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Let the revolution begin!

MARLBORO -- The Marlboro School Board is considering directing its school administrators and staff not to test students per the federal No Child Left Behind Act.
According to a letter sent to David Larsen, interim commissioner of the Vermont Department of Education, "Implementing of Adequate Yearly Progress tests required by the NCLB will cost us in countless ways, not the least of which will be the stretching thin of our small administration, taking their time away from classroom oversight, curriculum building, staff oversight, and so on, to spend their time ministering tests that, due to our small size, will ultimately be statistically invalid."

No Child Left Behind is President Bush's sweeping education reform, aimed at improving the nation's public education system. It calls for every public school to test its students in reading and math in each grade from 3 to 8, by 2007-08. Schools that fail to show progress every year will lose federal funding, and parents will be able to remove their children from failing schools.

Since it was signed into law in January 2002, the federal mandate has been a lightning rod for education professionals who disagree with its reliance on standardized testing and accountability. With the move, the Marlboro Elementary School will draw a line in the sand, and maybe encourage other schools to join.

"We hope this action will motivate other towns to join us and take similar actions," said board member David Ahern, who has served the Marlboro school for 9 years. "We have heard that the state Department of Education and state Legislature have concerns with the law, and we want to support them."

The federal program is built on the principle that standardized tests accurately measure a student's progress, but Ahern said his school does not accept this idea.

"We are concerned with the cookie cutter effect," Ahern said. "Why should what works in a large Texas school work in a small school in Vermont?"

Beyond what the law would do to students and teachers, however, board members are also wondering what it would cost. And with their pockets already drained from rising special education expenses, the board is willing to stand up to the federal government and say that enough is enough.

"It will cost us a bundle of money to buy and administer these tests," said Chairman Dan MacArthur, who has been on the board for 20 years. "The federal government said it would pay for special education, and that never happened. I just don't see the No Child Left Behind money coming down the pike."

The government is threatening failing schools with the retention of federal monies, mostly through the Title I reading funds, but Marlboro does not receive these funds.

Still, the Marlboro move echoes the cries of other schools. Earlier this month, Hazen Union High School in Hardwick announced it would turn down federal funds to avoid a provision of the NCLB Act.

Acting Vermont Education Commissioner Dave Larsen said it is his department's responsibility to implement and regulate federal laws, but that these dissenting schools are testing the regulation's reach.

"The department is reviewing the federal law, and determining what, if any, are the repercussions," of Marlboro's proposed action. "We are trying to review the law to determine what this all means," Larsen said.

For Marlboro Elementary School Principal Francie Marbury, the most frustrating aspect of the federal law is what she sees as the utter uselessness of the testing. In a small school like hers, with current enrollment at 78 students, a shift in the number of ESL or special education students could change the test scores. And if a school does not show improvements, it will be penalized.

"The concept of testing students and expecting schools to improve every year is ridiculous," Marbury said. "The whole program sends a negative message and is built on failure. I support the board's decision to not test and try and draw attention to this."

Marbury said the Marlboro school is entering uncharted waters, but the new law seems to ask more questions than it can answer. She does not know what repercussions may come, or what would happen if more schools follow their lead, but, she said, the focus needs to be on the education of her students, and not on appeasing parameters set out by federal bureaucrats.

"We need to help our teachers do the best job they can," she said, "and not spend their time trying to figure out how to jump through any educational hoops."

— Howard Weiss-Tisman
Brattleboro Reformer
Marlboro school mulls leaving act behind





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