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NCLB Outrages

Students pass state test, but at what cost to their education?

2006 National Distinguished Principal
David B. Root
Rocky River Middle School
Rocky River City School District
Rocky River, Ohio
david_root@admin.rockyriver.k12.oh.us

Describing his 11 years as principal of Rocky River Middle School, a suburban school serving 625 students in grades 6 to 8, David Root says, âThrough much hard work on the part of our teachers and students, we have consistently earned passing scores on state tests.â He is particularly proud of his staff, which includes 35 teachers with masterâs or higher degrees. A former teacher whom Root has mentored for five years recently was honored as Assistant Principal of the Year. Another honor was Rocky Riverâs recognition as a Blue Ribbon School of Excellence at both the state and national levels. Root heads a leadership team that constantly seeks to improve instruction and student learning. The school recently introduced an 80-minute block for math instruction and is in the process of realigning the science curriculum. An active intervention program includes after-school assistance four days a week, a weekly three-hour supervised session for students to make up missed assignments, and the use of high school students as tutors. Of his 23 years as principal of four middle schools, Root says, âI truly enjoy working with middle-level learners and cannot imagine doing anything else.â He holds a B.S., two M.S. degrees, and an Ed.D. from the University of Akron in Ohio.


by Regina Brett

The school report cards came out in June.

Rocky River Middle School passed the 2008 Ohio Achievement Tests, earned an Excellent rating from the state and met the requirements for Annual Yearly Progress.

For all of those accomplishments, Principal David Root has only one thing to say to the students, staff and citizens of Rocky River:

He's sorry.

Root wants to issue an apology. He sent it to me typed out in two pages, single spaced.

He's sorry that he spent thousands of tax dollars on test materials, practice tests, postage and costs for test administration.

Sorry that his teachers spent less time teaching American history because most of the social studies test questions are about foreign countries.

Sorry that he didn't suspend a student for assaulting another because that student would have missed valuable test days.

Sorry he didn't strictly enforce attendance because all absences count against the school on the State Report Card.

He's sorry for pulling children away from art, music and gym, classes they love, so they could take test-taking strategies.

Sorry that he has to give a test where he can't clarify any questions, make any comments to help in understanding or share the results so students can actually learn from their mistakes.

Sorry that he kept students in school who became sick during the test because if they couldn't finish the test due to illness, the student automatically fails it.

Sorry that the integrity of his teachers is publicly tied to one test.

He apologized for losing eight days of instruction due to testing activities.

For making decisions on assemblies, field trips and musical performances based on how that time away from reading, math, social studies and writing will impact state test results.

For arranging for some students to be labeled "at risk" in front of their peers and put in small groups so the school would have a better chance of passing tests.

For making his focus as a principal no longer helping his staff teach students but helping them teach test indicators.

Root isn't anti-tests. He's all for tests that measure progress and help set teaching goals. But in his eyes, state achievement tests are designed for the media to show how schools rank against each other.

He's been a principal for 24 years, half of them at Rocky River Middle School, the rest in Hudson, Alliance and Zanesville. He loves working with 6th, 7th and 8th graders.

"I have a strong compassion for the puberty stricken," he joked.

His students, who are 11, 12, 13 and 14, worry that teachers they love will be let go based on how well they perform.

One asked him, "If I don't do well, will you fire my teacher?"

He cringed when he heard one say, "I really want to do well, but I'm not that smart."

He wants students to learn how to think, not take tests.

"We don't teach kids anymore," he said. "We teach test-taking skills. We all teach to the test. I long for the days when we used to teach kids."

Unless we get back to those days, principals and teachers all over Ohio will continue to spend your tax dollars to help students become the best test takers they can be.
Categories: News Impact
Comments
hayesgriffin says...

I've got a solution to the "not having enough time" dilemma......summer break starts on July 3rd and runs until Labor Day.

The additonal month will let the teachers teach test taking skills as well as the liberal arts so as to round out our youngsters.


Posted on 07/22/08 at 4:31PM
lco says...

Hayesgriffin,

Good point. I've worked full-time nearly since my kids were born, and I've long felt that school schedules are antiquated. School schedules are still based on an agricultural calendar, where kids needed to be home during the summer to help out on the family farm. Most women, including most mothers of school-age children, work outside of the home now, and it is extremely difficult balancing all the time off from school with a full-time work schedule. Summers for me are the least problematic - there are plenty of summer camps around, it's the spring/Easter and winter/Christmas breaks that are difficult as far as child care goes.

I have mixed feelings about the proficiency tests however. On the one hand, if a child gets a high school diploma/gets passed on to a higher grade, it should be because they are qualified for it - it doesn't do anyone any favors to give a kid a diploma just for showing up to school. On the other hand, what good is it if kids are just memorizing facts, but not being taught to think critically?

I find it disturbing that the principal in this article couldn't suspend a kid for assault because the kid would miss part of the proficiency testing. I find it disturbing too that the school covered up absences to make it's attendance rates look better to the state. It makes me wonder how many other school districts are doing the same.
Posted on 07/22/08 at 4:45PM
hayesgriffin says...

Ico:

I agree with your assessment of the principal not suspending the child. What ever happened to people being held responsible for their actions?

Without knowing the specifics, if the child in question acted in a way that would merit a suspension at any other time of the year, then the suspension should take effect. If that forces the student to repeat the grade, which would be an extreme result, then so be it.

