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NCLB Outrages

Teachers say law stifles pupils

Ohanian Comment; The most disturbing thing is that after saying how bad it is, teachers then say that NCLB is here to stay and we have to deal with it. Teachers don't seem the power they would have if they ever decided to act collectively. I'm not advocating that they wait to follow their unions but I am advocating grassroots revolution.

By Harold Gwin

YOUNGSTOWN Holding teachers and school districts accountable for pupil learning can be a good thing, but a group of local teachers thinks the government might be overdoing it.

Teachers from five area school districts sat down recently to discuss the federal No Child Left Behind regulations, which became law in 2002.

The regulations were intended to bring reforms to education with such things as extensive standardized testing for children in grades three through eight, demonstrations that teachers are highly qualified and federal funding conditional upon schools' showing adequate yearly progress in meeting educational standards.

There is more emphasis placed on knowing the answers to those standardized tests, the teachers said, but knowing those answers doesn't necessarily mean the pupils are learning more.

Here's why

"They're learning what's on that test," said Jeanne Riser, an eighth-grade general science teacher in Boardman who has been in the classroom for 12 years. "Are they learning more? No, they're learning what the government put on that test."

"We've been able to maintain academic traditions that are high-rated without the interference of the government," said Pam Plesea, a Weathersfield art teacher and scholarship adviser with 35 years in the field.

Teaching to the test is becoming a common practice, the teachers said.

"I feel compelled to teach to the standards and the benchmarks," said Mike Moran, a Lowellville social studies teacher who has been in the classroom for 32 years.

There are times when he wants to break away from those constraints to be more creative and to allow his pupils to be creative, but there's little time for that.

There are specific matters that must be taught in preparation for the test, he said, noting that education has reached the point where districts are being judged by their test performances.

"They've taken the fun out of teaching," said Becky Battista, a Warren special-education teacher and a 16-year veteran.

"Absolutely," agreed Dennis Mamone, a Youngstown social studies teacher with 23 years in the field. "We're very overtested. Every time we turn around, there's a test."

Lack of creativity

The result is a lack of creativity in the classroom, where focusing on the test leaves no room for critical thinking or problem solving, Plesea said.

Teachers, as well as pupils, are under so much pressure to produce, she said, noting that, if a district doesn't make its adequate yearly progress goals set under No Child Left Behind, principals and teachers can pay the penalty in the form of reassignments.

Some have been excellent teachers for years, but suddenly find themselves required to attend workshops designed to "teach them how to teach," Riser said.

"I think we need accountability," Moran said, and the others agreed.

Still, though testing is important, it really shouldn't be used as the sole judgment of a pupil's success or failure, Moran said. Things such as attendance, grade point average, SAT and ACT scores should all be taken into account, he said.

The real measure of success is what the kids are doing five to 10 years down the road, he said.

"I do not see the need for the test at all. I grade my students every single day," Riser said.

Results overrated

Both Moran and Battista said that No Child Let Behind has some great ideas, but there is too much emphasis on the test results.

Not everyone performs at the same level on tests, for a variety of reasons, Riser said.

Educators, not legislators, should have a larger role in determining educational processes, said Mamone.

"Let the educators do the educating," Plesea said, not someone who doesn't know what is going on in the classroom.

No Child Left Behind basically pits one district against the other, Mamone said, holding everyone to the same standards but failing to take into account the different demographics between districts.

Urban schools are at a tremendous disadvantage on that type of playing field, Mamone said, pointing out that the socio-economic backgrounds, transient populations and other factors make them much different learning environments from their suburban or rural counterparts.

Funding controversy

No Child Left Behind can't work if the government fails to provide the funding to pay for the educational mandates it makes, Riser said.

"How can you put mandates on me if you don't fund me?" she asked, pointing out that many school districts are in the same boat financially in that they can't afford to pick up additional expenses from local revenue sources.

One good aspect of the program is that it makes teachers look at every pupil to see how they are progressing, but that's something most teachers do anyway, Riser said.

"We know every single kid. We know their strengths, their weaknesses," Plesea said.

Moran pointed out that the program requires teachers to communicate more with teachers at lower grade levels to determine what pupils have learned and what areas may need more emphasis.

That's easier said than done in larger urban schools, Mamone said, pointing out that Youngstown has four middle schools and pupils are frequently moving from one school to another, making it difficult to follow pupil progress across the grades.

"It's not perfect, but it does work for a lot of kids," Battista said, pointing out that it has provided some money to run for after-school intervention and other remedial programs to aid pupils who have fallen behind.

"It's really helped," she said.

Informal poll

A recent informal poll run nationally by TeachersCount.org found that 78 percent of the educators responding rated No Child Left Behind as somewhat ineffective or very ineffective.

Regardless of how individuals feel, No Child Left Behind is here and teachers have to deal with it, Moran said.

"I don't think that it changed my perspective. We try not to leave anyone behind. I mean, that's why I got into teaching," Riser said.


— Harold Gwin


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