Address faults in NCLB law
Ohanian Comment: I admit to being stunned that anybody would use
Hooray for Diffendoofer Day! as a pro-testing vehicle. Plenty of anti-testing folk have used it for just the opposite.
By Jacqueline R. Fardoulis
Deputy U.S. Secretary of Education Ray Simons came to visit a local school recently, to mark the fourth anniversary of the federal No Child Left Behind accountability law. Simon chose to read "Hooray for Diffendoofer Day!" by Dr. Seuss during his visit, as a good example of teachers believing in their students' ability to pass a test.
After reading about his visit, I wondered if Dr. Seuss would write a book supporting achievement tests, and more specifically NCLB. So I read his book.
"Hooray for Diffendoofer Day!" was based on unfinished drawings and words found after Dr. Seuss (author Theodor Geisel) died in 1991. In 1998, Geisel's longtime editor, Janet Schulman, helped select Jack Prelutsky to complete the story and Lane Smith to illustrate the book based on Geisel's notes. Prelutsky thought using today's achievement tests would be a good idea for the overall theme.
The book is about a school. The teachers teach laughing, smelling, listening and yelling. Miss Bonkers teaches everything from how "to tell a cactus from a cow" and "why a hippo cannot fly."
The principal, Mr. Lowe, is the saddest man in town. He becomes very upset when his students are forced to take a "special test." If they do not pass, their school will be torn down and they will have to attend school in Flobbertown. Flobbertown is a bad place because everyone does everything the same, from dressing to singing only one song.
The conclusion, as expected in a children's book, is a happy one with everyone passing the test.
Has NCLB indicated a fairy tale happy ending in the last four years? It has made some positive contributions. It has drawn attention to the education system as a whole. Some students who do not meet standards are receiving mandatory help. Some schools have been nudged into correcting problems that test scores brought to the forefront. Still, any form of testing can be used to guide instruction and curriculum.
NCLB does not lend itself to individuality. The scores of certain groups of students are separated from the student body to become "disaggregated data." The selected groups represent students who are economically disadvantaged, have limited English language skills, have learning disabilities or belong to an ethnic minority. Students with learning differences may also find NCLB policies hard. For example, if an eighth-grade student reads at a sixth-grade level, he still takes the eighth- grade version of the test.
NCLB is creative in some areas, but not in a good way. Each state creates a different test, and uses a different percentage to calculate adequate yearly progress. In fact, Delaware has two different yearly targets. The 2005 English target was 62 percent, while the math percentage was 41 percent. (Keep in mind both must be up to 100 percent by 2014.)
We will never know if Dr. Seuss would have embraced high-stakes testing. However, his editor wrote, "It dawned on me what he had been trying to do was write a story in celebration of individuality and creative thinking."
With that spirit in mind, let's use the creativity and individuality that Americans are proud of, and create a better version of NCLB before 2014. We need to remove the unrealistic goal of 100 percent proficiency and settle on a realistic percentage to achieve and maintain.
Individual group scores should only be used to gauge how well a school is serving that group, not as the deciding factor for overall school performance. Requirements should never encourage teaching to the test. If teachers are highly qualified, then trust their individual teaching styles and creativity to cultivate knowledge in children.
We may not be able to get rid of all of NCLB, but we can amend its many imperfections.
Jacqueline R. Fardoulis of Smyrna is a preschool teacher and a member of The News Journal Community Advisory Board.
Jacqueline R. Fardoulis
INDEX OF NCLB OUTRAGES