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NCLB Stories: California

 

"I teach students with severe and profound disabilities. My CAPA test would be great, if I could use it as an assessment tool; instead, it is used like a sledgehammer against my principal and my school.

My students usually are non-verbal and may also be partially blind, in wheelchairs, or wearing diapers.They may require tube feedings. They may be autistic or deaf, may exhibit severe behaviors, and may function cognitively from a three-month to a two-year level (some areas a little better). On a test, they are told to 'show me which one tells time' and are shown a calendar, clock, or toy car. It makes no sense at all to many of them.

"And then their scores are compiled with the test scores of the district's regular education students. If special education professionals were on those decision-making boards, they were the wrong professionals!

"I may lose my principal, a terrific and inspiring person, because of the physiologically based reasons for our students not showing improvements."

Mary Ellen Abilez
Special Education Teacher
San Bernadino
San Bernardino, California

 

I am a veteran teacher and former Association vice president, who also has the dubious distinction of working at the first and only elementary school in California to enter into fifth-year program improvement. Two-thirds of the school's teachers and all of the administrators were reassigned to other school sites because of test scores.

Furthermore, the school’s teachers were directed by the administration not to allow students to use crayons in the classroom because it was not time spent directly engaged in print.

Teachers were virtually not allowed to teach art, so I had to inform district officials that I was unable to give trimester grades for art. Completing report cards for a class of 32 students went from a manageable three-hour task to an unbelievable 15 hours of uncompensated work time.

Teachers at program-improvment schools throughout our district have been overwhelmed with extra staff development, training, book studies, curriculum-mapping activities, and more without adequate compensation for the extra work hours, and usually with no compensation at all.

NCLB is designed with 47 ways for a school site and a district to fail and only one way for them to pass. It is inevitable that all California schools will be in program-improvement status within a few years. I am now at a different school site that is currently not in program-improvement status; however, I know that the nightmare NCLB program-improvement status is always only a test away. NCLB hurts teachers, and NCLB hurts students. NCLB is leaving the schools, and everyone in them, behind.

Christine Michele Alvarez
Elementary School Teacher Visalia Unified School District
Visalia, California 

 

"I have been a special education teacher for 30 years . I have always worked to have my students make as much progress at their level as they could. I have tried to follow IEP goals, and have always told parents that if the goal was reached, we would push further. Now, I am told to teach the students at grade level, to disregard the previously written goals, and to teach the students no matter how frustrated they become.  

"I now have students crying, using every avoidance technique they can muster (feigning illness to avoid coming to school) because the material is so far beyond their learning ability. The ESEA/NCLB goal of grade-level ability by 2014 is never going to be obtainable by severely handicapped students."

Holly Barkalow
Elementary School Teacher
El Centro Elementary School
El Centro, California

 

"Before NCLB, I taught physical science to ninth-grade (mostly Latino) kids and physics to twelfth graders. I designed my ninth-grade physical science class curriculum to allow me to teach mostly physics, so as to discover and recruit exceptional students for my twelfth-grade physics class. I created standards and pre- and post-tested my ninth graders to ensure that the students learned the material and were able to demonstrate their knowledge. The students had to demonstrate skills, including the ability to interpret and use physics equations, to rewrite those equations and solve for different variables, and to combine equations to discover new, deeper relationships buried in the math/physical science concepts. As a result, the number of students taking physics over the years jumped from about 20 in the beginning to over 80.

"After NCLB, my school district eliminated ninth-grade physical science, and in its place substituted earth science. According to the school district, this was done because the district believed our students would do better on the state NCLB tests in earth science. Today, the number of physics students has dropped to around 40 per year, and I project the number will continue to drop in the future.

"I have been forced to conclude from my experience that NCLB is not about teaching science to students, it is about our school district raising test scores. In this case, teaching science and raising test scores are mutually exclusive concepts producing scientific illiteracy and, at the same time, higher NCLB test scores. When I controlled the curriculum, I could teach science, math, reading, and writing. Now, I teach standards that have no connection to the rest of the school curriculum. My students' education has suffered but, by God, their test scores are up!"

