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Marlboro Playing by the Rules--For Now

Three cheers for school principal Francie Marbury for keeping the focus on whether the test is of value to children and their teachers.

MARLBORO -- For Marlboro Elementary School, the No Child Left Behind pilot exams went just as expected: they were time consuming and void of educational value, according to the school's principal.

The school, with a student body of about 70, has taken a stand against the No Child Left Behind law, which pressures public schools to improve yearly and relies heavily on standardized tests.

It took some debate for the school to go along with the practice exams, but school officials hope to buy time by playing ball for now. The tests were administered during the last week of October.

The school does not face any sanctions until it refuses to administer a test. The first federally mandated test is slated for next October.

Principal Francie Marbury said the questions on the tests were, for the most part, reasonable, though she heard the seventh-grade math test was difficult.

The school will not get the results back because they're only for practice.

"What we'll see is how the tests change on the basis of comments that were made and obviously on how well students do," she said.

Vermont public schools were required by state law to participate in the pilot exams. Next October, the tests will be official, and federally mandated.

One teacher reported to Marbury that the children immediately began discussing their answers after the instructions were read aloud.

In class students often work collaboratively, so it was "a natural response which I had to curb throughout the event," wrote the teacher, who administered the tests to third and fourth-graders.

The teacher wrote that, from looking over the test, two of the third-graders did "very well" and two would have done better had "I been able to redirect or clarify directions." Of the fourth-graders, four did very well and four did satisfactory.

"Again, most mistakes were not lack of knowledge but related to test-taking," the teacher wrote.

One of Marbury's fears about the law was the time it would consume preparing and administering the tests. But she said the school has gone through standardized tests before.

The teacher wrote that it took 35 minutes to get set-up, 60 minutes to begin and end each of the three test, 30 minutes to do the survey. There were also 20-minute discussion periods about the tests. Five hours and 45 minutes were spent of the school week administering the reading test.

Because of the tests, the students missed two literature groups, a nonfiction reading class, a math period and a meeting time, the teacher wrote.

Marbury said it's the school's small class sizes that allow it to be successful academically. The school has excelled in state-mandated standardized tests, and only a few townspeople have publicly opposed the school's stance on No Child Left Behind.

In May, the Marlboro School Board announced that the school would not administer any federally mandated standardized tests found to be void of educational value by Marbury, participate in the Adequate Yearly Progress portion of the law nor forward any information that's connectable to a student's name with risks of revealing sensitive family information.

Marbury said the tests were seemingly not created to educate; they were made for accountability. Her stance does not mean that she totally opposes assessments.

"Assessments can be educational when it's a performance assessment," she said.

Vermont Education Commissioner Richard Cate has said that he has no intention to flunk Vermont schools, but it's his job to enforce the new law. He's also said that students' names will not be traced to the exams.

— Mike Kalil
Brattleboro Reformer


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