Bush Proposal Leaves New Jersey Educators Cold
Ohanian Comment: Read all the way through. A lawmaker vows to keep fighting to scale back the law. Who knows what this means? His website contains all the typical NCLB rhetoric about all children this and all children that. But people in his district should get on his case.
President Bush’s proposal to expand his No Child Left Behind initiative by requiring high school testing in grades nine through 11 raised concerns among local educators and administrators. All pointed to what they consider flaws in the way Bush’s policy pursues accountability.
No Child Left Behind requires testing in grades three through eight and once during high school. Students in all schools must reach proficiency in reading and math by 2014 — including children with special needs and limited abilities in English.
Many educators have criticized the law because a school can fail to achieve the law’s proficiency standards if only a small percentage of the children do not perform well on standardized tests.
Bush has stressed accountability, saying there is no excuse for not making sure all students are proficient in math and reading. Supporters and even some opponents agree that testing is the only way to ensure standards are being met.
Local educators and administrators were not surprised that the president wants to expand testing to all grade levels. They expressed fears, however, that the high school tests will be used to determine schools’ reputations and future funding.
“It’s wonderful to be able to administer a test that is valid and can give a clear understanding of the students’ strengths and needs,” said Bob Gratz, superintendent of Newton Public Schools. “That way we can determine the best way of providing assistance to allow the student to become proficient.”
“If the purpose of the test is to identify what needs a student may have ... that’s great, but if a test is used as an accountability (measure) that affects funding or labels schools as failures, then frankly I’m a little concerned about the mission of schools.”
Students in grades three and four in the state are required to take the ASK, or Assessment of Skills and Knowledge. Eighth-graders are required to take the Grade Eight Proficiency Assessment (GEPA) and 11th-graders take the High School Proficiency Assessment, or HSPA.
These tests have already proven difficult for special needs students, many educators say, making it nearly impossible for some to perform at par.
“No one can argue with a thing like No Child Left Behind because that’s everybody’s goal to have every child reach his or her potential,” said Marie Kovacs, the president of the Sussex County Education Association, an affiliate of the New Jersey Education Association, which is an arm of the national union.
“But to say that every child should be proficient in reading and math despite a learning disability ... is unrealistic,” she said. “That would mean everyone is average or above.”
Adding additional standardized testing into the mix may only increase the stress level and encourage competition among local schools, some said.
“Schools are getting compared to one another based on how many kids are proficient in mathematics and language arts,” said Michael Krupinski, the department supervisor for mathematics, science, creative arts and music at Kittatinny Regional High School.
“If that winds up being expanded, now we’ll have a grade-by-grade competition in the county based on test scores ... and that will increase the pressure on each grade level to prepare for the test.”
In his State of the Union address early this month, Bush said his initiative is working to raise standards and test scores, and helping to close “the achievement gap for minority students.
“Now we must demand better results from our high schools, so every high school diploma is a ticket to success.”
The president proposes providing $1.2 billion in federal aid to states to “help hold high schools accountable for teaching all students and to provide effective interventions for those students who are not learning at grade level,” according to the White House Web site. Some states have used such federal funds to provide tutoring for students who do not score well on standardized tests.
Rep. Scott Garrett, R-5, dislikes Bush’s approach because it extends the federal government’s role in education.
“I was never a fan of the federal government setting down restrictions on the state,” Garrett, a former state lawmaker, said.
“It would impose a degree of uniformity and requirements on the federal level that I don’t think are necessary. I think we are quite capable of handling our own education requirements.”
Garrett said he will continue to push to scale back the No Child Left Behind law.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Sarah N. Lynch
New Jersey Herald
INDEX OF NCLB OUTRAGES