Tyrone Borelli
Science Teacher
Santa Anna Unified School District
Laguna Beach, California

 

"Over the past eight years, I have worked as an administrator in three different university-based literacy tutorial programs for K-12 students. Initially, many students were recommended to the program for issues related to writing, spelling, and reading comprehension. As part of our initial assessments, we asked students to define reading, describe the purpose of reading, and describe how reading would benefit them in the future. Over time, the students' responses to these questions have changed drastically.

To begin with, students would say that the purpose of reading was to understand material and to learn new information. Good readers were those people who could read without stumbling over words and could understand what they had read. Since the inception of NCLB, more children are being referred for tutoring because they do not read fast enough and are, subsequently, receiving lower grades in reading. Parents say that their children are required to read at a particular reading rate that is measured in words per minute. Many of the children say that good readers are those who read fast-rather than those who understand what they read. Teachers send students for remediation simply because they do not read fast enough, even when they comprehend at grade level.

"Children are being exposed to continuous speed testing and are beginning to dislike reading because of it. It seems that NCLB has created an environment that quantifies reading with little regard to the quality of understanding of a piece of text. Parents state that their children are beginning to complain of physical ailments (headaches, stomach aches, so forth) before they go to school because they feel pressure to test well and test often or else they will receive lower grades. Many parents state that their children's class time is spent on test preparation to the exclusion of quality content-area instruction in literature, science, and history. The arts and physical education have been eliminated to make more time for test prep.

"Children are being taught to take tests rather than being taught important material that is needed for them to be successful citizens and college students. It is creating a pressure-filled school environment that begins in kindergarten and continues through the end of high school."

Diane Brantley
Assistant Professor of Literacy Education/Director Literacy Center, CSU
San Bernardino
Crestline, California

 

"My school is in the fifth year of Program Improvement (PI). During these same five years, we exited the California's Underperforming Schools Program because we have had significant growth in test scores. In fact, we have had the greatest growth of any middle school in our district. We have also eliminated the testing gap amongst Whites, Latinos, and Blacks by raising scores for each group.

"Unfortunately, we are still a PI school because our special education subgroup and English Language Learners subgroup failed to meet the federal proficiency level. The result has been that 300 students were taken out of science and social studies, so that they could have a double block of English and math (because they count more on the test). But the administration soon learned that providing science and social studies was mandated, so it created a new elective, known as EPIC, that combined social studies and science. Those 300 students lost art, music, and computers as elective choices. Also, they now have half the amount of time to learn the science and social studies standards.

"NCLB has greatly diminished the learning opportunites for these children. They will never again have an opportunity to learn the middle-school social studies and science curriculum. Their attitudes towards school have changed. The joy is gone for many of these kids."

Tobin Brinker
Middle School Teacher
Rialto Unified School District
San Bernardino, California

 

"I have been an elementary educator for 15 years. I have seen many changes in the way we teachers are supposed to teach in our classrooms. I believe I am a qualified teacher and have always done my very best to make sure my students are getting the best education possible. I have tried to make sure that I am educating my students; I have also tried to make sure  they are having fun at school. Now, with the NCLB mandates, school seems so monotonous. So many hours have to be spent teaching from a state-approved curriculum in math and reading, and then we must spend extra time with remediation lessons of the same curriculum. Teacher creativity has been stifled. Where is the time for science, social studies, art-and having fun along the way?

"Don't get me wrong; I believe in standards and accountability, but politicians have taken things to the extreme. Where is their accountability? They expect so much, yet the money to support NCLB is short in coming. I hope this will change, but when?

"We need to let everyone (parents, politicians, and media) know how terribly wrong NCLB is for education, and especially how wrong it is for our children."

Connie Chavez
Elementary School Teacher
Hemet Unified School District
San Jacinto, California

 

"I have been teaching in the elementary setting for 10 years. In the beginning of my career, pre-NCLB, my students were allowed to learn through multiple modalities. We sang, created art, had physical activities, and so forth to reach all kinds of learners and teach the state standards. Since NCLB, I have been limited to using only the core curriculum material that was going to be on the test.

"NCLB's one-size-fits-all assessment plan is detrimental to students. Although I strive to ensure that all my students are learning state standards, some are just not good test-takers. They are labeled as at-risk and are put on retention lists. I want to be the strong, effective teacher I was prior to NCLB. I do not want to be bound solely by textbooks; I want to be able to present the information in the best way I know how. I urge you to reconsider NCLB and let me proudly teach the kids I love. Thank you."

