kohn and he has a similar view on standardised testing. I enjoyed this post a lot.

  5. Rob says:

    NCLB cost my brother his career as a teacher. He taught in the…let’s say slower….part of the state for three years. He is an amazing teacher, using technology in the classroom while also sticking to the classics when developing student reading lists. His principal was saddened to see him leave. The problem with the far-off county is that the commute was 50+ miles, each way. For teacher pay. (Which I realize is not a long commute when comparing to Alaska!)

    He decided to change schools and counties so that he could have more time at home and could participate in things after school without putting himself home at midnight, still needing to grade and plan for the next day. The test scores of his students were high for his school, but low for the state. He never really got a serious look from any of the schools that he interviewed at.

    Having goals is great, and something that I struggle to do in my life. But to take good teachers and put them into the for-profit world is a really dumb move on the part of school systems.