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NCLB Outrages

Just Saying No

Ohanian Comment: Something's happening. Not only the resistance but the public acclamation of the resistance. Doug Ward's story is being told-and celebrated-- in a number of North Carolina newspapers. When Don Perl refused to give the test in Colorado years ago, he was ahead of the times. Way ahead. But now the times seem to be ready for teachers to stand up and say No! No, they aren't going to do something they know harms children.

A Cullowhee Valley School teacher seeks public awareness on the perils of testing after being suspended for not giving an end-of-grade test to students with severe disabilities.

By Michael Beadle

Doug Ward had just received his masterâs degree from Western Carolina University â a degree that would give him a specialty in teaching children with severe disabilities.

But now this third-year teacher at Cullowhee Valley School in Jackson County has lost the job he loves because he refused to give a state-mandated test to his students with disabilities.

Ward was suspended with pay last week, and Jackson County school administrators will investigate his case â by law, for up to 90 days. In the meantime, another teacher has replaced Wardâs role to administer the NCEXTEND1 test to his students.

So why all the fuss?

Under state and federal guidelines, teachers are ordered to give end-of-grade tests in North Carolina public schools, so to refuse is basically breaking the law â âinsubordination and being a disruptive influence,â according to school officials.

But having become all too familiar with the high-stakes testing of the federally mandated No Child Left Behind legislation and North Carolinaâs testing program known as the ABCâs of Education, Ward felt that he couldnât put his students through the ordeal of taking a test that, in his words, âdoes not provide an opportunity for students to show whether they have made progress during the school year.â

The test is set toward students with higher-functioning disabilities, Ward explained, so some of his severely disabled students probably would have failed the it. This, he reasoned, could have put the school at risk of missing the federal testing goal of average yearly progress, or AYP. Miss AYP for multiple years, and a school can lose federal funding and be taken over by a team of new administrators â affectionately called a âSWAT teamâ by some educators. Plus, as an additional penalty, schools can lose students, as parents can opt to send their children to another school. With so much riding on the tests, itâs not surprising that teachers, staff and students get stressed out by the end of the year.

Cullowhee Valley School, which includes about 700 students from kindergarten through eighth-grade, met its AYP in 2006-07 but missed it in 2005-06. The way the No Child Left Behind law is written, even if a school misses just one of its 17 goals (which include test scores, student attendance and graduation rates), then the school is considered âfailing.â

Doug Ward felt like it was time to make a stand against what he saw was an invalid test and an unjust system.

âI felt like I had an obligation to do it,â Ward said, adding that he was particularly inspired by his own fifth-grade students, who had recently offered him insights on the benefits and practices of including students with disabilities with âregularâ classmates. Ward used his studentsâ comments in a panel discussion on inclusion that meets several times a year at WCU. His students have also been studying the Civil Rights Movement and cases of discrimination and civil disobedience this year, and suggested that students with disabilities needed a kind of Rosa Parks or Martin Luther King Jr. to make a stand in the face of inequality.

After explaining his reasons for refusing to give the test in a May 12 email to Jackson County school officials, including Principal Nathan Frizzell and Superintendent Sue Nations, Ward was called into Frizzellâs office the next day and asked to reconsider his decision. When Ward declined, he was told to pack up his things and head home that same day â suspended with pay. Nations declined to give specifics on the matter, as personnel issues are confidential, but she did say all Jackson County School Board members have been notified about the situation.

Nations acknowledged she didnât feel the need to go around to other schools in the district to thwart any other would-be test-protesters.

âTeachers have duties and responsibilities that they have to fulfill,â she said, adding that under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, schools are required to test all students, regardless of their disability.

For the record, Ward doesnât harbor any resentment towards the school system. After initially being anxious about his situation, he went home, took a long hike and came to terms with his decision.

âI knew that there were going to be consequences,â he said. âItâs not following orders.â

A cult hero

But this one defiant act has led to a flurry of emails, phone calls, newspaper and TV interviews, a YouTube video, and scores of responses â mostly applauding him for having the courage to reject what many in public education argue is a broken law that burdens schools with an underfunded mandate that creates unrealistic testing pressures throughout the year.

Many critics of No Child Left Behind, including presidential and congressional candidates campaigning in this yearâs election, say the law needs either a major overhaul or utter obliteration, as it is up for reauthorization in Congress this year. President Bush and his Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings both maintain NCLB needs to be kept intact and reauthorized.

âWe need to be accountable,â Nations said, adding that a yearâs worth of growth in a yearâs time is a reasonable goal to strive for.

But Nations sees some flaws with the law â particularly the âall-or-nothingâ measure in which schools must pass all 17 goals or be labeled as a failure. Plus, thereâs a directive in the law which states that all schools must have every single student â regardless of ability or individual circumstance â to be at or above grade level in math and reading by the year 2014.

Children grow and develop at different levels, Nations added, and the law takes a one-size-fits-all approach.

Advocates for the law say it has put more emphasis on raising standards, gives parents an annual âreport cardâ for schools, and aims to close the achievement gap between minorities and white students.

However, more than 135 national civic, labor, education and advocacy groups from across the nation have signed a statement calling for an overhaul to NCLB. Among the complaints â teachers are forced to teach to the test, narrow the curriculum to only tested subjects, and devote less class time to subjects such as social studies and the arts that are not tested under NCLB. Critics also note that despite the testing focus, test scores really havenât risen that much across the board in the last several years since the law was enacted in 2002. In fact, in some grades â eighth grade, for example â test scores in reading actually dropped 2 percent during the years of No Child Left Behind.

With a lame duck President and a hotly divided Congress, most experts agree that major legislation changes will be put off until after the election. In the meantime, the high-stakes testing continues.

âTo me itâs disgusting that itâs gotten to this point,â Ward said.