Audra Ciasullo
Third grade teacher
Moreno Valley Unified School District
Moreno Valley, California

 

"As an inner-city middle-school educator in the second-largest school district in the United States, I am strapped with all of the restrictions of NCLB.

"Over the last five years there have been four principals at my school, and over the last year, the  administration of the school, including four assistant principals, all of the deans, and the principal have changed.

"Teachers are frustrated by having to teach students to pass standardized tests, and scripted curricula are becoming the norm. Teachers who want to encourage holistic thinking are leaving the profession in droves. Since NCLB places most of the blame for the problems in public schools on the teachers' shoulders, we don't enjoy the respect that we once had. Fortunately, despite the myth, most of us are highly qualified, and we can look forward to other jobs in higher-paying and more-respected professions. The unfortunate thing is that many of us will not be able to work in the classrooms, which is where our hearts are. Unlike the school boards and many political leaders across this nation, most of us do know what our students need. Once again, it is the children who suffer."

Ray Clark
Middle School Teacher
Los Angeles Unified
Los Angeles, California

 

"I am a teacher of Special Day Class students, who must be tested on standards and who are functiong at an academic level where they will most likely never go to college. It is unfair (look up the definition of fair) to deny them access to the skills they need to use in the adult world."

Mildred Dodd
Special Education Teacher
King City Union School District
Bradley, California

 

"I'm proud of Eagle Rock High School. I've taught there for 12 years. Two years ago, Newsweek listed our high school as one of the top schools in the country. At the same time, the school was listed as a failure because it hadn't met its annual yearly progress (AYP) goal.

"We failed to reach our goal because our special education children refused to sit quietly for four hours a day, for more than a week, and stare at a test that they could barely read or understand, much less pass. This year we repeated the charade.

"Students, many of them working years below grade level, are told to sit quietly hour after hour without bathroom breaks-because that would disrupt the other students. They suffer the humiliation of being unable to comprehend or pass a test and are told that the whole school was judged a failure because of them. They not only refuse to take the tests, they refuse to come to school, and then we (the school) are told that we all failed because we did not enforce an injustice over which we had no control.

"It goes against everything I know about teaching to insist that students attempt to do work that is impossible for them. It's insidious to set students up to fail, and then to let everyone know that the school, as a whole, failed because of them. Please know they will know. The AYP is news to the stakeholders, but you couldn't even begin to 'correct' the deficit without first identifying it, and students know who is special ed and who isn't."

Stephan Early
High School Teacher
Los Angeles Unified SD
Eagle Rock, California

 

"I didn't intend to become a teacher. I became a substitute teacher after I had graduated from college with the goal of becoming a famous food writer.

"My first long-term teacher position was in a first grade classroom, where I listened to the story, 'Jamie Planted a Pumpkin Seed,' until I knew the words verbatim. We colored, planted our own pumpkin seeds, read stories from our classroom library, and created wonderful art projects heavy with paste. I wasn't hooked until one day a wide-eyed student who had struggled in the lowest reading group looked up into my eyes and said, 'I can read.' The words hit me like a flash of magic. I had taught someone how to survive in our world. I had empowered this soon-to-be lawyer, doctor, or office worker to have a better future. That day was the first day I thought about the power of teaching.

"Years have gone by, and I have felt like a magician on several occasions. Recently, though, I've begun to feel my ability to perform magic decreasing. I give district- and state-mandated tests that consume nearly 50 percent of my precious instructional time with my students. They cheer when I announce that we don't have a test this week and that we will actually visit the lonely plants at our science center.

"Accountability is necessary, but it should be used to foster student achievement -- not punish those who need the encouragement the most. If something is not done about the irrational accountability of NCLB soon, I will have to look for my magic elsewhere."

Linda Fiddler
Special Education Teacher
Bakersfield County SD
Bakersfield, California

 

"When I taught fifth grade, each year I took my inner-city students on a canoe trip in a slough along the fringe of the San Pablo Estuary. This was the culminating activity after our study of local wetlands, and the trip was generously sponsored by Save the Bay, a local San Francisco group dedicated to educating children about the ocean. My most memorable canoe trip was the one that included Braulio, a tough, gang-involved young man. By fifth grade he had decided that he would never learn to read, and that school wasn't for him. It was a struggle to interest him in anything inside the classroom. This was one reason I emphasized community work and field trips with my students; Braulio wasn't alone in his disdain for traditional classwork. The annual canoe trip was the highlight of the year. It involved heavy physical labor and teamwork, as students worked together to lift canoes off the trailer and carry them to the slough's edge.   

