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Thursday, September 13, 2007

The Distorted Affects Of "No Child Left Behind" At My Daughter's School

Let me begin by stating that I am presuming that most people are aware that when Bush came in to office, one of his many promises was to improve education in the US, and what followed was the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB)

There are MANY regulations in the NCLB but for the purpose of what I want to write here, the portion of the act which ties federal education funds to school districts and schools within them
to test scores is pertinent. The bottom line is that each school must bring their own test scores (these are standardized tests given to all US public elementary students) up to a certain score or risk the loss of funds, the school being closed entirely, or being put on a watch list. Those are the basic facts. Each year schools MUST make improvements in testing or risk loosing funds. If you are above 800 (which my daughter's school is, only one point improvement is required each year. For those significantly lagging, larger improvements are mandated)

In an attempt to bring up school test scores a NUMBER of methods have been undertaken. Educational "gurus" toting their own "test score improvement" snake oils are making money hands over fists selling their products to desperate school districts. In the last three years I have been highly aware of just who these hawkers are in my youngest daughter's school district because I have sat on the School Site Council (each is at a particular school and is comprised of five parents and five teachers at my daughter's school) This is an elected position-however I will tell you, if you run for it, you're going to get the position because so few take the time to vote. In my case the principal asked me to serve the last half of another position which was vacated and I am now serving the last few months of my "elected" position on SSC. We are in charge of some discretionary funds (some of which go to the "gurus" and are also there to advise the principal on other matters as we see necessary-separate from the PTA which serves in the function to provide the "extras" for the students)

My daughter's elementary school has the top scores in our district, we are well above the 800 mark and are NOT in jeopardy of any kinds of sanctions, but some of the schools in our district have had to struggle. In a TOTALLY misguided attempt to bring the test scores up, on the advise of a hired "educational guru", last year the brainiacs at the School Board decided it would be a GREAT idea to hand out awards to individual students for their CONFIDENTIAL test scores. These scores are ONLY released to parents (by mail), kept on file by the state and to the individual schools where they go into each child's cumulative file. NO ONE but the principal and the teachers have access to those files. As a parent, I must sign a petition and make an appointment even to see my own child's cum file. I am taken into a room with the principal where I can view it. I am not allowed to photocopy although I may request photocopies of documents. In other words, these test scores (as well as other documents in the cum file) are LEGALLY confidential. HOWEVER, in a surge of "wisdom",the NCLB ACT allows these test scores to be used for awards which CAN be given publicly. I found this out after numerous phone calls to the STAR offices in Sacramento who at first were not even aware of this themselves, having been raised on the LONG standing confidentiality of these scores.

Last year was the first such "STAR awards assembly" at my daughter's school. Some how, don't ask me why, I was not aware of the assembly until the very last minute (one of those things NOT discussed at SSC and the slip going home with my daughter must have not made it to me.)
It was a HOT afternoon, 1:30, the children, some 250+ were led out to the grass, told to sit down and the program got underway (the school cafeteria was being used for something else)
Each child that got "advanced" in math was called up to receive their "advanced" award, the same for language arts and science (science is only tested in fifth grade-more on this later)
Each child that got above 490 (500 being perfect), was given a silver trophy for that category,
and a FEW, only three, received gold trophies for perfect STAR scores.

In addition, which is almost worse than giving these awards out which are based on CONFIDENTIAL test scores, additional "improvement" scores were given out. So some children received awards for having advance a category. Here's the thing, several children were given improvement awards but NOT advanced awards-the upshot is that you KNEW that before these children were in the "basic" category (if a whole school was in basic they would NOT meet the federal standards ) It is these children which quite frankly for statistical purposes, bring the overall school API scores down.

