Education Pauses for "No Child" Testing
Ohanian Comment: This piece is angry and it's detailed. Too bad more journalists don't speak out for fourth graders.
Tough week ahead?
Not as tough as a Davenport fourth-grader. These nine- and 10-year-olds carry the weight of Davenport on their small shoulders. No Child Left Behind standardized testing begins Monday. Two Davenport elementaries were labeled failing schools because last year’s fourth graders at Buchanan and Hayes schools fell short on math and reading tests. Two others, Jefferson-Edison and Fillmore remain on the list because of poor scores two years ago. That left the district wrongly smeared as one of the worst in the state under the No Child measurements.
This year’s fourth-graders have seen their curriculum significantly revamped in order to meet a measurement that means little to them personally. They won’t personally pass or fail based on the results of this week’s tests. The No Child requirements don’t even begin to evaluate science, history, social studies, foreign language or physical education abilities. It won’t provide parents with a good evaluation of their children’s problem-solving skills, abilities to work with others, innovation capabilities or all the things that go into building life-long learners.
Instead, this week’s No Child Left Behind tests will tell bureaucrats and lawmakers in Des Moines and Washington how well these kids do on two hours and 40 minutes of math and reading tests. If the kids do poorly, the entire school and curriculum can be thrown into the hands of state and federal bureaucrats. What will they do? Even they don’t know yet. It will cost more, that’s for sure. And no one can say today or tomorrow if it will be better or worse overall for these kids. Whatever the bureaucrats come up with, it will be designed solely to beat these tests.
Buchanan Elementary first-year principal Diane Simmons restructured the whole school day to comply with No Child federal requirements. Every classroom had daily focus lessons to drill test-like questions, a couple of which we’ve shared with you on this page. Mrs. Simmons met individually for “test talks” with each of her 60 fourth-graders to review testing progress and coach them on how to whip this test.
Before school began in August, Buchanan’s fourth grade teachers identified a dozen kids who scored right below or just above minimum standards as third graders. The teachers talked to parents about making sure these 12 are most prepared. Buchanan’s three fourth-grade teachers spent all year giving the kids test-like questions. Since the beginning of December, they’ve drilled the kids on using No. 2 pencils to fill in dots.
Beat the test
It’s been an eye-opener to new teachers Sarah Mullins and Stephanie Graap. Graap says nothing in her $42,000 St. Ambrose University bachelor’s of education program prepared her for this intense, beat-the-test focus. St. Ambrose emphasized hands-on learning and Graap would love to incorporate cooking into her classroom to teach fractions, measurements, science, geography and project planning. That’s what she learned to do in teaching school.
No time for that with No Child.
Mullins, in her second year of teaching, recalls her University of Northern Iowa program that taught her ways to assess and tailor instruction to each student’s individual abilities. “We were taught to create individual portfolios for each individual student’s achievement,” she sayd. “This is not individual achievement.”
The two work with veteran fourth-grade teacher Bekky Anderson to implement the test-driven curriculum they believe will get Buchanan off the No Child failure list. All have faith in their principal Simmons and her plan to beat the No Child tests this year.
Good enough for Washington
These fourth-graders’ performance matters to every Davenport student, parent and teacher. But the outcome also matters to any homeowner, business owner, or taxpayer. These fourth graders will determine if you live in a town with good schools or failing schools. That single designation can define a town and affect property values as much as any marketing campaign.
The teachers are confident their kids know the material. What they can’t know is if one student might have a cold and be distracted by sniffles. Perhaps another bursts with anticipation of a birthday party. Or another’s hamster just died. Adolescent life can be a rollercoaster of emotion, and that’s one reason why contemporary education theory emphasizes using more sophisticated, accurate assessments that can’t be swayed by one bad day.
Not No Child. The bureaucrats and congressmen who pushed No Child on our nation don’t understand all the complex stuff that Graap and Mullins learned in Iowa’s best teaching programs.
From Washington, a one-size-fits-none assessment at one grade level is good enough.
INDEX OF NCLB OUTRAGES