"Braulio began the trip with his typical skepticism, but as the Save the Bay guides began to issue life jackets and paddles, he became more curious. Finally, we were on the water. Students had to coordinate their paddling to guide, propel, turn, and anchor the canoes.   Braulio was physically strong and was placed in the lead position in his canoe. He adapted quickly to the rigors of paddling, guided his canoe with ease up the slough, and his two canoemates followed his lead. When we stopped for lunch, the guides talked about the many birds we might see. As they described a red-tailed hawk, Braulio suddenly pointed to a distant tree and asked, 'Is that one?'  It was, indeed, a red-tailed hawk. The guides praised him for spotting one so readily, and his classmates clapped and cheered him for being the first to spot a hawk. As the day proceeded, Braulio became quieter, his eyes became wider, and his demeanor changed as I'd never seen it. As long as I live, I will remember Braulio sitting in that canoe in his bright orange life jacket,  paddle clutched in his hands, eyes wide with wonder as he scanned the horizon for birds.

"The next year, our school district adopted a new language arts text and began to follow a pacing guide. My school was labeled underperforming, according to NCLB, and the pressure to improve test scores was intense. Our class time was to be dedicated to plowing through that language arts text, using the timetable set by the pacing guide. There was no time for PE, no time for social studies, no time for science...and certainly no time for field trips. So for my discouraged, disheartened, defeated inner-city kid, who had already experienced five years of failure in the 'traditional' curriculum, activities such as wetland studies, readings in science, and field trips to see science in the real world ended. These activities were replaced by more of the curriculum that had begun to contribute to their feeling alienated from education, all in order to increase test scores. I couldn't teach that way, so with a heavy heart I gave up my classroom teaching position and became a full-time mentor for new teachers.  

"With my many years in education, I know that this can't last forever. I advise these bright new teachers to stick with it, to not be discouraged by the scripted curriculum, the pacing guides, the endless testing, and the lifeless fictional stories they must teach. Some day, I'm confident, we will again be allowed to make our curriculum exciting and relevant,  to show students the wonders of the natural world, and how education empowers us to understand it.

"Braulio may still be a gang member ... probably he is. But he had that one day in a canoe, experiencing triumph as the first to identify a red-tailed hawk. I hope he never forgets it. I won't."

Karen Garcia
BTSA Support Provider
Vallejo City Unified
Napa, California

 

"Students at my school are primarily immigrants. In my second period alone, there are seven native languages spoken (English, Spanish, Armenian, Georgian, Turkish, Korean, and Thai). I find it frustrating that no matter how much progress my students make, they will always fall short since they enter my classroom speaking limited English. Under NCLB, they are assessed with the general population. It is not fair to the students or to the educators who are held responsible when arbitrary benchmarks are not reached."

Roberto Garcia
Middle School Teacher
Los Angeles Unified SD
Los Angeles, California

 

"I became a special education teacher for two reasons: I wanted to teach and to advocate for people with disabilities. While I went through the teacher-credentialing program, I envisioned myself empowering and educating a group of students who had, in the past, been left behind. What I didn't expect to be doing was administering tests that were not only inequitable, but also unjust and cruel.

"I will never forget my first year of teaching, only four years ago. A student in the fifth grade, whose ability and performance was determined by his IEP to be at the second- grade level, was forced to endure days of a test that was way above his ability level, and he burst into tears. As he sat sobbing and clutching his pencil, I too felt like crying.

"I believe in accountability and assessment. I do not believe in cruel and unusual punishment. When is this going to stop?"

Natalie Gaza
Special Education Teacher
Los Angeles Unified SD
Los Angeles, California

 

"As a music teacher, I can't begin to count the number of times I've walked into a classroom to be greeted by one of the following phrases: 'I'm so glad you're here, I never have time to teach music!' or 'I'm so glad you're here, we've been doing Open Court for nearly two hours and these kids really need to do something fun and exciting!'  If I had a nickel for each such utterance, I'd be rich.

