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NCLB Outrages

Stressing Tests

Ohanian Comment: The community college statistics are very misleading. After all, many students attending community college did not flourish in high school. It's their chance for a comeback.

Teachers give tests all the time. It's part of being a teacher and tracking what the student has learned.

But testing has changed. Not only are teachers tracking the progress of their students, so are state and federal education departments.

Between the state's accountability model and the federal No Child Left Behind Act, student and school progress is monitored each year through a series of tests in subjects such as math, science and language arts that educators must prepare for. Nonetheless, President Bush has made it his goal to shift the focus of No Child Left Behind to include testing for all high school grade levels, not just 10th grade.

"Testing is important," Bush said during a visit reported by the Associated Press at J.E.B. Stuart High School in Falls Church, Va. "Testing at high school levels will help us to become more competitive as the years go by. Testing in high schools will make sure that our children are employable for the jobs of the 21st century."

Now, instead of passing regular subject exams and Advanced Placement exams or concentrating on SAT and ACT prep courses, high school students and administrators will have to shift focus as well.

Although school officials will follow the new regulations, they said tests cannot characterize a school.

"When you judge a school on tests, it's not the fairest way to label a school," said Reed Jackson, executive director of accountability for Nash-Rocky Mount Schools. "There's a lot more to a high school than a test like the number of scholarships (students) get to go to college, or the fine arts programs, which aren't tested. But if we have to, then we will, but there should be a balance."

Gail Powers, senior guidance counselor at Northern Nash High School, said high school students have eight core subjects that they are tested in every year.

"Contrary to what some may believe, there is a lot of testing that goes on in the high schools, in my opinion," she said. "It's very time-consuming, but it has to be done. And I don't see it going away."

The graduating class of 2005 will not have to feel the brunt of President Bush's No Child left Behind gear-shifting. But other students entering and exiting high schools will. The president's 2006 budget will provide $1.5 billion in funding to help states hold high schools accountable for students who are not learning at grade level.

"Out of a 100 ninth-graders in our public schools, only 68 will complete high school on time," Bush said during his visit to the Virginia high school. "Now, we live in a competitive world. And a 68 percent graduation rate for ninth-graders is not good enough to be able to compete in this competitive world. We need to be certain that high school students are learning every year."

Although Martin Lancaster, president of the N.C. Community College System, said he could not comment on Bush's efforts with the high schools, he said tracking student progress could lower the amount of remediation recent high school graduates need when they get to college.

"Forty-eight percent of recent (high school) grads require remediation in one subject or another before entering college level courses, and that's too high of a number," he said in an interview. "We shouldn't be spending state dollars to teach again what should have already been taught in the high schools."

Aletha Hudson, a counselor at Rocky Mount High School, said school counselors encourage college-bound students to take tests such as the SAT and the ACT or to do well on end-of-course tests. But she said too much emphasis is put on testing, which puts too much pressure on the students.

"We offer prep classes after school, and during the year a class that focuses on the verbal portion is given," Hudson said. "We ask that students who are college-bound to take the SAT and ACT their junior year to see which they are best at, and then we encourage them to take that test in the fall. But I think so much focus is put on these tests that kids get so anxious about that the test doesn't reflect their true ability."

Evelyn Chapman-Lawrence, an etymology teacher at Rocky Mount High School, disagreed, saying there isn't enough emphasis put on students to do well on tests.

"I'm a firm believer in pushing the students to excel because they need to know that they can do well," she said. "Most students' self-esteem is so low, they haven't been given a chance to show their true potential. But the tests are biased. All kids are not exposed to the same things and exposure has a lot to do with how well students perform."

Students have mixed emotions on testing, especially the SAT, ACT and Advanced Placement exams.

"I think too much emphasis is placed on doing well," said 10th-grader Ashley Sampson, 16. "I've made As and Bs all through school, and I don't understand how scores from this one test could affect my future college choices. And it causes stress. Like you'll be stressed out waiting to get the results and depending on those results, you'll be stressed if you can't get into the college you want."

Sophomore Okema Gantt, 15, said both he and his mother thought taking an SAT prep course early would help him do well on the actual test.

"What we study are tips that can help prepare us," he said. "I took the PSAT, and I think that has helped me get ready for the real one when I take it."

Chapman-Lawrence also said preparation is key.

"I've seen students become physically ill about tests, especially the SAT, because they were pushed by teachers, counselors and parents at the last minute to excel," she said. "If counselors and parents would guide students to start at an earlier grade level, then the result would be better. Students are exposed to various information and some are not, but you can't cram it all in in one semester or one year."

At the beginning of a new year, the same response came from many school officials: it's time to start preparing for tests. While most of the testing done at the high-school level is self-selected, schools with third- through eighth-grades still have to ready their students to meet both federal and state standards.

"I was never a good test-taker myself, so I can relate to how students feel, but I do realize we have to have these tests to measure the students' accountability," said Robin Jernigan, a third-grade teacher at Bulluck Elementary. "Now, are there some things I would change? Yes. One of the main things is the long period of time children have to sit in one spot and read long passages because they are not mentally prepared for that at that level, in my opinion."

Jernigan said preparing for tests for the majority of the year challenges creativity in the classroom and stresses out not only students, but teachers, too.

"We try to give them as much creativity and hands-on through the year, but they also have to be prepared for the pencil and paper test-taking," she said. "And we are preparing the students from day one. A lot of stress is put on teachers because if we don't do well, then it's looked at as a direct reflection of our job.

"I just teach to the best of my ability and hope the tests come out the way I want it to."

Anne Harper, an eighth-grade science teacher at South Edgecombe Middle School, said although teachers feel pressure, standardized testing is imperative in measuring student progress.

"The burden is falling on math and reading, and the stress level is heavier on the teachers to bring those students up to par," she said. "But there has got to be some sort of method to see what the students know on each level. I can't say I am 100 percent behind how we are going about that now, but when we have one set curriculum, everyone should be at the same level at the end of the year. And I know a lot of people don't like it, but yes, testing needs to be done and yes, kids need to be accountable."

Rocky Mount High junior Brandon McDonald said he thinks standardized testing should also be given.

"Tests reflect what a student learns," he said. "We have a lot of obstacles to go through, and taking a test isn't always at the top of that list. Some do enough to succeed, and some do enough to just get by, and tests are helpful for those who are trying to thrive. Plus, to know where you are academically makes you feel good."

There are 180 instructional days in a school year, and eight of those days are blocked off for review and testing for end-of-course testing in the high schools. Teachers have to deliver the standard course of study set by the state to meet the results needed from testing, and high school graduates have to be literate and know how to fill out job applications, said Diane LeFiles, executive director of community relations for Edgecombe County Public Schools.

Chapman-Lawrence said there should be a limit to testing because it isn't the same as learning.

"There is a difference between testing and learning. They're not equal," she said. "More emphasis is put on testing than learning, and I think more educators should be geared towards learning. The point is to take a child from where they are and bring them up to another level academically. This could happen if class sizes were smaller because it would allow for more personalized attention, and more could be accomplished. But students and teachers have to be focused."

Donald Rhodes, director of testing for Edgecombe County Public Schools, said even though testing is tedious and raises anxiety, it is a mainstay in the public school system.

"If we have to add tests, like those administered through the state, then it's going to affect the time teachers have to teach," he said. "It also cuts the time students spend in the classrooms. When we can use existing tests like the end-of-course, then we don't have to pull students out because they can take those tests in the classroom like a regular test.

"But whether it's EOCs or AP exams, all students have to take tests, and I don't see that changing."

— Natalie Jordan
Rocky Mount Telegram


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