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NCLB Outrages

No Child Left Behind limits learning

There is a lot of solid information packed into this op ed. It is a model for others to do likewise in their local papers.

By Priscilla Shannon Gutiérrez

With the reauthorization of No Child Left Behind looming in the near future, legislators and school administrators would do well to sort through the myths and facts being bandied about by its proponents, and to consider some important issues that are quite frankly missing from the debate.

Recently, the U.S. Department of Education touted the impressive gains on the National Assessment of Educational Progress as proof that NCLB is working. Missing from this rosy picture is the fact that the impressive gains on NAEP were made prior to the implementation of No Child Left Behind.

Actual data from NAEP scores post-NCLB demonstrate that reading ability in students remains flat, and that the achievement gap between minorities and the majority population is increasing.

Given the high stakes surrounding the mandated testing under NCLB and the sanctions for districts who do not meet Adequate Yearly Progress, more and more states are opting to lower the cut-off scores for proficient status.

Thus, states who tout rising proficiency levels are in fact lowering the bar in order to make AYP. The disparity between the national assessment scores and state test scores bears this out. Moreover, increasingly the content of standardized testing is becoming the school curriculum â pushing out of education any subject that isn't tested under NCLB.

Finland, the country that consistently ranks as the highest achieving in the world, focuses primarily on local assessment, which includes research projects, science investigations and mathematical models. Their curriculum focuses on the development of critical thinking skills and the ability to apply knowledge to real life situations. Virtually all high-achieving countries prohibit the use of assessment to punish schools or rank students. Rather, the data is used to evaluate curricula, design professional development for teachers, and to help schools improve â a far cry from the punish-and-destroy approach of No Child Left Behind.

A comparison of a high-school science test item between the United States and Australia, another high-performing country, markedly illustrates why NCLB has us headed down the wrong path.

While our 12th grade NAEP assessment asks students to select which two elements are found in the Earth's atmosphere from a multiple-choice list, students in Australia are given a description of a how a particular virus works. Students must then design a drug to kill the virus, explain how the drug works â complete with diagrams â and then to design and describe an experiment to test whether their drug will actually kill the virus. Whereas we require students to briefly think about science, other countries require students to think like scientists.

Recent scandals surrounding the Department of Education's Reading First Program further illustrate how off-base the United States is â and how complacent we've become. In order to receive funding to purchase reading programs, states have to apply for grants from Reading First. Officials responsible for approving grants were found by the Government Accountability Office to be pressuring states to adopt particular curricula in the name of scientifically based approaches. Disturbingly, the officials who were deciding whether grants would be approved were in fact the authors of the reading programs or had financial ties to the programs being forced on states. Moreover, it said officials also had ties to the multi-billion dollar testing industry tied to NCLB, specifically the DIBELS test, which also was forced onto most states.

Teachers who are required to give this test will tell you what a monumental waste of time it is and how little valuable information is gleaned from having students spit out nonsense words at a fast pace or bark out sight words as an indicator of comprehension ability.

Yet, DIBELS is still being used to determine the failure or success of a student's reading ability. If we want to reclaim our position as the leader of the free world, we had better start asking legislators some hard questions about what the purpose of education is and how we can do a better job of preparing our students to be key players in the future. We need to look toward other countries who are making impressive headway and ask how we can incorporate some of their approaches into our own educational system.

We need to listen to our educators in the classroom. The narrow path NCLB is taking us down clearly is not the answer and will push us further back than we already are.

Santa Fean Priscilla Shannon Gutiérrez is an outreach specialist at New Mexico
School for the Deaf.

— Priscilla Shannon Gutiérrez
Santa Fe New Mexican


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