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NCLB Outrages

P.G. schools flunk Md. test: System joins Baltimore City on the state's 'corrective action' list

Our Schools Are Failing But We're Overjoyed?
What is wrong with this picture?
Anne E. Levin Garrison


Who would look at the example of a school system labeled as one of the "worst-performing school systems in the nation" and say that what they really need are "more high-level classes, including Advanced Placement?" The Maryland state Superintendent of Schools, Nancy Grasmick. (Liz Bowie, Baltimore Sun; P.G. schools flunk Md. test, System joins Baltimore City on the state's 'corrective action' list, October 26, 2006)

From the Maryland Department of Education State Testing Division, Director Gary Heath, we hear this: "Statewide, 235 schools -- or 17 percent of the 1,351 public schools in Maryland -- were on the list of schools with test scores that did not meet federal standards for at least two years in a row. BUT, Heath says: "Our system [of testing] is very rigorous, and our schools are doing very well."

Not to worry, he says, because: "About three-quarters of the states have a larger percentage of schools in the failing category than Maryland does."

Feel better now?

Also noted in this report:

83 of 205 schools in Prince George's have been labeled as having failed for at least two years in a row.

89 of Baltimore's 180 schools are in the same category, and many have been failing for longer than two years.

70 high schools did not meet standards for one year, about the same figure as last year's list.

The list of failing schools includes schools from Allegany, Anne Arundel, Harford, Montgomery, Frederick and Baltimore counties.

Anne Arundel had nine schools on the poorly performing list, the same number as last year.

Baltimore County had 13 schools on the list.

I have a few questions...

Are we supposed to accept that the testing proves anything?

If so, why then are we also supposed to believe that the failure rate is okay?

Should we just ignore the questions about the tests' integrity, and validity, and our many questions about their value?

Who decides what is tested, and why, and how? Who oversees the scoring? How much does all of this cost? Couldn't any of this massive testing operation be re- relegated to the teachers? Can't they have a say in what is tested? Wouldn't that leave them in a better position to understand what they need to teach?

Does anyone check on the specific wording and mechanics of these tests? If so many children are failing, doesn't that at least make anyone wonder if something about the tests is out of sync with what, how, and how much the children can or should be tested on?

Can we really continue to hold student populations with measurably different learning needs accountable to the entire rest of the school and force them repeatedly to take tests that they fail? Is this learning? Is it teaching?

Is there any chance that the money spent on testing is money that would be better spent on services in the classrooms?

Can't teachers be trusted to make assessments, monitor student progress, use appropriate resources and curriculum to address skill deficiencies and create appropriately challenging classrooms? Isn't that called teaching?

Do we really need to hire and pay the salary of yet another top administrator? Aren't there enough top administrators?

I have serious concern about the growing intrusion of NCLB, an ill-conceived federal policy, which is damaging the spirit and life of our schools. It creates and reinforces an atmosphere of unavoidable failure in the educational environment of our schools. It creates and rewards administrators who speak positively about a system that is smothering our teachers and our students ability to teach and to learn. It creates wrong-minded justification and rationalization for flawed policy but even when it reveals itself as flawed, it is applauded, and allowed to grow, and we are told to rejoice in failure.

I am not rejoicing.

I am not convinced that the tests which control our schools are accurate, valid, or necessary. I do not believe in a standardized approach to learning, teaching or testing. I do not want my child's entire education guided by or dependent on testing.

After 5 years of NCLB policy, I see how curriculum has narrowed because of testing. I also see how teachers professional volition has become all but extinct. I see how textbook companies, and test and supplemental educational companies have controlled our once academic, now business decisions. I am positive that the practice of placing students, schools, districts, and states in a spotlight as failures is an atrocity. I see students struggling with the endless treadmill of benchmark tests, and district and county and state testing policy. I see learning opportunities forsaken in order to meet hurried and stronger demands of artificial deadlines, and scripts, and curriculum guides.

I see kids taking advanced classes, even when they are not adequately prepared for them. They have fewer choices. I see their apprehension, and overwhelment, and stress. I see their grades manipulated and unreflective of their learning. I see children in elementary school being forced into restricted programs that ignore the needs of their developing minds and bodies; they are treated as if they are all the same until they fail, then they are made to suffer more. I see children taking tests so long and so demanding that their fingers hurt. I see them taking tests that bank on their relentless hours and weeks of memorizing facts for regurgitation. They take tests that test their unit on test-taking. They don't have time or the luxury of discovery, or play, or creative learning for pleasure.

If you are a parent, you should be reading reports about our schools with a great amount of regret for how quickly and thoroughly standardized test-centered teaching has evolved under NCLB. You should be alarmed and concerned about the impact of this policy on your children.

If you are a teacher, I know you are struggling with your time and your spirit. I hope you will look to your peers to help you find the strength and courage to stop treading water furiously in order to stay up in a relentless sea of such pre-determined failure. You really can make a difference; think about it.

If you are an administrator who feels compelled to follow the destructive policies of this act, I encourage you to find another position; you do not have the integrity or the moral strength to make important decisions that will ever have impact on the precious lives of our children.

