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NCLB Outrages

Mandates cheat students, educators

Ohanian Comment: This is a fine editorial that explains the issue in terms the public can understand. Let's hope Georgia's Rep. Matt Ramsey (R-Peachtree City), a House floor leader, who filed a bill that would mean anyone who tampers with state tests would lose their pension, reads it.

There's a Facebook group Georgians Against Merit Pay.

By Mari Ann Roberts

I like to cook so I'm going to share a recipe with you.

Take one flawed, underfunded federal education improvement act, like No Child Left Behind, add increasing pressure on individual schools to meet "Adequate Yearly Progress," include some inane expectations that teachers can work miracles, sprinkle liberally with furlough days, suspended raises and budget cuts dating back to 2003 that will total more than $2.8 billion through the fiscal year ending next June.

And what do you get? Whatever it is, it can't be good.

There is no excuse for cheating. Let me be clear about that. Furthermore, there is no proof that the Georgia schools under question did actually falsify test results.

Nevertheless, if the schools currently under question by the Professional Standards Commission felt like they had to do something to ease the inordinate amount of pressure placed on them to increase the outcomes of their CRCT test results in 2008, then, as comedian Chris Rock often says, "I understand."

Individual schools, principals, teachers and students are placed under bone-crushing pressure to meet "adequate yearly progress" standards. This “progress” is expected to manifest despite the condition of schools, the morale of teachers or the amount of funding each individual school receives.

An educational philosopher, Nel Noddings, states, "All children can learn." Maybe --if they are not sick, suffering from a toothache, hungry, squinting to see the chalkboard, abused at home, breathing air contaminated with lead, worried about a parent in prison or serving as a caretaker for younger children. Schools cannot, by themselves, provide equal opportunity. Neither can schools, by themselves, ensure "adequate yearly progress." Yet, schools, and those in them, are the only ones who suffer if they do not.

And how is this "adequate progress" measured? By testing and retesting our children, often to the exclusion of things we all remember enjoying in school like recess, art and music. We must ask ourselves: What, after all, does a standardized test measure?

Do we want our children to learn to be critical, conscious thinkers or rote memorization machines? Do we want them to recognize the value of knowledge or, instead, to believe that the purpose of learning is to regurgitate what's been crammed in their heads for the CRCT or the Georgia High School Graduation Test?

Does a random evaluation of memorized facts teach our students how to be active, thoughtful and productive citizens? Does spitting out the date of the Civil War on cue help a child negotiate a contract, hold a conversation, keep a job or determine right from wrong?

I believe not.

Our children are being cheated. Cheated out of the chance to love learning for the sake of learning, the joy of personal achievement and the excitement of discovery. They are also being cheated out of the opportunity to think critically and problem solve.

Our teachers are being cheated; cheated out of the opportunity to teach, not teach to a test, or teach about a test, but to educate our youth and teach them to think about things that matter.

Principals are also being cheated. Instead of being out and about in the community communicating with parents, at a football game or in the hallway greeting and supporting students, they are, instead, burrowed away in small "war rooms" with reams of test data taped to all four walls, trying to come up with ways to increase standardized test scores so they can find equitable ways to implement a law that is very underfunded. If their schools do not make AYP there is a great chance they may lose their jobs.

Teachers and principals are often vilified in the media and made scapegoats by politicians and pundits who do not want to commit to the costly measures of real education reform: Those who do not want to pay the high cost of things that actually increase student achievement, like smaller class sizes, extracurricular activities, parental involvement programs or teacher aides. Instead we give tests; then place the blame for poor school performance on principals, teachers and students instead of looking at the actual culprit, which is, in part, the yearlong test prep our students are receiving in lieu of an education.

And now, with the punitive "pay for performance" suggestion by Gov. Sonny Perdue, the amount of pay a teacher receives could be influenced by these same standardized test scores. This in itself could be cause for even more widespread cheating! The very thought is ludicrous.

What if we insisted that doctors be paid based upon the relative health of their patients regardless of whether those same patients smoke, are overweight or have a prior illness?

This recent testing scandal, whether valid or not, alerts us to the enormous pressure that schools are under thanks to NCLB.

Hopefully, this questionable situation will serve as a wake-up call; give us an opportunity to re-evaluate what our children are learning and rethink how we evaluate teachers and schools. A great deal of pressure either creates a diamond or crushes the life out of something.

If we care enough to put forth the effort, perhaps we can stop crushing the life out of education and relieve some of the stress in the pressure cooker currently known as school.

Mari Ann Roberts teaches in the Department of Teacher Education at Clayton State University.

— Mari Ann Roberts
Atlanta Journal-Constitution


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