No Child Left Behind

Before I began working at a local church, I was a full-time, board certified public high school drama teacher. I experienced a school system undergoing many changes, just as you will find across the nation, as it tried to address the mandates and concerns that were passed in the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). (wikipedia seems to be biased, but at least you can get an overview of the content of the law). I am serving in a congregation that is in the same town as the high school in which I was employed and I was surprised and excited to see this Letter to the Editor from one of our local teachers:

Dear Editor, ‘Tis the season to test our children in public schools across Georgia. This is a stressful time for parents, educators and, most importantly, our children. I can remember when school was fun and not so full of testing pressures. I am a teacher and a parent affected by both sides of testing in the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) era.

As a parent, my first-grader has been reviewing for the state’s CRCT test, and she comes home expressing that she no longer likes school because of CRCT reviewing. At age 7, my daughter is displeased with school due to testing pressures and I pray that I can help maintain a positive attitude toward learning. More importantly, I am worried if she is truly being taught basic skills. Apparently, the new basic skill in the NCLB era is test-taking skills instead of reading, writing, and mathematics. As a professional educator, I recently passed out graduation test results to my advisory students. Many of them did not pass certain sections of the test. What is disheartening is that I know most of those students who did not pass the test worked hard to meet standards, but the test reflects otherwise. However, the agony and pain on their young faces concerns me greatly. School is more demanding and requires more input in the 21st century than ever before, but I have a question to ask our politicians, (U.S. Rep.) Jack Kingston and (state Rep.) Cecily Hill: What are we doing to our kids?

Whether politicians realize it, testing pressures in the NCLB era are creating a new form of illiteracy among students, lack of critical thinking skills. I assure you, educators are highly aware of this phenomenon, but politicians could care less.

The need to use test data to diagnose school programs and teacher quality has its place, but schools are so obsessively data driven due to testing legislation from which has driven further inequities in public education. As a parent, my 7-year-old is so perturbed with testing I hope I can repair her frustration level. I can see how this early frustration can cause literacy issues. Thank God I am able to be aware of this for my own child, but many parents may not be able to discern this for their children.

The lack of critical thinking skills in older students is becoming more prevalent, and I truly believe it is linked to teaching students how to take a test instead of mastering the material. Georgia has implemented performance standards, but true performance curriculum cannot be formally tested with a bubble sheet.

I find it very interesting that high-powered politicians are making these crucial decisions in education, and most have never taught a day in their lives. How long will politicians be allowed to continue this malpractice against our children? Unfortunately, our country is creating a generation of public who will not be able to critically think through a real problem.

NCLB was built under a great conceptualization. However, the lack of educator input has caused problems. It still, however, is a great beginning in calling education to a higher standard. One leg of the problem comes in the almost unbearable consequences of even maintaining the same high level of passing students, let alone dropping in that perception. Another leg of the problem comes in the way states and local school systems attempt to meet the requirements.

I find that Camden County (here in South GA) has done an awesome job and is exemplary in the State of Georgia for its implementations of NCLB and its other academic reforms (just this week it was announced that Camden County standardized test scores were in the top rung in the state). However, as our contributing teacher has pointed out, even in exemplary schools there is a break down. I hope that as they reauthorize this act that they put some real good thought into it.

As a youth minister, this is important to me. A child’s time, stress level, busyness, and deportment is at stake.

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3 responses to “No Child Left Behind

  1. it does get tough when so much of our society today feels a need to measure based on numbers: test scores, business profits, church attendance… there’s a pressure for the numbers to impress, to justify, to explain. i think part of the issue is when we attempt to measure qualitative attributes quantitatively.

    i’m not saying it can’t be done; i’m just saying it’s not usually done easily or done well. we find numbers to represent a student’s grade as a way off measuring student learning, but does that adequately represent what we hope they learn (for example, as pointed out in the lett to ed, critical thinking). we use numbers to represent business profits, but does that account for things like customer service and ethical business practices. we use numbers to represent church attendance and church growth, but does that necessarily show a growth in faith or compassion for others or meaningful worship of God.

    i majored in math ed, so i get numbers, i think in numbers. my wife, mother, and mother-in-law are teachers, so i understand grades and school and nclb and the like. i work w/ teens, and i agree, “this is important to me.” there’s much at stake. this is another one of life’s situations where it’s a big enough situation with lots of layers (like ogres and onions and parfait) that there’s no quick fix or easy answers.

  2. “i think part of the issue is when we attempt to measure qualitative attributes quantitatively.”

    I think this is the whole issue. How do you quantify teacher performance? How do you place students on a measure in which one must be inherently better than another?

    I always wondered what it would be like not to have grades at all (that is very hard to explain).

    It is worse when students are quantified and the grades are used against them. Why should a student strive for something that a teacher makes unachievable? It is the source of burnout.

    However, the ethos behind NCLB is noble–to make teachers more effective and to help students learn.

    The question is, what do we do next…

  3. Josh,
    It will be good working with you at Pathways this summer. Now how will we find time during crazy youth summers to get together and plan….

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