If you are a public servant, I suggest that you get informed about what is happening in our schools since NCLB, and raise this issue high on your priority list. The public will, no doubt, want to ask you a few questions about your silence on these issues. If you believe you see and understand the problems with the act, I suggest that you begin to work hard to justify your quiet compliance by revealing your naivety and apologize for your narrow perspective. You will possibly be forgiven now, but to continue to ignore the situation could easily lead your constituents to perceive and characterize your position as irresponsible.

NCLB is up for re-authorization in 2007. It is not too late to stop this horror for our students, for our teachers, for our future.


By Liz Bowie

The Prince George's County school system joined Baltimore yesterday in being labeled a district with so many failing schools that it could face state intervention, although state officials said they will give the county's new schools chief time to implement changes to improve student achievement. The Maryland State Board of Education voted yesterday to put Prince George's schools in "corrective action," a federal designation given to the worst- performing school systems in the nation.

Baltimore schools got the same label in 2003, and the state ordered changes. In contrast to past criticism, state Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick yesterday praised the city schools administration for the progress it has made in the past several months.

Specifically, Grasmick said the system's new leader, Charlene Cooper Boston, has given a sense of urgency to efforts to act in six areas identified by the state. "I am pleased to report that Dr. Boston has addressed each of these areas with a real sense of dedication," Grasmick said, adding that Boston has a "seriousness" about the issues.

Grasmick did not order further changes in Baltimore, and she declined yesterday to impose a plan of action on Prince George's County schools. She had the authority under the federal No Child Left Behind law to go so far as to require a new administration or further structural changes in either system.

A list released yesterday shows that 83 of 205 schools in Prince George's have been labeled as having failed for at least two years in a row. By comparison, 89 of Baltimore's 180 schools are in the same category, and many have been failing for longer than two years.

Grasmick said she is convinced that John Deasy, who took over in May as chief executive officer of Prince George's schools, has created an improvement plan that will work. Deasy is making more high-level classes, including Advanced Placement, available to students across the county. And he is credited with offering additional support to teachers in the lowest-performing schools, including advice from master teachers. The system is also providing extra classes to some students before and after school and on Saturdays.

A group of about 20 Prince George's politicians, school administrators and school board members came to the state board meeting in Baltimore yesterday to offer their support to Deasy.

Grasmick and state board members seemed sensitive to the idea that their actions might be perceived as political, coming just two weeks before the general election. Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley, a Democrat, and Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. have made education and the state of city schools a campaign issue.

"We don't want this to become political fodder because it is very important," said board member Dunbar Brooks.

In contrast with Prince George's, the state has forced Baltimore to make substantial corrections in its system. For instance, Baltimore was ordered to adopt specific curricula from two counties and to remove some top administrators from their jobs.

When asked about the disparity, Grasmick said, "There is no analogy here." Baltimore, she said, did not have a master plan that had been approved by the state and had moved too slowly to address areas of concern. Grasmick said she is "a very tough critic" and that she believed the Prince George's plans were "very robust." In addition, she said, some city schools have been failing for as long as a decade.

The board also released yesterday a list of schools with test scores that did not meet federal standards for at least two years in a row. Statewide, 235 schools -- or 17 percent of the 1,351 public schools in Maryland -- were on the list. Gary Heath, who heads the state's testing division, said that although that is a large number of schools, it is fewer than in many states.

About three-quarters of the states have a larger percentage of schools in the failing category than Maryland does. "Our system [of testing] is very rigorous, and our schools are doing very well," Heath said.

Heath said that 70 high schools did not meet standards for one year, about the same figure as last year's list. Five schools that had been considered failing came off the list, and other schools joined it.

Although the list is made up primarily of Baltimore City and Prince George's County schools, it includes schools from Allegany, Anne Arundel, Harford, Montgomery, Frederick and Baltimore counties. No Howard County schools are on the list.

There were few surprises in this year's failing list. Five schools have done well enough for two years to get off the list. Those are: Old Mill High School, Meade High School and Glen Burnie Evening High School, all in Anne Arundel County, and Gaithersburg High School and John F. Kennedy High School in Montgomery County.

Anne Arundel had nine schools on the poorly performing list, the same number as last year. Baltimore County had 13 schools on the list.

The information on how high schools performed was released later than usual this year because the state combined what had been two English tests into one English II test. Those results, available only recently, were needed to calculate what schools had met the federal standards. The calculations are part of a complex formula that takes into account how groups of children, including minorities and special education students, did in a particular school.

In response to questions, Grasmick said the state did not time yesterday's announcements to come just before the election.

Statewide, high school students scored a little better on the new English test than they did the year before. The number of students passing rose from 57 percent to 60 percent. Baltimore County had the largest increase of Baltimore area counties. The number of students passing English there rose from 52 percent to 58 percent.

The city's pass rate rose from 34 percent to 36 percent.

— Liz Bowie and comments by Annie
Baltimore Sun
2006-10-26


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