"What's really criminal about it is the fact that all those teachers are so frustrated about the tremendous number of subjects they are no longer able to teach, and for the students NCLB is tantamount to child abuse. Please, NEA, do everything in your power to change this law."

Pamela Gibberman
Music Teacher
Los Angeles Unified SD
Panorama City, California

 

"I am a fifth grade teacher in a Title I school, where the curriculum has been narrowed to language arts and mathematics. Book publishers now dominate the curriculum. For students to do well on the test what is taught must be explict, well-known,  and in the same format as it will appear on the test. It must be taught in the same method as it is tested.   

"Teaching so students will pass the test does not allow modifications to adapt to an individual student's learning style, as there is no open-ended dialogue or points to ponder. Critical and higher-level thinking skills are not being developed. The students do not learn perspectives, tolerance, point of view, or decision-making skills.

"Dialogue and discussion must take place for students to understand the world's complexities. Students need to learn the beauty of writing by expressing themselves,  reading great books, and participating in art and music -- to create the next generation of thinkers.    

"My students deserve the best public education, and one test does not represent my students, their parents, or their teachers. Muliple-choice tests cannot capture the true growth that takes place in my classroom."

Crystal James
Fifth Grade Teacher
Colton Joint Unified SD
Mentone, California

 

"I am a California teacher. I taught seventh-grade English and history core classes for seven years and loved every minute of it. I was a literacy coach and helped other middle-school teachers become more effective language arts instructors for our diverse student body. My students consistently scored higher than any of the other classes in our district. I used novels, Internet articles, newspapers, magazines, and other materials that were relevant and exciting to my students.    

"Because of ESEA, I am no longer considered qualified to teach middle school (I have a multiple subject credential) and have been moved into a fifth-grade teaching position. I am forced to use the district-adopted anthology and have no time to use novels. I rarely have time to use materials that are of special interest to my students (but when I do, they come alive!). The anthology from which I am forced to teach often uses excerpts from novels. This gives students an incomplete understanding of the characteristics and complexities of a novel, the character development, symbolism, and other features of the original text. Because of this, and the often difficult task of making the materials relevant, I have seen my students lose interest and not try their best.    

"We give the students a district assessment three times a year. The questions on the assessment are designed to see if the teacher actually used the text rather than to see if the students have learned the skills called for in the state standards.  

"This has been the worst year of my teaching career. This is the first year I couldn't wait for summer. I had frequent nightmares and insomnia, not from changing grade levels (although that may be part of it) but from being forced to teach in a manner that is clearly designed to leave most students behind. I have the skills to create lifelong learners, but I cannot use those skills with the MTV-style of teaching (rather than mastery learning) being forced upon me and my classes.

"The absolute worst is seeing what happens to my students of color, ELL students, and learning-disabled students-seeing them fall further and further behind. I have shown that they do not have to fall behind, if taught in an appropriate manner, with relevant materials and with mastery learning in mind. ESEA/NCLB is having a disastrous effect on education."

Matthew James
Elementary School Teacher
San Leandro Unified SD
Fremont, California

 

"My caseload has increased, and we have fewer resources to help the children who we are able to identify as needing assistance. It is because of inadequate funding that we are unable to identify all of the children that parents and teachers have singled out as needing extra help.

"The NCLB program has severely restricted our ability to provide necessary support to needy children. Working in a high school, I see the terrible results. As one psychologist for 3,200 children who range in age from 4 to 18 and many of whom are failing, I am appalled at this government's utter failure to honestly face problems and provide adequate support. This administration has enough money for war and only crumbs for our own children."  

Geri Kenyon
School Psychologist
Los Angeles Unified SD
Topanga, California

 

"I have students who are in tears every April because our high-stakes testing in California comes two months before the end of the school year!  My students take a test on science standards that they have not yet had a chance to learn, and our schools and students are punished. Additionally, I have students who I know are well-versed in the state science standards (as evidenced by their classroom work done in a variety of modalities); however, because the question is asked using unfamiliar syntax and grammatical structure (many of my students, though in high school, still read at the elementary school level and/or have processing disabilities), they are unable to correctly answer the questions.  

"One size definitely does not fit all!"

