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NCLB Outrages

Testing Forum Turns to Bashing

A panel on standardized testing in public schools lashed out at the federal No Child Left Behind Act on Monday, calling it an unfair and inaccurate measure of schools.

The discussion was part of a public forum sponsored by the Press-Citizen at West High’s Little Theater that looked at how standardized tests such as the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills and of Educational Development are used.

Members of the panel included Iowa City School District co-director of instruction Pam Ehly, Hills Elementary reading recovery teacher Nancy Porter, Iowa City School Board member Lauren Reece, retired standardized test researcher Dale Phillip and state Rep. Mary Mascher, D-Iowa City.

Ehly called the federal law a double-edged sword, saying the tests caused attention to be focused on student achievement but also threatened sanctions. She said the threat of sanctions — which the district’s high schools, junior highs and Mark Twain Elementary are facing — come with unreasonable requirements and “negative reinforcement.”

“Aren’t sanctions usually associated with the military?” Ehly said. “The pendulum of accountability has swung too far. Asking that a goal be met within one year is unreasonable.”

The goal is a moving target, a steadily rising percentage of student deemed proficient in core subjects based on whether they test above the 40th percentile score from 2000. By 2014, 100 percent of students must test above that benchmark.

Porter said the federal law did not take individual students’ abilities or school programs such as reading intervention into account.

“This is not No Child Left Behind,” Porter said. “This is every child’s going to get a spank on the behind.”

Students in special education will not be able to meet the state goals, Reece said, despite teachers’ best efforts.

“This is not going to happen,” she said. “It’s not meant to be.”

Reece said the government should focus on other areas of concern for students, such as homelessness, poverty or health care.

About 25 people attended the forum, and several also came out strongly against the federal law.

Carol Kula, an English as a second language teacher in the Muscatine School District, said the law did not provide for difficulties such as trying to learn English to the point they could understand the test. She cited an eighth-grade student originally from Guatemala who had good grades before moving to Iowa, then testing at a third-grade level despite a private school education.

“It’s quite demeaning,” Kula said. “These kids are being scapegoated.”

Neil Daniels, a Coralville resident, said the formulators of the law did not understand statistics and had created an impossible mandate.

“If you can’t write a better law, you need to be bounced out,” he said.

Reach Rob Daniel at 339-7360 or rdaniel@press-citizen.com.

— Rob Daniel
Iowa City Press-Citizen


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