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NCLB Outrages

No Child Left Behind, WASL punish teachers, needy students

Ohanian Comment: Washington state taxpayers should think about what one billion dollars could buy for their children--besides a very dubious high stakes test. Residents of other states should think about what their dubious high stakes test costs.

by Susan Kane-Ronning

Students around the state are taking the Washington Assessment of Student Learning (WASL) this month. Synchronized in every school to avoid cheating, students in third grade through tenth grade must pass the test before they can graduate from high school. A requirement of the No Child Left Behind Act, the state must make sure students are meeting proficiency in reading, math and science.

The WASL is costly for the state to implement. Our state has spent more than $1 billion on the WASL, and about $1.6 million to pack and ship the test each year. That doesn’t include district costs to provide remediation classes, and extra teacher and staff time. More than $130 million has been spent on publishing companies to develop, administer, and score the WASL since 2001.

No Child Left Behind is based on the mandatory testing President Bush implemented when he was governor of Texas. When Bush touted his educational successes, he forgot to mention the 135,000 dropouts Texas loses every year, directly related to state testing requirements. In Washington state, the class of 2008 has 17,000 fewer students than when those students were ninth-graders.

Minority and poor students are hardest hit by high-stakes testing like the WASL. Forty-five percent of Native American students, 41 percent of special education students, 40 percent of Latinos, 39 percent of African-Americans, 36 percent of English language learners and 35 percent of low-income students are not scheduled to graduate with their class of 2008. That’s a considerable number of ill-equipped youth looking for jobs in a shrinking living-wage economy.

No Child Left Behind is punitive and biased. Teachers who must spend extra time teaching the alphabet and early literacy skills won’t get their students to proficiency as quickly as teachers whose students enter with school readiness. Some students come to school without breakfast, without knowing how to hold a book and without enough sleep because of alcoholism, domestic violence and other home issues that impede learning.

No Child Left Behind aims for 100 percent student proficiency by 2014. Schools are held accountable with sanctions if students don’t meet proficiency. Students new to the U.S. are given one year before taking the reading and writing WASL, and have to take the math portion regardless of English skills.

More than five languages are spoken in some Whatcom County schools, with free and reduced lunch rates near 80 percent, while others have rates as low as 15 percent. Schools with higher rates of free and reduced lunch, poverty and minority students will be subjected to more sanctions than their counterparts in affluent schools with Caucasian students.

We’re holding teachers responsible for student learning and punishing them when test scores aren’t high enough. No Child Left Behind doesn’t fix society’s woes or even acknowledge them, while it holds teachers and schools accountable instead. It doesn’t create smaller class sizes, the one thing that will make a difference. Imagine sanctioning medical doctors and dentists if their low-income and rural patients had higher rates of illness or cavities, while medical care providers from urban and affluent areas received awards because their patients met a set standard of health.

Teachers have been forced to limit their curricula, limiting creative lessons that capture students’ attention and interest. Teachers are forced to teach toward the test, and students are learning to care only about what is on the test. Emotional, social and character development has gone by the wayside.

Students come to school as a complete package, and leave high school the same way. Emphasizing academics over student well-being doesn’t adequately prepare students.

It’s important to measure basic skills, especially in reading, writing, and math. Students should graduate with skills to be employed and good citizens. However, assuming all students are capable of learning the same ignores the unique needs of a diverse population. It forces students to drop out of school, contributing to unemployment and increased crime.

Due to low passing rates, the math portion of the WASL is no longer required for graduation. No Child Left Behind is up for renewal this year, and meaningful changes probably won’t be made. As with most bad legislation, the pendulum will have to swing far to one side before reaching middle ground.

In Texas, schools have pep rallies to motivate for state testing. Students make pledges to pass the test and be “exemplary.” Imagine what students who don’t pass the test feel like.

Susan Kane-Ronning is a Bellingham psychologist.

— Susan Kane-Ronning
Bellingham Herald


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