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NCLB Outrages

Testing defeats efforts to reach kids

Instead of building bridges to kids' hearts we have them building tests to identify who is not cutting it.

by Kenneth Nye

Six years ago, America was sent a wake-up call about its high schools.

The call came from Littleton, Colo., where two alienated boys went on a killing rampage at Columbine High School, leaving families, the community and the nation stunned by grief.

Columbine has been followed by other incidents around the country in which students who did not feel a part of the cultures of their schools lashed out with rifles and pistols.

These events made educators look carefully at teenagers who reject the social structures of most high schools because they are ostracized by mainstream kids and teachers and driven to the fringes, where they dream about and sometimes carry out plans to kill the people who rejected them.

For a while, it appeared the education establishment would mobilize to make alienated kids feel a part of their schools. Educators implemented adviser-advisee programs, addressed harassment, engaged in candid conversations with students and encouraged students to let somebody know about classmates talking of violence.

Security was stepped up, detectors installed. And, most importantly, teachers started talking with each other and with kids about ways to make all students feel comfortable in school, to feel that the people at school cared about them.

But beyond those efforts, nothing much else happened. We never saw this country's high schools engaged in a massive mobilization to bring all students into the fold. Instead, we began a massive mobilization to do just the opposite, to drive out kids who can't or refuse to focus on learning outcomes.

We are mobilizing to administer a giant testing program, orchestrated by the federal government to test students over and over again, to identify those who can't "meet the standards," and to finger schools whose students are not showing "adequate annual yearly progress." The theme of this obsession is to hold people "accountable."

The message to students is, "Learn this information, because if you don't, you aren't going to get a diploma." And the message to principals and teachers is, "Show us proof that your students are learning the material we consider important."

Ask teachers and principals how it's going. They will tell you they don't have enough time to do everything asked of them and that they are spending more time away from kids, aligning the learning goals of their classrooms with the state or federal government's mandates for what students should learn.

Teachers by the hundreds spend school days at workshops sponsored by state agencies, learning how to ensure the reliability and validity of tests they are charged with developing. They must develop assessments that will allow schools to identify the teachers whose students are not doing as well as others.

Ask teachers and principals if they think all of this work creating testing systems will make any difference in the quality of their students' educations and most simply shake their heads. Instead of building bridges to kids' hearts we have them building tests to identify who is not cutting it.

Most teachers become teachers because they love children, they want to help kids learn, they want to make a difference. They don't become teachers to be technicians of reliability and validity, creators of standardized exams, whip-crackers for programs that focus on the material that is to be learned, rather than on the students who must learn it.

We will see drop-out rates going higher, more teachers and principals leaving the profession, and sadly and most alarmingly, disaffected kids growing in numbers and in bitterness.

No Child Left Behind will leave human debris in its wake: Children who know they will never get the scores they need to graduate, so "to heck with it. I quit." Teachers who no longer have the time to devote to needy students and who consequently decide to try real estate. Principals who are tired of the constant pressure to "get those scores up."

We have forgotten Columbine. And we will rue the day.

Kenneth Nye, Ph.D., of Freeport is an assistant professor in educational leadership at the University of Southern Maine and a former teacher and principal.

Portland Press Herald


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