If the principal was forced politically to keep the student in school so as to take the test, then fine, suspend the child after the test period is over.

I was never suspended. I did spend 1 afternoon in detention after school in 7th grade. Guess what, I learned my lesson and chose to play within the rules society set up.

We are paying teachers and administrators for a years work. Without getting too high on my horse, we deserve a year's work.
Posted on 07/22/08 at 4:54PM
WalterLew says...

Regina you won�t find many workers who like being tested with the prospect of loosing their jobs if they fail. So either you�re using Principal David Root as a ploy to prop-up your own views, or you�re somewhat of a patsy for taking Root�s claims at face value.

There are many angles to testing as a remedy for the state compulsory schooling�s failure. But you�ve covered none of them. We come away from your article no better informed. Good thing you�re not tested.

How about a follow up article on roles that teachers� union, minorities, and the education bureaucracy played in the obvious failure of state education?

Your finish leaves us hanging, �Unless we get back to those days, principals and teachers all over Ohio will continue to spend your tax dollars to help students become the best test takers they can be.� Why should we pay to educate other people�s children, and why should we pay for the futility of trying to educate youngsters who don�t want to learn, or cannot learn?
Posted on 07/22/08 at 5:07PM
cleveland78 says...

I agree to a point that the school experience is becoming homogenized, but I am suspect of Regina Brett's motives. I see the test backlash movement originating in the teacher's unions as a way to fight the ever-increasing move towards performance measurement that the other 99% of the workplace adopted a long time ago. We had standardized tests when I was a kid, so they are not new. Accountability is the only thing that is new.
Posted on 07/22/08 at 7:10PM
eyeruggardo says...

Simone is the test
Posted on 07/22/08 at 7:51PM
krazyk47 says...

I don't have a problem with the tests, but why is it neccesary for the school to reprogram everything around succeeding on the test. Either the kid passes or he doesn't.

It seems to me like the districts are creating there own problems by trying to skew the outcome. These tests should just be honest evaluations, not propaganda for school districts.
Posted on 07/22/08 at 8:14PM
Jessica84 says...

Congratulation Regina your Sunday editorial made it to the American Renaissance web site, see here http://www.amren.com/mtnews/archives/2008/07/my_struggles_in.php
Posted on 07/22/08 at 8:15PM
JamesVIII says...

I hope I don�t fail my next DWI test and get my bar tender in trouble.
Posted on 07/22/08 at 8:17PM
hoipolloi says...

This principal is out of line. He writes a letter claiming he is "sorry" but the letter sounds like the sort of thing one of his middle school students would write, not an adult professional. I have gripes about my job and my own opinions about how things could be done better -- but if I wrote a letter like that and spammed my whole company with it I'd be in hot water and rightfully so.

He can weigh in on the relative merits of such testing, but this principal does not seem to realize that once laws were passed that mandated testing that this too became part of his job. Don't tell me you are sorry for doing a commendable job at what you are charged with doing. Tell me, ok, we did okay on these tests but it's not enough or we should be doing some other things as well. Save the melodramatic stuff for when you are dealing with the "puberty stricken."

Also, one tip -- you aren't going to convince too many people regarding testing if you don't try and address why testing was deemed needed in the first place.
Posted on 07/22/08 at 8:19PM
ge9327 says...

Surprise, surprise. A discussion gets started on standardized tests and automatically people complain about teachers, their salaries, and their work year. People quickly forget the honorable job teachers do simply because they have off for the summer.

There is a need for standardized tests because it is important that students have the knowledge and skills needed to be successful in a competitive world. However, I believe that the majority of the public does not fully understand all that goes into standardized testing as well as the value-added assessments that school districts will need to go through. I don't know about you, but when I was in third grade, I didn't have to take three, two and a half hour state assessments in reading and math. You can talk about the teachers and administration all you want, but think about those 8 years olds who have the pressure of these tests on their shoulders in October and again in May.
Posted on 07/22/08 at 8:24PM
nm68 says...

As a child and adolescent psychiatrist, I have witnessed the effects of high-stakes testing on almost all of my young patients, and it has not been pretty. Competent students have lost out on the opportunity to learn HOW to learn, and to learn how to LOVE learning, in order to make room for fill-and-drill worksheets aimed at improving test scores. My severely developmentally delayed kids have lost out the most, though, because even they are expected to "pass" all areas of the tests given. Goodbye, daily living skills activities (like cooking, learning how to do laundry, or ask for help), even though you have a full scale IQ of 50 and desperately need to know how to do the simplest of self-help tasks so that you won't be totally dependent on others. Hello incomprehensible work sheets.

Luckily, I have been able to afford to send my own children to private Montessori schools, so that they can learn to love knowledge without undue pressure, or the bribery (and shackles) of grades or punishments. However, most families cannot afford this real luxury. For progressive schools that are available to families with limited means, check out the Urban Community School, and the Intergenerational School. Both of these schools provide hundreds of Cleveland school children with the opportunity of a lifetime: to be nurtured by teachers who truly care about the whole child, without the stress of teaching to "the test". A very cynical part of me thinks that the untalked about motivation behind NCLB is to somehow "prove" that public education doesn't work, so that poor children will be forced to attend for-profit charter schools (the worst of which I shall not name but most people are well aware of).

— Regina Brett
Cleveland Plain Dealer
2008-07-22
http://www.cleveland.com/brett/blog/index.ssf/2008/07/students_pass_state_test_but_a.html


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