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Bush school reform called 'clueless'

Ohanian Comment: We should hear from students more often.

by Jenny Lacoste-Caputo

AUSTIN Just three days after President Bush visited a Maryland elementary school touting the fourth anniversary of his landmark education reform law, No Child Left Behind, more than 200 concerned parents, students and educators from around Texas gathered to discuss an overhaul of the accountability effort, which is up for reauthorization in 2007.

The testimony, both oral and written, and the results of an online survey, will be documented in a report that will go to members of Congress and the president.

Several students from around the state voiced frustration at the one-size-fits-all approach of a standardized test.

"The notion that one test can work for thousands and thousands of students in Texas tells me how clueless some adults are about the needs of students," said Andy Peterson, a 12th-grade student from Austin.

Peterson said a learning disability makes standardized tests difficult for him. Math problems and reading assignments that give him no trouble in class can become enigmas on the state's mandated exam.

"I can't remember a time when I wasn't the last person in the testing room, pulling my hair out while trying to finish the test," he said. "The problem with these tests is they don't accurately reflect student achievement for everyone."

William Luton, a senior at Spring Woods High School in Houston, said the emphasis on testing has a direct effect on what happens in the classroom.

His school did away with block scheduling a method that allows students more time for each class because it didn't work with the testing schedule.

No Child Left Behind requires states to test students in reading and math annually. Schools must show what the law calls "adequate yearly progress" each year, not just in a school's overall population but also in subgroups based on race and income level. The goal: to ensure that every child receives a quality education.

Schools that don't meet the criteria are subject to sanctions. The law also requires that every child must pass the test by the year 2014 for a school to meet adequate yearly progress.

But critics of the law said Thursday that the focus on testing is squeezing the joy out of learning, putting undue pressure on children, turning schools into test-prep centers.

Luis Figueroa, an attorney with the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund in San Antonio, said the promises of No Child Left Behind are good ones, but the law isn't having its intended effect.

The quality of education a child receives "still very much depends on what side of the tracks you live on," said Figueroa, who advocates for increased funding for the act.

The Public Education Network, a national organization of local education funds that works to build support for quality education in low-income communities, is organizing the hearings.

"Our emphasis is on hearing from students, parents and community leaders," said Ron Cowell, president of the Education Policy and Leadership Center in Pennsylvania and moderator for the hearing. "These are the voices that often get overlooked or often aren't heard at all when policy leaders sit down to write the laws of the nation."

The network is also hosting an online survey at http://www.GiveKidsGoodSchools.org. The results of the survey will be compiled with testimony given in Austin; New York; Chicago; Orlando, Fla.; San Francisco; and five other cities.

— Jenny Lacoste-Caputo
San Antonio Express-News


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