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NCLB Outrages

How is this 'no child left behind'?

Ohanian Comment: This mother's account is powerful and painful. It is a detailed record of institutional child abuse, brought to us by the federally mandated DIBELS. It shames the professionals who allow it to happen. This practice not only destroys the childhood of a little boy; it also destroys our very profession. It is long past time for teachers to take up the first part of the Hippocratic Oath: First, do no harm.

Guest Commentary by Holly Cooan

"Finally, summer is here!" says my son, with obvious joy. I, however, have mixed feelings. I am happy that my son is out of his second-grade class. But I am overwhelmed with the work I am facing. I never imagined our summer would be like this.

Two weeks before school was out, my son told me about another reading test he had taken. I was eager to hear his score. I thought this time would be it; he would make benchmark (grade level).

We worked hard all year, but he just couldn't quite do it at school. To get to benchmark, a child has to read so many words a minute and then retell so many words of the story. My son, though, was a nervous test-taker. When we did the same testing at home, he always scored above benchmark. But it was classroom testing that counted.

My son continued with his story about the test. "I had another reading test today, but I still didn't do good enough to get science class. I just can't read good!"

No, I thought. They would not withhold a subject. They wouldn't punish him like that! Certainly they would've told me, wouldn't they? Perhaps, I was misunderstanding.

The next day, I visited his teacher. My son was, in fact, correct. Apparently, Greeley-Evans School District 6 handed down a mandate at the beginning of the year: no science class for children who are not reading at benchmark. Instead, they will have extra lecture and education about reading, in addition to the already too long new literacy program lecture.

I don't know if you have witnessed the new literacy program, but I have, and it is hard on the kids -- dim lights, overhead projection and monotone lecture. Very boring. Some days when I volunteered, I was the literacy police. My job was to keep kids focused. Did I mention these are second-graders?

I spend hours every week in my children's classrooms, observing and assisting. I attend every parent-teacher conference and almost every school event. I know most of the staff by name. Now, here I sit, amazed that someone thought my son would benefit from additional lecture about vowels and not by reading a science book. Also, that there was absolutely no communication about this outrageous mandate.

It all makes sense now! While I watched my son struggle all year long thinking it was too much pressure to read faster, he was feeling like a failure. He lost his confidence. He felt punished for not reading "good enough." Every reading test he failed meant that much longer without science class. No experiments. No take-home projects. No fun science books like the smart kids. My son was excluded.

Summer is upon us. Third grade will start too soon. My son will be behind in reading and in science. Not to mention how his damaged self-esteem will negatively affect his learning.

So, thank you, District 6. Thank you for one heck of a school year and the unplanned damage control I'll be doing all summer.

Of course, I will try and undo all the damage second grade did to him. With a lot of positive reinforcement, I am hopeful he can get to "benchmark" before school starts. I may even be able to get a decent amount of science in. But I imagine he will be leery of third grade. I know I will.

Finally, I wonder how many other kids were made to feel like failures. How can this be "No child left behind"?

Holly Cooan is a mother of five children. She has lived in Greeley since 1996.

— Holly Cooan
The Tribune


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