The way Ward sees it, it shouldnât have to take a teacherâs firing to show state and federal policy makers that the No Child Left Behind legislation needs to be changed.

Some critics of Wardâs action might argue that he could have followed a more law-abiding route by writing to legislators to change the laws concerning testing.

Ann Franklin, who serves as a legal counsel for the North Carolina Association of Educators in Western North Carolina, is a former teacher who may personally applaud Wardâs actions but would not professionally support him to block the law by refusing to give the test.

âIt is a courageous act,â she said. However, she added, âI could never advise somebody to go against the law.â

Instead, Franklin suggests that educators should get in touch with their legislators to change the laws.

But Ward did exactly that.

âI did try that route, and I got nowhere,â he said.

YouTube protest

In addition to the email sent to Jackson County school officials, Ward posted a YouTube video in which he shows a graph on a white board to pinpoint the absurdities of No Child Left Behind goals and standardized testing.

In the video, he recalls one particular student who inspired him.

âI have one young lady who said, âYou know, at the beginning of the year, I worked with your student, and I helped him out in music ... and some of the other kids made fun of me .... I didnât care because I knew what I was doing was right, so I went ahead and helped him.â And she said, âYou know, now after the year and everybodyâs been with him, I donât have anybody making fun of me anymore.â And that really showed how one personâs standing up could make a difference.â

The YouTube video has garnered dozens of responses, and last weekâs Asheville Citizen-Times story on Wardâs dismissal generated more than 100 responses, including emailed comments from as far away as Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, and Missouri.

âItâs really been great because I didnât know what to expect,â Ward said. âAnd parents have been really supportive too.â

At this point, Ward is weighing his career options as to whether heâll be teaching in public schools or going into the mental health field.

Having first pursued a degree in business back in Ohio, he found his passion in helping people after working in a group home for children with autism.

âI love teaching but I would really like to make an impact on more people,â he said. âIâm sure itâll work out for the best.â

Doug Wardâs letter

JCPS Administration,

I have been very concerned about the way the NCEXTEND1 has been designed for this year. It has been designed so that in order to pass you must be in the very highest developmental level (symbolic) in order to have a chance to receive a passing grade. Those students at the lowest developmental level (pre-symbolic) are tested at a level often years beyond their development or a level that they may never achieve due to the extent of their disabilities.

One of my co-teaching settings is a 5th grade class of âlowâ level readers. We have challenged them with some more difficult texts which required a higher level of comprehension. We have focused on issues of prejudice and discrimination through several of the texts and news articles we have used for teaching concepts. Due to having a student with a severe disability included in their class, they tied the issues of race discrimination that we read about to the disability discrimination which is unfortunately still a huge societal problem.

Wardâs letter continues online at www.smokymountainnews.com

Different aspects of full inclusion were the focus of all my research in my federal grant graduate program for Special Education for students with severe disabilities (from which I just graduated). I also participate in inclusion panels for classes over at WCU several times a year. For my latest one, I had the 5th grade students make up a list on a poster board of what we have done that worked and what we could do better concerning inclusion for ALL students to share with the WCU class. I was amazed and extremely proud to see the high level of their critical thinking skills as they made the list, particularly in what we could do better. Many of their ideas, though expressed in their own words, matched up with the latest research into best practice for facilitating inclusion for students with severe disabilities. These included: the needs for more pre- and in-service training on full inclusion for all teachers; disability awareness training for students and faculty; and cross-age and class-wide peer tutoring as a tool for facilitating full inclusion.

I taught a follow-up lesson the next week sharing how blown away the WCU students, the professor, and the other members of the panel were by their ideas on the poster board. We then had small and large group discussion along with a writing assignment on why and how inclusion should continue. We also discussed their full inclusion experiences over the past year and what they had learned from them.

I was moved greatly by a student who talked about working with the student with a severe disability at the beginning of the year in music and in Reading, and how other students made fun of her for doing it. She said that no one makes fun of him or her anymore and now many others want to help and talk to him now. This was incredibly moving and caused me to get quite choked up! We then were able to talk about how one person can take a stand and help make a difference in our world! Several students said we need to change the whole world to a place where people with disabilities are treated equally and given equal opportunities both in school and the community. They brought up Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King as parallels to what was needed for people with disabilities.

There was also a student who suggested that what we really needed was an EOG that tested how well you treated people who were different than you, because that was as important or more important than learning Reading, Math, and Science. So, it is with the inspiration and courage shown from these students that I have decided that I will not participate in the NCEXTEND1 testing of any students here at Cullowhee Valley School. I know this risks my current and future opportunities in the field of education, but I feel that it is important that I âpractice what I teachâ and what I learn from all the students I have worked with.


It is dishonest for me as a teacher to give my students a test which they cannot pass. This test is not a valid test as it does not provide an opportunity for students to show whether they have made progress during the school year or not. Therefore, I must be a conscientious objector.

There is a need to have media attention on this issue to provide âcoverâ for teachers around the state. Many teachers will have similar classes with students with profound disabilities whose students are all guaranteed to fail. The reality is that many of these teachers will be teachers without tenure who may receive negative repercussions including not having their contracts renewed for having all low test scores.

If a school is barely over their AYP goal before NCEXTEND1 scores come in, and then the failing scores shift the school below AYP; this could lead to the Special Education teacher and students becoming the scapegoats. (This is an unfortunate reality due to school politics, special education sub group scores, and the incredible pressure on administrators for good test scores.) I feel it is important for these teachers to have a resource available for them to show their administrators that âthe test was so fixed, that this other teacher refused to give itâ. I would hate to see good, young teachers be run out of or run away from teaching because of having to give a test their students were guaranteed to fail!

Thank you,

Doug Ward


Cullowhee Valley School

— Michael Beadle
Smokey Mountain News


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