No Child Left Behind testing is changing our schools
Ohanian Comment: Educators need to stop saying they 'have no trouble with accountabiity.' They especially need to stop saying that with more money they could do what the Feds want.
by John Q. Murray
After the first six years of No Child Left Behind, local educators say students spend so much time taking tests or preparing for tests that they are cutting back in other areas, including recess.
One superintendent would like to see a longer school year to compensate for the changes.
"We were either testing, or we were getting ready for the next test, the entire month of March," said St. Regis superintendent Becky Aaring. "That's a whole month out of the school year, with everybody living and breathing tests, students spending the entire morning in testing.
"They worry on one hand about students progressing, but you take that much time out of the school year--it doesn't make sense," she said. And that doesn't count the amount of time teachers spend preparing students for Montana's No Child Left Behind tests. "It's just a huge time commitment. It doesn't do much for improving achievement," she said.
It has certainly changed the way elementary school teachers approach their classrooms, said Superior Superintendent Bill Woodford.
"We're not necessarily teaching to the test, but we're certainly teaching to those subjects. If we're going to be held accountable in reading and math, that's where we focus our emphasis in instruction," he said.
The tradeoff is that other fun areas for kids are no longer part of the equation, he said.
"They're spending so much time worrying about math, reading, and soon science and social studies, that it takes away from the other disciplines--art, library science. There are even schools moving away from recess time because it's not time on task. When do kids get to be kids? I think that's sad," he said.
All of the superintendents said they had no problem with accountability, but that they needed more funding to carry out the federal mandates.
"I truly believe that we need to raise the standards, I have no problem with that," said Becky Aaring, in St. Regis. "There needs to be more funding to help districts, and they need to figure out a way to make it simpler for the little districts. The law is designed for the large school districts."
Becky said she liked Linda McCulloch's idea of focusing on a single area, but said if she had the ability to choose the single subject for St. Regis, she would choose to focus on math. St. Regis received a Reading Excellence grant a few years ago which helped improve reading district-wide, starting in grades K-3 and then expanding through sixth grade. The district is just launching a similar focus for a new math program for grades K-5. "That is definitely our next big push," she said.
The challenge in emphasizing math is not to lose the great progress made in reading. "That's something you have to be careful about," she said. "I've seen that happen. One area is extremely strong, you refocus energies into another area, and then the other area is going to go down. That's something we absolutely don't want to have happen."
While some schools are extending their school days, all St. Regis students--including the kindergarten students--already have a long school day, from 9:05 to 3:51. "But when you look at the amount of time the teachers spend in reading and math at the elementary, it's not too long of a day in that regard," she said.
Becky said although her teachers might not agree, she would like to see a longer school year.
"I think if you had a longer school year, say 220 days, with breaks in the middle of it, it would be better for the kids and better all around," she said. The kids might not forget as much over the long summer vacation and would not need as much review at the start of the next school year.
With the requirements of No Child Left Behind for reading and math, and soon science and social studies, then add Indian Education and music and P.E./Wellness, it's getting harder and harder, she said.
"It would be nice if the state recognized a longer school year," she said. "The stakes are awful high."
John Q. Murray
Clark Fork Chronicle
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