Letter to Aspen Commission on NCLB
Funders of the Aspen Commission:
Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
Carnegie Corporation of New York
Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation
John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation
by Barbara Crystal
Aspen Commission on NCLB
One Dupont Circle, NW, Suite 700
Washington, DC 20036
Dear Members of the Commission,
I am a tenth grade special education teacher with eighteen years of successful experience my field. I graduated with honors from the University of Virginia with a BS in special education. I graduated with high honors from George Mason University in 1988 with an M. Ed. in special education technology. I am a devoted and highly capable special educator.
Southern Regional High School is a very successful institution and we now have the third highest test scores in Ocean County, New Jersey. Our students are very well rounded and succeed both inside the classroom and in their extracurricular activities as well. Despite all of our achievements, we have now been labeled as a school "in need of improvement" due to the scores of one of our testing subgroups.
Because of New Jersey's testing subgroup specifications, our special education population's test scores were included in the overall score profile for our high school. We are a regional high school and therefore have a large special education subgroup. Many of these students are supposed to be exempt from testing according to their IEPs. Now they are required to test and to endure a multi-day assessment that is often three to five years beyond their reading levels. Testing accommodations cannot make up for the academic discrepancies that have caused these students to be identified for special education services.
We have managed to push a good percentage of special education students to achieve these unrealistic expectations, but the remainder of these students are simply not capable of performing beyond their limitations. That is precisely why they receive special education services. Unfortunately, because of the punitive nature of the law, we must spend all of our academic time teaching to the test. Many children are missing out on life lessons because of the extreme narrowing of our curriculum. The NCLB act has instilled so much fear in public education that we are simply drilling in language arts and mathematics all day long. Our students have now lost their study hall periods and instead must use that time as a literacy period. They will have to sit after lunch and read silently for twenty-two minutes. Our secondary schools are being transformed into drill and practice mills.
Since the special education testing subgroup is "keeping us from meeting the AYP," we must now be subjected to "corrective measures." My peers and I are going to have to be taught how to be more successful teachers by the mainstream staff. Many of these staff members are less experienced educators and do not understand the challenges that we face in the classroom. My peers and I are being punished because our students have disabilities.
According to their IEPs, many of our "failing" students should not have been required to have taken the test. Why are the provisions of P.L. 94-142 and IDEA being ignored? When will decency and common sense prevail?
The current administration's agenda is clearly apparent. Those who support the current NCLB legislation are intent on using the disabled to dismantle public education. After investigating the results from schools in my state and in other states I have noted that many schools are labeled as failing because of either their special education or their limited English proficient student subgroups.
It appears that different states employ different minimum subgroup sizes with regard to the inclusion of test scores. Also, states have a different percentage level for those students who are permitted to take alternate assessments. It is interesting to note that Texas now allows 5% of their special education students to take an alternate assessment while New Jersey allowed only 1% of similar students to be tested under those conditions. Why are there not uniform standards for all of the states? It appears that the minimum subgroup size provision punishes large and urban schools. Is this not discriminatory?
Please help us to either revise or to repeal this legislation. Privatization is not the answer to public school improvement.
Thank you so much for your time and assistance with this matter.
Barbara Crystal M. Ed.
INDEX OF NCLB OUTRAGES