Wednesday, May 16, 2012

No Child Left Behind: An Oxymoron

The No Child Left Behind Act was authorized in 2001.  I'm sure I didn't give it much of a thought at the time.  I was still a year away yet from having Dylan and, having been a straight-A student, I automatically assumed any child of mine would follow a similar path.

Jump forward a decade and NCLB has our family shaking in our boots.  In Louisiana, Dylan is in his critical LEAP (Louisiana Educational Assessment Program) year.  He took the LEAP tests in English language arts, math, science, and social studies about a month and a half ago.  He, along with the rest of the fourth and eighth grades, will get their scores on Friday, which also happens to be the last day of school.

If Dylan does not score well enough, he will be referred to summer school, from what I understand.  (Never mind that we have necessarily scheduled him for summer camp, which must be done in March or April in order to ensure availability.)

I'm guessing that he would take some sort of make-up test at that point.  If he does not take summer school or does not pass the make-up test, he would repeat fourth grade.

That's right, he would be left behind.

The theory behind NCLB is not bad, it's the execution is horrible.  The act was supposed to ensure that we didn't have kids graduating high school who couldn't read or add.  Changing that scenario was a worthwhile goal.

But giving fourth graders high-stakes tests that make or break their young academic career is insane.  Worse, if after a year of fourth grade they haven't learned the content of the test, they essentially have to repeat the scenario that obviously didn't work the first time.

Summer school, if done right, could make a difference.  If, instead of teaching kids in the same way they were in the school year, summer school teachers approached each child's learning individually and taught in the way that they learn best, it could improve their learning and, in effect, undo an ineffective year of education.  

I wish I had faith that that was what summer school was like.

My other problem with high-stakes testing is that it's entirely unreal.  Very little in the testing program flows naturally with what's covered in class.  The test is dry, vanilla, antiseptic.  Multiple choice, fill in the bubble, pick the right answer.  Supposedly, info in, info out.

At Dylan's school, they had after-school classes twice a week to prepare for LEAP.  Isn't it supposed to assess what they learn in class?  Shouldn't the answers come naturally for most students, if, indeed, the tests measure the curriculum being taught?  Apparently not.

There is a portion of the test that asks more open-ended questions.  This is the part of the test that worries me most for Dylan.  His dysgraphia is truly debilitating.  He completely freezes when he has to write more than a word (and sometimes even that gets him).  

So much of the angst and stress could be avoided, in my opinion.  Assessments can and should be given, but they should be used as barometers of a class and of a child.  If a child is falling behind, he should automatically get direct attention to find out why and how the school can address it, whether it's through small group teaching, individual tutoring, alternatives to traditional instruction, etc.  

Regardless, fourth graders should not feel the pressure of a high-stakes test. No child should have to worry about being left behind.

An addendum:  (And sorry it has taken me nearly a week to add it.)  Dylan passed!  Let the drums roll!  Let the trumpets sound!  What. A. Relief!  He passed all four subjects, three in the basic (at grade level) category and one in mastery.  As happy as I am, I still think this level of high-stakes testing for fourth graders is just wrong.  It's like using a snow shovel to dig a whole in a small flower pot.   

1 comment:

  1. Hey, you just commented on a post of mine on a mom's view, so I had to come see the person living my life :)

    I so agree about these damn tests for elementary kids. I have some kids that do great on them, and some that don't. It doesn't correlate to their brain power necessarilly, and it shouldn't even matter, if no child will be left behind. Ugh. I'm sorry y'all are going through this.