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NCLB Outrages

Southwestern teachers unhappy with test plans

There's a form for adding your comment--at the url below. Add it there and send me a copy, please. Through http:www.vsse.net/dibels, I am trying hard to build up a community forum about the DIBELS outrage. Chipping away at one piece of the testing industry is a good place to start.

By Donovan Estridge and Pat Whitney

The test is being implemented in an effort to bring each child to his or her reading level by the third grade.

School psychologist Kathy Kugler
Southwestern Elementary School teachers want to teach, not test.

A proposed plan to create more testing throughout the year has instructors up in arms.

Tensions between teachers and Superintendent Steve Telfer came to a head Monday night during the Southwestern School Board meeting. The new testing method, called Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills, is being proposed as an indicator tool for students lagging in their reading level.

�More testing has me worried that teaching will be sacrificed,� one teacher said after the meeting.

In the proposed plan, teachers would administer the DIBELS test during a child�s early education at the elementary school. The diagnostic test, administered from kindergarten through second grade, reflects a child�s reading ability. Administrators plan to test each child at least twice a year, once at the beginning of the fall semester and again before Christmas break. According to the DIBELS Web site, each child is tested individually, and it takes less than 10 minutes a child.

A student who tests below average would be eligible for intervention in an attempt to bring the child�s reading level up to par.

�If the student is not meeting the benchmark, then an intervention will be given by the teacher,� Southwestern psychologist Kathy Kugler said.

Kugler said the test is being implemented in an effort to bring each child to his or her reading level by the third grade. The corporation is undertaking this effort in response to the No Child Left Behind Act, which will require every child to read at his or her grade level by 2014. Schools that fail to reach that goal will lose federal funding.

�Currently, we have 25-30 percent of our students in the lower grades who do not read at their level,� Kugler said. �The state average is 5-15 percent.�

Kugler cites the overwhelming number of students, nearly 47 percent, who participate in the free and reduced-price lunch program in the corporation, nearly double the state average of students in the program. Eligibility for free and reduced-price lunch is a measure of a family�s income. Kugler said the number of students who read below their grade level correlates with the high number of free or reduced-price lunches. However, the problem Southwestern faces falls on deaf ears by the state, Kugler said.

�The state does not care about the number of students we have in the free and reduced lunch program,� Kugler added.

Teachers attending the meeting also said they are concerned about the logistics of administering the testing, individual intervention and follow-up of students who fail to test at their grade level, while maintaining their normal classroom teaching schedule.

One teacher asked, �How are we going to administer the tests and teach at the same time?�

A part-time substitute teacher and mother of Southwestern students who excel in their classes voiced concern about too much emphasis on a few students who are lagging behind.

�I am troubled that the administration would take the teachers away from those students who don�t need extra help, thinking they can do it on their own,� she said. �It�s just not fair.�

At Kugler�s suggestion, the administration traveled to a DIBELS seminar in Evansville during December, taking along two special-education teachers and the elementary school principal in an attempt to find a solution to the alarming number of students with reading levels below par.

�When they returned, they were high on the program,� Telfer said. �We then incorporated the general education teachers, kindergarten through second grade, into the process.�

Teachers, however, said they feel they were left in the dark through the process.

�In the past, we would have meetings where we could have input,� a teacher said. �But this time, we feel we were left out of the loop.�

Telfer said he believes the teachers were not left out.

�We included the special-ed teachers from the start,� he said. �We felt so strongly that it was a good program that we wanted to move on it right away.�

While administrators fully support the DIBELS program, teachers said they are apprehensive about a lack of parental accountability and participation.

The proposed program calls for teachers to make regular home visits to keep tabs on those students who need intervention. According to Telfer, teachers will be asked to make visits to students� homes during the summer months.

Telfer added, �Can you imagine if you were a first-grader and your teacher came to your house? How dynamic that would be.�

Because of the controversy over the DIBELS testing and implementation, School Board members chose to continue an open meeting with Southwestern Elementary School teachers later. The date has not been announced.

— Donovan Estridge and Pat Whitney
Madison Courier


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