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NCLB Outrages

Teachers Need Role in Fixing No Child Left Behind

by Richard Ognibene

Question #1: Mrs. Smith and Mr. Jones both teach fifth grade. In May,
only 40 percent of Mrs. Smith's students passed the state's standardized
reading test, while 97 percent of Mr. Jones' students passed the same
test. Who is the better teacher? A) Mrs. Smith. B) Mr. Jones. C) More
information is necessary. If you picked "C," you understand the inherent
complexities of education.

Question #2: Mrs. Smith works in a high-needs district. In September,
most of her pupils read at a second-grade level, but through brilliant
pedagogical strategies and dogged determination, she brought all of her
class to a fourth-grade reading level or higher. Some of her students
managed to pass the state reading test; all of them showed tremendous
growth. Mr. Jones works in a more affluent district. In September, all
of his students read at a fifth-grade level and by May most of them read
at the sixth-grade level. Who is the better teacher?

According to the No Child Left Behind act, Jones is wildly successful as
his students have demonstrated adequate yearly progress. Smith is not so
fortunate. According to NCLB, she is an abysmal failure; her students
have not shown AYP (adequate yearly progress) and her school will lose
funding if this continues.

In a perfect world, every pupil would enter the classroom with
age-appropriate skills. However, as a teacher, I am acutely aware that
our world is far from perfect. My job is to welcome all of my students
and help them improve. I have no control over the skills they have as
they enter my room, but I have much to say about the skills they have
when they leave. By that standard, Smith should be recognized for her
outstanding work.

NCLB set out to close the achievement gap between successful and
struggling students; this is a noble, worthy goal. I applaud Congress
and President Bush for trying to raise educational standards.

Likewise, I embrace accountability for all teachers. However, if the law
is to achieve those goals, it must be amended to include more than
standardized tests. The only fair way to judge the success of a teacher
or school is to measure student growth over a defined period; that is a
complex task requiring more input than a single standardized test can
provide. As the law is currently written, too much gets left behind.

Creativity and excitement get left behind as teachers scrap innovative
lessons in favor of drill-and-kill teaching techniques. Immigrant
children and learning-disabled children get left behind as the law
forbids flexibility to meet their unique needs. Compassion gets left
behind as overstressed teachers lack time to nurture and love their
students. Struggling learners get left behind, as few want to risk
teaching them. School districts get left behind as teachers exit a
profession they once loved. These unintended results have had
deleterious effects on students and teachers alike. And they could have
been avoided had teachers been included in the crafting of NCLB.

Now, as NCLB comes up for reauthorization, it is essential that we do
not repeat this mistake. Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, D-N.Y., and Sen. Russ
Feingold, D-Wis., have introduced a bill called "The Teachers at the
Table Act." If passed, this law would have the secretary of education
establish an advisory committee of teachers to monitor the effects of
NCLB and report to Congress. All teachers on this committee would be
current or former teachers of the year for their respective states. If
we truly wish to reform education, it is time to include teachers in the

I believe that every facet of NCLB should be examined to see if it meets
two criteria:

<>- Does it improve my efficacy in the classroom?

<>- Does it allow me to treat my students humanely?

Using standardized tests to assess and improve instruction meets these
criteria; using them to punitively compare schools or teachers does not.
Using standardized tests as one of many methods of evaluation meets
these criteria; using them as the only measure of student achievement
does not. Using standardized tests to direct extra funds to our neediest
schools meets these criteria; using them to deny funds to our poorest
students does not.

If we want the Smiths of our country to continue teaching our neediest
kids, and if we want all our students to grow and thrive in the
classroom, we must bring teachers to the table and improve NCLB.

Ognibene is a teacher at Fairport High School and the 2008 New York
State Teacher of the Year.

— Richard Ognibene
Rochester (NY) Democrat and Chronicle


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