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NCLB Outrages

Smell of fear heralds TAKS season

Teachers and parents can do something against this oppressive tests. They don't have to sit and wait for the politicos. For starters, sign the Educator Roundtable petition.

Of course states had oppressive tests before NCLB came along but there is no question but NCLB makes things worse.

It is definitely past time for us to take back our schools.

By Cheryl Odom

Ahhh, the smell of spring is in the air, but thereâs another odor permeating the corridors of our campuses throughout Texas that can only be described as foul. Itâs the smell of fear, because itâs TAKS season. Like deer season, itâs time to score the âbig one.â

I am struck by the enormous energy we put into psyching our students up for the challenge of passing these tests.

For all our good intentions, we have unintentionally created the war mentality of âUs against It.â

The test has actually taken on a life of its own as if it were the enemy and our students and schools have to âconquerâ it.

One has only to look at how we get our students psyched up and motivated for it to realize this truth.

Some of the methods resemble self-help strategies on steroids ... way over the top.

There are the usual banners with catchy slogans like âDo your best on the testâ or âAttack the TAKSâ (letâs hope they donât change the name and acronym again to something like, oh I donât know, the TUX).

And then there are campuses that surround their schools with signs (Iâm not talking one or two â think hundreds like a polling precinct) that proclaim things like â(school name) students are ready for TAKS.â

Itâs almost as if theyâre trying to convince themselves instead of the people passing by. But itâs when we allow the children to create their own slogans representing their position on dealing with the test that we truly see the impact of the pressure from TAKS preparation and how it is affecting them.

Walking through the hallways you can read how theyâre going to conquer the enemy, and itâs both troublesome and saddening. They use words like âdrown, punch, stomp, kick, slap, smack, beat;â words that denote violence we would discourage otherwise seem appropriate in this context. These kids donât just want to conquer the TAKS, they want to kick its rear end.

We enlist the aid of inspirational guest speakers, hold pep rallies bringing in the high school cheerleaders, band, athletes, etc., or a clown that does magic tricks (havenât figured that one out yet) to pump the students up. And some might wonder âwhatâs wrong with that?â

Well, the problem is that these well-intended events sometimes serve only to heighten their fear, anxiety and apprehension about the test. Thereâs the child who came home and told her mother that a âdoctorâ had met with the students to discuss ways to relieve their stress regarding the test.

Sounds like a healthy idea; except that until that moment it had never occurred to the student that she had cause to be stressed about it. The parent reported that after that all her child did was angst about the test.

Then there was the teacher who reported that right before the administration of the test, she was approached by her little third-grader who explained that she had forgotten to pray about the event and asked if she could ânow.â

The teacher could have admonished her for not using her âmoment of silenceâ productively, but she had probably been praying daily herself since August, so she told her she could have an extended âmoment.â

Well, the other kids realizing what was going on decided that maybe they should join her (it sure couldnât hurt). The teacher didnât expect her to get on her knees; desperate times call for desperate measures. And God is probably a little frustrated himself, because just when He got used to the whispered pleas using the word âTAAS,â we go and change it on him to âTAKS.â

And letâs not forget the strategy of promising an outrageous ârewardâ if they perform well. This is where we allow them a little sadistic payback to their principal by having him or her do something the students consider humiliating or embarrassing (I wonder what would happen if the teachers were allowed the input on that âreward?â).

Someone is going to have to shave or dye their hair, sleep on top of something like a light pole that we would never allow the kids to do (and yet somehow we are surprised when they attempt it after that), or kiss an animal that clearly hasnât given its consent.

I always feel for those pigs. Why not use a slobbering dog? At least they seem to be kissing back.

Iâm waiting for an administrator to hop on a Harley and try to make it jump a stack of practice books (students and principals donât try this at home). Sometimes the students are offered a very enticing reward if they score well, like a âfreeâ day where there is no TAKS-related instruction and they get to act like, well, kids. Only problem with that is the lag time from the day of the âpromiseâ to the actual play day is so long the students have forgotten it was an incentive.

Itâs like telling teenagers theyâll get cancer in 30 years if they smoke. Thereâs too much distance between the cause and effect for it to âstickâ as motivation. Skinnerâs mice proved if they donât get the cheese right away they become detached, apathetic or really, really angry.

And the stress their teacher is dealing with can spill over onto them as well. There are teachers who will tell them they will never leave their elementary school if they donât pass their tests (this conjures up an image of a 17-year-old getting on his knees to drink at the water fountain).

You might say that instilling fear is the worst tactic, but itâs hard to fault the teacher; after all, theyâve been told their job is in jeopardy if scores donât rise. Desperate times call for desperate measures.

Is it any wonder then that, by the age of 10, our students are petrified, paranoid and stressed regarding this test? Had The Daily News modified its student essay submission question to read âWhat has been your greatest fear in school?â the newsroom would have been inundated with letters referring to the TAKS test.

There wouldnât have been enough space for them, and your editor would have gotten sick of reading them, because they would say the same thing over and over.

Donât get me wrong, I donât blame the schools for throwing everything theyâve got against this one. The stakes are high. I just dislike the emotional toll itâs taking on the stakeholders.

Any teacher or administrator will tell you that one test does not adequately measure the aptitude of a student nor does it reflect an entire staffâs worth in delivering instruction. If these were widgets we could control the outcome. We would make perfect molds to pour them in and they each would come out uniformly perfect. But this is human capital and therein exists the complex and multidimensional challenge.

For one thing, we canât control all the variables that play into an ideal testing environment. You see, on test day, we canât control the fact that one of our testers was incestuously abused the night before, was sleep deprived because of it and couldnât stomach breakfast as a result of it. So all we can do is greet them, seat them, and start reading the test exactly as itâs scripted.

And inevitably, in spite of all the hard work and dedication, the staff will blame themselves (or someone else will) if the âwidgetâ isnât up to par.

So whatâs a state to do? Complaining to Austin is as useless as sprinkling herbs on your low-fat cottage cheese celery stick and believing it will taste like a buttered, garlic breadstick. Itâs futile ⦠give it up.

Until the majority of people with the power to create an accountability plan have a veteranâs background in K-12 classroom experience, this will continue to be the only game in town, however, there is a breaking news flash.

The âfatherâ of the stateâs public school accountability system, Sen. Bill Ratliff (now retired), has finally confessed what most of us knew all along: âItâs cumbersome and nobody can understand it.â He goes on to say that after 15 years âitâs time to wipe the slate clean and start overâ (you think?).

I guess we should just be grateful it only took him 15 years to figure this out.

I donât have the answers, but I do know one thing. If that booklet ever does become a living, breathing being and manages to somehow escape from the double, double top-secret vault itâs stuffed in, it wonât stand a physical chance against the third-graders of Texas. These kids have been brewing up a serious can of Whip A since they were 5, and frankly, thatâs one smackdown I wouldnât mind seeing.

Cheryl E. Odom, a new teacher supervisor, lives in Dickinson.

— Cheryl Odom
The Galveston County Daily News


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