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NCLB Outrages

A Noteworthy Teacher Speaks Out

Ann O'Halloran, the 2007 Massachusetts History Teacher of the Year, followed up her comments at the Milton Town Meeting by sending Gov. Patrick the following letter. Kudos to a teacher who has received such commendation for speaking truth to power.

by Ann O'Halloran

Good Morning, Governor Patrick,

Thank you for putting so much time and effort into the Town Meetings. It was
really informative and enjoyable to listen to you and the other speakers. I
was grateful for the opportunity to address the crucial high-stakes testing
issue in response to the Readiness Report.

You mentioned Monday evening those teachers who really get involved in the
lives of their students. Sadly, one of the losses of MCAS is the mindset
that students should be seen as unique. Much as we would hope never to see
neglect in our schools, it is neglectful when teachers are expected to get
those scores up and let everything else be secondary. Many teachers are
still valiantly trying to keep education as a child-centered endeavor, both
here in Massachusetts and nationally.

The effects of MCAS testing began concerning me as the numbers of tests
increased, up to nine for fifth graders, the media attention became
frenzied, real estate values were advertised on the basis of test scores,
the tests came earlier and earlier in the school year (now beginning in
March), and the MCAS requirement for graduation came into effect.

An unsettling "new reality" came into most Massachusetts schools. I realized
I needed to know much more about NCLB, high stakes testing and the
"realities" of "reform."

Since then I have read over twenty books on school testing, educational
history - including various "reform" movements and vast amounts of
research, attended lectures and followed schooling in America as
newly-defined in the media and on the internet, and spoken with dozens of
teachers. So when I speak of issues, it is from the perspective of a
student of high stakes testing, as well as professional educator. My
concerns are the issues of high stakes testing as general phenomena here and
in America's schools.

If you could just sit in a room with ten or twenty teachers - those of us
who actually have to participate in the MCAS process, you would be very
shocked to hear what the testing actually means "on the ground." Speak with
those of us who have no "horse in the race" - no agenda of self-advancement
- and listen to the reality of what is happening in the schools, in general.
I'm speaking of a conversation with those of us who have been giving these
tests for the ten years since they began.

There is so much more to the high-stakes testing saga. The narrowing of the
curriculum is a reality in many schools and it is most intense in those
communities which are struggling with education and poverty and
discrimination. The effects of the pressures on teachers to produce scores
are palpable, at times crushing. There is often injustice for students with
special needs, challenging home or health situations, or from racial or
ethnic groups which have not had open access to educational opportunity.

To maintain focus on real learning in the classroom when schools must
basically "shut down" for so many days of testing during the months of
March, April, May and June, is a challenge in itself. By "shut down" I would
cite as examples, libraries, offices and other spaces closed for service so
that students with special needs can receive proper accommodations such as
one-on-one testing, extended time for testing, etc. Specialists such as
special needs teachers, speech/language, occupational therapy, literacy
staff must be utilized to provide those special accommodations. Since they
can't be two places at one time, other special education services may be

Perhaps the very worst effect is portraying to children that learning is not
about seeking knowledge for understanding. It is not about curiosity and
problem solving. It is not learning to change the world. Rather the false
image of learning as successful scores on tests has taken over many schools.

Again, a heartfelt thank you for your respect and time at the meeting in
Milton. I have attached a copy of my statement. Ann B. O'Halloran,

— Ann O'Halloran


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