Martine Korach
High School Teacher
Long Beach Unified SD
Long Beach, California

 

"I have students who are in tears every April because our high-stakes testing in California comes two months before the end of the school year!  My students take a test on science standards that they have not yet had a chance to learn, and our schools and students are punished. Additionally, I have students who I know are well-versed in the state science standards (as evidenced by their classroom work done in a variety of modalities); however, because the question is asked using unfamiliar syntax and grammatical structure (many of my students, though in high school, still read at the elementary school level and/or have processing disabilities), they are unable to correctly answer the questions.  

"One size definitely does not fit all!"

Martine Korach
High School Teacher
Long Beach Unified SD
Long Beach, California

 

"As an alternative education teacher working with expelled students, I have been forced to  teach only academic subjects. I no longer have time in the school day to teach independent-living skills, social skills, the arts, and community-access skills. These are areas of learning that these students lack and need in order to turn their lives around.

"Classrooms like mine are the last stop for many students. Once expelled, their school career comes to a fork in the road: one road leads to a successful, contributing adulthood, and the other leads to prison or death. Without access to a broader, more basic, life-skill-oriented education, students have one path open to them, and it leads to nowhere or worse.

"All students -- in spite of their upbringing, their past mistakes, or their school readiness -- deserve an appropriate education. If they don't get one, they will become the nation's and community's problem, now and in the future. Everyone deserves a full education."

Celia Lamantia
Counselor
Sonoma County Office of Education
Santa Rosa, California

 

"I work in an adapted school. Many of our classes are adapted to accommodate children with special needs. Often, the children are unable to work alone or at the pace of their general ed peers, which can put them behind in their ability to achieve; however, we test the children in the same way that we test their peers -- even if the special needs students are as much as two years below grade level.

The children feel as if they have failed, and the school gets put on the watch list. This isn't good for anybody. This once-fine school is getting a reputation for low test scores when, in fact, our general ed kids are progressing as well as our special ed students. NCLB needs to address the issues, which are real, and it needs to give schools the individuality that we should be giving our students."

Carole Latter
Elementary School Teacher
Los Angeles Unified SD
Los Angeles, California

 

"Because of the higher goals that are set in NCLB, the number of administrators at our district office has increased by at least five. I don't have exact figures, but I'm sure that each of these administrators has a secretary or clerk. This increase in staff at the district office has drained funding from school sites. The number of paraprofessionals at our school site has decreased, as well as our budget for supplies and supplementary materials."

Kathy MacLennan
Elementary School Teacher
Palm Springs Unified SD
Cathderal City, California

 

"Last year in California, we didn't meet our API goals. We knew it was just a matter of time, because we'd exceeded the goals quite nicely in the past, raising our bar (I guess we should have slowed our growth). And, as all schools rise in ratings, there will still be some percentage of schools at the bottom. So, mid-year, the state arrived with all kinds of program experts and went through our classrooms and criticized our instruction. Monopoly. Go straight to jail -- do not collect two-hundred dollars.

"All grade levels were given strict daily schedules: all math and languages in about four hours before lunch. No PE. No health. No social studies. No arts. No more curricular trips. No more PE at the local olympic pool near the L.A. Coliseum, a free resource offered to schools in the local community. No music or chants or raps in the morning, they said.

"I am a National Board Certified teacher. I know that young children need curriculum and teaching strategies to meet multiple-learning modalities. Young children need to feel creative, need to think they're playing when they're really learning (remember the theorist Piaget?)  My voice doesn't seem to matter anymore, nor do the voices of other educators. Teachers who don't follow the program are reprimanded, penalized, written up, given poor evaulations, told to leave the campus.

"We spend so much time testing in my school, we even test those kids who don't speak much English but who are supposed to be progressing at a researched, appropriate rate. We are penalizing them by comparing them to native speakers and giving them the same tests without accommodations, even in math assessments in which they can't read the word problems!  (At least in the old Stanford Nine Achievement Test, teachers could read the math test questions to those who could not read English!) Kids feel unhappy. They act out more. No wonder. The school climate is developmentally inappropriate for them. Assemblies are cancelled. Jump Rope for Heart -- cancelled. Teachers feel demoralized and disproportionately blamed.

"How can a country claim to respect education when our leaders don't respect educators?  Something must be done to re-engage teachers in the process of determining school protocols now!"