This is a WHOLE LOT OF INFORMATION which on any given day NO ONE else except for the parents, the principal and the teachers would have access to. But now EVERYONE attending that assembly, children and parents alike, know which kids are "advanced" which kids are "close to perfect" and which kids ARE "perfect"

Why is our school district doing this you ask? Because they think that if they hold out that award the children will do better on their testing. The problem is in the ALWAYS (prior to the NCLB Act) confidentiality of test scores. At the end of the assembly our principal stood up with a gold trophy in her hand and chanted, "Don't you ALL want this children? You CAN get it if you just GO FOR THE GOLD"!!

I was MORTIFIED by the entire spectacle which resulted in a crusade to get the school district to stop doing this. I found out several parents took their children home in order not to be subjected to this, both at our school and other schools within the district,but they all thought it was just an individual thing they could take care of. With the backing of SEVERAL teachers at my daughter's school who could not get involved for professional reasons, I argued til I was blue in the face. The result is paltry. This year all parents must sign an individual statement if their child's test scores can be used for public awards.

Now, let it be known, and I am writing here only because you need to know where I am coming from, my own daughter received high awards so it was NOT because I was resentful of her not receiving something or being humiliated. It is because my daughter's test scores are CONFIDENTIAL and so are every other child's. There were children sobbing on the grass that day who didn't receive awards and didn't even KNOW what their test scores were because often parents choose not to share them with their children and teachers CANNOT by law share them with the students. One child even threw up right there on the grass he was so upset. The school has gone OVERBOARD in pressuring these children when ironically our school isn't even in jeopardy!

The district also had plans on the table for each teacher to call each child in to discuss their test scores. That was SIMPLE to take care of, I showed them the law stating teachers CANNOT divulge test scores to ANYONE, including the children. Needless to say the school district was NOT happy and called an emergency session to address all these issues which resulted in NO teacher student discussion of test scores PER THE LAW-and the release form mentioned above that went home for this year. Why didn't my daughter's school district know the law?!! Why does this school district think this is OK?

In addition, now my daughter will not be receiving ANY awards publicly at the next trimester awards assembly-which include citizenship and other awards which include bodies of work, such as honor roll, student of the month, exempliary student award because I REFUSE to let her participate in an assembly which now includes this STAR testing award based again on CONFIDENTIAL test grades. Personally I don't think she OR I OR any others need to know who "improved" who is advanced, who is "almost perfect" OR who IS "perfect". It's NONE OF OUR BUSINESS!! And I would NEVER be allowed to even hear this information EXCEPT on that day!

There is another issue, and that is the science testing which only begins in fifth grade. At yesterday's SSC meeting I learned why the fifth grade gave up their LONG TIME state project and state fair assembly which the children looked forward to for years. A fifth grade teacher who sits on SSC said yesterday when I asked him why he told me "We had to bring our science scores up because they were so low (indeed they were) so we have decided to focus almost entirely on Science, Language Arts and Math, although Social Studies may be "fun" it's not used in the real world whereas the other subjects are."

I COULD NOT BELIEVE IT. So now the fifth grade at my daughter's school has decided that yes, because it is mandated by law to learn the 50 states and their capitals he told me they WILL teach that and a lesson here or there, but the test scores are what is most important and social studies isn't tested. He's right, Social Studies isn't tested. And people wonder why American students are SO ignorant about the world....just look to your NCLB Act for the answer!

One more note, yesterday it was brought up, there is a large differential on test scores along ethnic lines which NEEDS to be addressed. We decided to hand out at back to school night a questionnaire concerning homework practices, how much time do you spend with your child and other such pertinent questions to try to get at the root of it and see what we as a school can do.
Believe it or not, the principal said, "Well, I'll give you the statistics when I'm done with them but I can't give out any individual information because that is confidential " OF COURSE IT IS.

I turned to her and said, "You don't seem to have a problem handing out awards based on CONFIDENTIAL test scores"

She replied, "Well that's a whole other issue Robin"

This issue is bothering me to no end!

(PS-I am a former teacher-credentialed in, SOCIAL STUDIES! While working on my credential and masters we were put through ALL the then current "guru" programs of that time such as Whole Language which was an UTTER failure. Confidentiality was also HAMMERED into our heads)

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