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NCLB Outrages

Testing Woes Have Pupils, Schools Feeling Left Behind

Ohanian Comment: Leaving aside the atrocity of the testing itself, this is bureaucratic incompetence beyond belief.

Late-arriving tests and spring-fevered students have some teachers and parents worried schools won't be able to keep up with the federal No Child Left Behind law.

As many as half of Utah's 40 school districts have been receiving some tests for No Child Left Behind days or even weeks late, pushing testing in some cases to the week before school lets out for the summer a less than ideal testing period for students distracted by the end of school.

"Kids don't do as well at the end of the school year," Salt Lake Teachers Association President Elaine Tzourtzouklis said. "It's bothered the teachers. They feel like they're expected to get the testing done, and it's being pushed back to the end of school when kids don't do their best."

At issue are printing delays for Utah's core curriculum tests, or CRTs.

The CRTs show what kids learned in class all year. They are required for first- through 11th-graders in math and language arts, and fourth-graders on up in science, under the state's accountability system, U-PASS.

They also meet requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind Act. NCLB aims to have all students reading and doing math well by 2014 and measures school performance toward the goal through widely publicized "adequate yearly progress," or AYP, reports.

To achieve AYP, a school, and students grouped by race, income and disability, must do well or improve on tests. Also, 95 percent of students must take the exams. One bad mark on any requirement and the school fails to make AYP a designation that comes with sanctions for low-income schools, which receive special federal funding.

To prevent cheating and meet new curriculum standards, the State Office of Education redid every test this year, and as a result, had to print 800,000-plus exams, said state testing director Louise Moulding. Tests were sent to printers in October and November, but it turns out that didn't allow enough time, she said.

Printers met deadlines scheduled according to each school district's three-week testing windows.

Problem is, some deadlines reflected the wrong dates, Moulding said. Minor equipment failures made things worse.

"We know teachers are stressed, (but) we feel like we have the problem under control," Moulding said.

About two weeks ago, the state told school districts they could reset testing windows if they received late tests, Moulding said. The 19,000-member Utah Education Association passed the word to teachers.

Not everyone got the message.

At Red Rock Elementary in Moab, parent volunteers brought snacks on April 19, which was supposed to be test day, volunteer Marie Andrews said.

But the tests didn't make it in time.

"I don't think it's fair," Andrews said. "I don't know how we can point a finger and say, 'You're a failing school,' and we've had all these underlying circumstances this year on testing."

The state asked Salt Lake, Jordan and Davis school districts and Utah Correctional Facilities to help get tests printed, Moulding said. Most were done by Monday, when a handful of districts, including Jordan, Davis, Weber, Box Elder, Salt Lake City and Ogden, were waiting to receive third-grade language arts exams. Alpine also awaited a few pre-algebra exams.

Jordan District evaluation director Frank Shaw said the B track of year-round Jordan schools goes on break Friday and won't return until June 11. That essentially splits the testing window.

"If we don't get our third-grade testing materials . . . they most certainly will have to test the week they come back," Shaw said. "I don't think that would change the results, but teachers will tell you different."

Moulding apologizes for upsetting teachers with the delays. She urges them to try to set a calm tone in their classrooms.

"I'm begging teachers, do what you know how to do best: Influence students. Let them know they're prepared for the test, and hang in there. I think everything's going to be OK."

— Lisa Marie Miller
Deseret Morning News


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