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NCLB Outrages

A Concentrated Approach to Exams

So where's the ethical violation? That just some kids receive extra test prep or that any do?

teachers regularly began pulling selected students from
social studies, science, gym, art and other elective classes to work in
small groups to prepare for the test. They used test-prep workbooks and
sample material from the state education department's Web site.

See how the educational leader's daily practice jusxtaposes with her statement of 'sacred honor.'

Declaration of Professional Learning

Participants at the National Staff Development Council's 37th Annual Conference have joined together in declaring a new revolution. Read our proclamation and let it be heard throughout the land. Below the declaration, find the names of all those participants who signed the declaration in Philadephia on December 3-7, 2005.

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for educators to dissolve an antiquated form of Inservice Education and to replace it with meaningful Professional Learning for every educator.

We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all Educators are endowed with a desire for Professional Competence and Mutual Support, that among these are Professional Respect, the challenge of Worthy Goals, and the Everyday Experience of Genuine Teamwork and Professional Learning instituted in pursuit of high levels of achievement for all Students.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the National Staff Development Council and of the children we serve, assembled in Philadelphia, appealing to the greater Education Community do, in the Name, and by the Authority of the good People here gathered, solemnly publish and declare

That Educators' Professional Learning advance their Professional Judgment, improve their Teaching Practice, and strengthen Leadership among Administrators and Teachers for the benefit of all Students no matter the Students' place of residence nor their race nor their family income.

For the advancement of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on our mutual assistance and our sacred honor, and for the welfare of children we pledge jointly to each other our unwavering Support and our Unfailing Efforts through our Deep Commitment to High Quality Professional Learning for all Educators.

among the signers: Renee Foose.

by Daniel de Vise

The principal of Earle B. Wood Middle School in Rockville gathered
teachers and handed out a list of all the black, Hispanic,
special-education and limited-English-speaking students who would take
the Maryland School Assessment, the measure of success or failure under
the federal No Child Left Behind mandate.

Principal Renee Foose told teachers to cross off the names of students
who had virtually no chance of passing and those certain to pass. Those
who remained, children on the cusp between success and failure, would
receive 45 minutes of intensive test preparation four days a week, until
further notice.

Under President Bush's education initiative, hundreds of middle-class
suburban schools like Wood, with a history of solid test scores, are at
risk of academic failure. They must address nagging achievement gaps
that cut along racial and socioeconomic lines or face the penalties and
possible "restructuring" that the federal law prescribes.

The coming weeks will bring a battery of tests -- Virginia's Standards
of Learning exams, the D.C. Comprehensive Assessment System and the
Maryland School Assessment -- that will determine whether schools and
students have made "adequate yearly progress" under the law. Maryland's
testing begins March 12.

Because these "high-stakes" tests exert unprecedented influence on
public education, principals and teachers are struggling with the ethics
of test preparation: Is it right to give extra help to some students and
withhold it from others based on who is likely to pass? Is it acceptable
to set aside regular instruction for lessons on how to solve
multiple-choice questions? Is it all right to forsake free-form poetry
for a steady diet of heavily formatted reading passages?

That is what some teachers say has happened at Wood. Their accounts and
interviews with Foose offer a glimpse at a kind of test-prep triage that
analysts think is increasingly common at many schools but is rarely
discussed in public.

"We're not talking about instruction," said Bonnie Cullison, president
of the Montgomery County Education Association, who is investigating
teacher concerns at the school. "We're talking about a narrow set of
skills that is really about passing a test."

Foose, in telephone and e-mail interviews over several weeks, said that
a few unsupportive employees were distorting the school's efforts to
help students with the greatest needs.

"No student here is excluded from any instruction whatsoever," she said.

Foose, a former state trooper who became Wood's principal last fall,
explained the process:

"Our school improvement goal is 80 percent of all students pass" the
assessment, she wrote in one e-mail. "We were determining how many
students we know will pass based on their classroom performance."

All students received extra support, she wrote in another e-mail, "some
more than others." Children with little English ability or severe
cognitive disabilities were excluded, she said, because they get
intensive help through regular studies.

Then, last week, she said that the special lessons had been halted.

Another Montgomery middle school principal, speaking on condition of
anonymity for fear of her being fired, described the pressures that she
and others face:

"You have to be smart about what you do," she said. "Because,
realistically, I don't want to think I could lose my job, but I could
lose my job if the school doesn't make [adequate yearly progress] for
too long. Realistically, we could all lose our jobs."

Wood serves a community of single-family homes and apartments typical in
a dense suburb. Its student population is approximately 44 percent
white, 23 percent Hispanic, 19 percent black, 12 percent Asian and 1
percent Native American. One student out of four qualifies for federal
meal subsidies.

Last spring, 68 percent of Wood students rated at least proficient on
state tests, surpassing the state average of 65 percent. But the school
failed to make adequate yearly progress, the federal standard for
success, because special-education students, those with limited English
proficiency and those receiving federal meal subsidies fell behind in
reading scores.

Foose came to Wood to set things right.

A veteran principal, who retired last spring, had allowed discipline to
lapse, said two Wood employees and Cullison, who has spoken to other

The laxity extended to testing season, one teacher said: When students
sat for the assessments, "kids who were fully capable of passing, they
just didn't care."

Parents saw immediate improvement under Foose. Student suspensions fell
by more than half after she arrived.

"She is very direct. She is very focused. She is very determined," said
Pauline Lamberg, Wood's PTA president.

The principal's approach to state testing was, by all accounts, focused
and determined.

Test preparations began in earnest, the staffers said, on the day
faculty returned from winter break. In separate meetings with the
English and math teachers, Foose handed out lists of "subgroup" students
and outlined her plan:

"We were told to cross off the kids who would never pass," one staffer
said. "We were told to cross off the kids who, if we handed them the
test tomorrow, they would pass. And then the kids who were left over,
those were the kids we were supposed to focus on."

The next week, teachers regularly began pulling selected students from
social studies, science, gym, art and other elective classes to work in
small groups to prepare for the test. They used test-prep workbooks and
sample material from the state education department's Web site.

The principal and some employees disagree on how often students were
removed from classes for test-preparation. Foose said that many teachers
delivered extra instruction in the classroom.

Employees say that Foose and one of her administrators added to the
urgency by telling students and parents that those who failed the
assessments might be held back. The principal said the comments came
from an assistant principal and were more about students' long-term
academic prospects.

Foose and her supporters say the remedial lessons ultimately did much good.

"Trust me -- you want students to be able to pass a basic comprehension
test," Deborah Longo, leader of the eighth-grade instructional team,
said in an e-mail.

Others, inside and outside the school, said they thought the exercise
crossed a line.

"They're not teaching the material," Cullison said. "They're teaching
them how to take a test, which is a huge disservice to these kids."

— Daniel de Vise
Washington Post


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