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NCLB Outrages

Time to rethink No Child Left Behind

Ohanian Comment: What a lesson: School as the place where young children learn to figure out how Standardistos are trying to trick you.

Elaine Olund

As a critic of the federal No Child Left Behind legislation, I don't dispute the need for school improvement. The problem is the narrowly focused way NCLB scores achievement - through a test rather than a mix of testing and portfolio review. Based on the practice tests I've seen, I am not convinced they accurately assess even basic skills (unless test-taking is counted as a skill).

Will weeks spent on test prep produce tomorrow's leaders, thinkers and problem-solvers? Can the tests gauge enthusiasm, imagination or curiosity? Can any one-time test truly assess what children have achieved over a school year?

Recently my fifth-grader was working on a practice math test. "I don't understand question 36," she said. It was not the first time that evening that she'd had difficulty figuring out the poorly worded questions. I didn't get it either. The syntax was so mangled it was hard to tell what they wanted.

My seventh-grader chimed in. "They're trying to fool you," she said. "See, the writing's all twisted." She shook her head, and sighed deeply. "We've spent a lot of time lately learning about these tricks they put in."

My fifth-grader looked worried. Kids feel the weight attached to this test. We received four phone messages before the test, including one from the superintendent, urging us to be sure our children are rested, fed and ready for the tests.

The tests hurt curriculum as well. Everything other than drilling for the tests seems to go by the wayside in the weeks leading up to them. Many teachers want to integrate the test topics into their lessons over the course of the year, but the review material arrives just a few weeks before the tests.

Even worse, such "zero-tolerance" policies leave no room for compassion and common sense. Because no child is to be "left behind," mentally handicapped children must be tested, even if it stresses them to the point of throwing up. There are even procedures for scoring these vomit-covered tests, which sounds more like federally mandated child abuse than federal child advocacy.

The advocates of NCLB should imagine being judged on one test, rather than on their performance over the whole year. Now imagine that you are an immigrant student, being tested in a language you learned just last year. Now, pick up your No. 2 pencil and begin rethinking this legislation.

Elaine E. Olund of Clifton is the mother of two students in Cincinnati Public Schools.

— Elaine E. Olund
Cincinnati Enquirer


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