Common sense and education.
Will the bipartisan Every Child Succeeds Act shift the high-stakes testing paradigm created by No Child Left Behind?
Will teaching to the test fade into the past?
Will the progress of individual students be more important than schools as a whole. Let’s hope!
In early 2002, President Bush signed NCLB into law. Within a year annual testing became the norm for third through eighth graders – along with high school equivalency tests.
Yes, education professionals needed greater accountability. Yes, they needed additional data to improve outcomes, especially in schools serving urban populations and individuals in special education.
But the pendulum swung too far.
Rhetoric trumped reality.
ALL third graders will meet reading standards. Even those with intellectual disabilities. Even those learning English as a new language.
An admirable goal, but it was never going to happen. Never!
Nonetheless, the fall-out began immediately as schools tried to increase the number of students passing the high-stakes test. Clearly, no principals wanted their building labeled failing.
Soon certain children were being left behind.
When my son Michael – who didn’t pass his third grade test – failed to receive a letter about summer school, I assumed an oversight. Then I learned the sad truth. Cruel choices had to be made. With limited dollars for remediation, the invite only included those students with a statistical chance of passing the test.
My son was too far behind to bother.
Already labeled in one of 13 special education categories, my son received a second, unofficial label: test anxiety and inability to concentrate for long periods. How’s that for creating a trauma-sensitive environment in schools! One that a growing number of students need.
Not surprisingly, my son’s scores were inconsistent. And they certainly didn’t offer an accurate measure of his progress. Or his potential as a boy living with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder.
Furthermore, my son – and others like him – caused their school to be penalized in multiple sub-categories: African-American, special education and free/reduced lunch (since I had reduced my working hours to care for my children).
A layer of stigma heaped upon the layers of past trauma.
Yet what about the data – the insight that was supposed to help teachers improve their instruction?
It wasn’t timely, sometimes delivered six months after the test. So many local school districts spent additional money on another round of testing. Twice a year my children participated in the NWEA computer-based assessment.
On the plus side, the NWEA test was shorter and provided quick feedback to teachers. Better yet, it allowed each student to be tested based upon their current ability. In the case of my son Andrew, that was huge. Rather than attempting questions that made little sense on the No Child Left Behind state test, he understood the ones on NWEA.
While No Child Left Behind labeled him a failure, NWEA charted his progress.
My son was indeed learning at a pace consistent with his intellectual disability.
But school administrators saw his test scores as a liability, after failing repeatedly over a six year period.
When I agreed to move him from the diploma to certificate of completion track, I assumed more learning options would be available – without the pressure of a test that frankly had become a waste of time and source of incredible frustration, with obvious embarrassment.
Just the opposite happened. His options shrank – leaving him further behind. The small charter school, which emphasized dignity when he enrolled, now made college preparation it’s only priority.
College or Die became the motto.
With that mindset, my son’s progress no longer seemed to matter.
The final strike of No Child Left Behind was the graduation exam. My daughter passed the English test but failed the math portion not once but seven times, in spite of hours of tutoring at home.
So close. Yet still not acceptable.
And not the way to boost self-esteem in a depressed and anxious teenager trying to recover from her past trauma. To my daughter, nothing but the test seemed to be important.
Without a diploma, another child was left behind.
Although three of my six children were unintended casualties of No Child Left Behind, I am hopeful today. The Every Child Succeeds Act allows individual states to measure progress through streamlined assessments and other benchmarks that assess the whole child – without the test-driven protocol of Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) that mislabeled schools.
No doubt, reading and math must remain the foundation. But arts and vocational training could allow more students to succeed and feel good about themselves.
That way no children are left behind. DCP
Craig Peterson publishes EACH Child every Tuesday. To subscribe, open this link and “Like” the page. EACH Child is Special: Working Smarter Not Harder to Raise Every ONE
To follow Craig’s journey in raising his six children with special needs, click here: Adopting Faith: A Father’s Unconditional Love
To follow my son Andrew’s inspiring story, “Like” his special Facebook page Andrew Peterson Goes for the Gold