Tuesday, January 24, 2012

NCLB: The Forgotten Ones

Initially,  No Child Left Behind (NCLB) gave me hope. I was hopeful that this was the government's promise to take education seriously, leaving behind the focus on dollars and numbers. I was hopeful that no child would be left behind, giving every child an opportunity for success. The reality is this is not the case. Never did I think I would come to distrust this bill and everything it now represents.
It seems NCLB caters to students and schools who fit into a mold of either average students or above average students or those students that need more than a little help.  What happens to the students who are not socio-economically disadvantaged or special needs? What happens to those students who need a little help to be on grade level? Are those students getting the help they need? Does NCLB provide help to this segment of students? 
NCLB has forced public schools to place too much importance on the Criterion-Referenced Competency Test (CRCT).  The CRCT is a standardized test given to students in April, usually right after Spring Break here in Georgia.   This test, that most parents start hearing about in August and that teachers start prepping the kids for in August, is supposed to measure how well students are doing and how well teachers are teaching. In the 3rd, 5th, 7th and 8th grades the student's individual scores are used as a way to determine if the student needs to be retained or should be promoted. In my experience it is almost solely used to place students. If you ask administration they will deny it unless they are pressed.  
Did you know that CRCT scores not only place students but rank schools? If the school's overall score is a "passing" one,  they receive more funds.  They receive more money than a school that does not perform well. What about the school that performs poorly but is in disparate need of more funding, to be able to get more help to the students who need it?  Are the student's needs the priority? They should be.
Where is the focus? I sympathize with the teachers because their focus has had to shift as well. Teachers are bound by what seems like a mountain of test preparations which begin months before the test actually takes place. They want to make certain their students score well.  Do teachers feel like they have to teach only things that might be on the test or "teach to the test?" NCLB seems to be pushing toward this goal.  As an added pressure, these scores are being used to reflect how well teachers teach.  What about the kids who have test anxiety and just do not test well? What about the children who are learning to speak and understand English?  They take the same test everyone else does. Their scores are figured into the overall score as well.  How  accurate is the reflection now? 
We, as parents and guardians,  need to advocate for our children. The most important thing we can do is speak out, stay informed, stay in touch with our child's teachers and vote.  Schedule parent meetings, look over the school work your children bring home to see if there are discrepancies between what you know about your child and what you are seeing. I encourage everyone to start doing this today!  So much is being taken away from our children's educational experience, regarding time and resources, that those caring for school aged children need to fill in the gaps.  If we do not step in, the children who were not left behind in the beginning will be in the end. 

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