Laura McCutcheon
Elementary School Teacher
Los Angeles Unified SD
Santa Fe Springs, California

 

"I work in a school with a high percentage of free and reduced-lunch students, as well as a large number of English language learners. I have found that by the time the students reach eighth grade, many of them have given up on achieving higher levels on the state testing. Every year the students are told to do their best and that they will improve to the next level (move from below basic to basic). Unfortunately, every year they remain in the same category. The reason? The bar continues to rise, so their scores may improve, but they remain in the below-basic category. Students scoring a below-basic score are placed in additional reading, language arts, or math classes, and it means they have to attend school an hour longer than their classmates or give up their elective. As they go further in education, they become even more disheartened as they can no longer pursue areas of interest to them.

"This year, I told my student what their scores were for the last two years (sixth and seventh grades). Most of the students had shown growth in most areas, yet they were still labeled below basic or basic.  I encouraged them to look beyond the label to their personal growth, hoping to get them to do their best and not give up. I look forward to viewing their scores to see how they did. The question remains, how many times can we tell a student that they are below basic or basic before they curl up into a ball and quit trying?"

Melody McGill
Junior High School Teacher
Modesto City Schools
Hughson, California

 

"I am currently a school psychologist working at a low SES and largely ELD school, prior to which I was an elementary school teacher and worked in a district with a similiar population. I am writing today to inform you of the injustices of NCLB, and its adverse affects on students' and teachers' emotional health as well as students' academic performance.

"NCLB's one-size-fits-all outlook on education reform has failed to take into account the volume of research on bilingual education, as well as the learning curve and realistic potential of these students and those students from low-SES areas. Instead of offering additional assistance, intervention, and funding to schools that serve this population (as the research would indicate), the law has punished them. One thing this population does not need is additional standardized assessment, which, by the way, is foreign to them. Did Congress not realize that what these students and schools really need is additional funding to provide interventions that will help them meet the minumum standards? 

"We currently have 80 percent of students at Las Palmas who are not meeting basic standards as a result of their special needs, not because of a lack of administrative support or non-qualified teachers!  NCLB has increased the number of children who are retained because of low standardized test scores. (The research does not show positive results from retention but indicates that it is a detriment to students' emotional and academic success.)

"As teachers have become increasingly concerned about poor standardized assessment results under NCLB, the number of students referred for special education assessment and placed in special education has increased significantly. There are no funds for interventions for those students who are not meeting standards -- except for special education students.

"Psychologists in this district have, as a whole, noted a marked increase in school anxiety and school phobia, while suicides and homocides have also increased. I know that we cannot attribute the entire increase to NCLB, but it is a factor. The increase in testing and standards have directly affected students. Issues around testing are a point of ongoing discussion at school and in counseling sessions. Parents, feeling the pressure of testing performance, want their children assessed for special educationn so that their children can receive accommodations on assessments and, therefore, score higher. It is sad when the environment of a learning institution focuses on how well a student can take a test.  Please reconsider your one-size-fits-all solution to success.

"All students are different. They come in with different experiences, IQs, language experience, and support systems. They cannot all achieve equally. I ask that you look at children using local norms to compare ELD students to ELD students and students coming from low SES with minimal support to similar students. Measure their progress and achievement from their individual baselines of initial performance, and then provide funds for interventions. Mandate schools to set individual goals for those students not achieving, and then, after providing an intervention, look to see that those students are meeting their goals. Look at growth over time rather than just a snapshot. And please, above all, provide the support so that we can meet your mandates."

Luisa Martinez
School Psychologist
Capistrano Unified
Aliso Viejo, California

 

"My students now believe that a test is more important than they are. With ESEA, students feel that tests are more important than thinking, creativity, and motivation.    

"There are millions of children in the world. All of them think, work, and live differently. Our strength is in our diversity; however, the more we test, the worse it gets.  

"Stop ESEA and stop high-stakes testing so our students can be free to think and learn the way they can best."

James Megaw
Elementary School Teacher
Upland Unified School District
Upland, California

 

"I have been teaching in public schools for over 15 years. When I started teaching, we were encouraged to utilize the skills we were taught in our credential program. I would design lessons based on data from the previous day's lessons. I took into account the students' learning needs and styles. I could inspire and encourage students who were reluctant learners.  

"Today, teaching is so much different. We are discouraged and even told absolutely not to use our teaching methods. The lessons are scripted. That means the teacher's manual doesn't just give me the material to be taught, but it even gives me quotes as to exactly what to say and when. The pacing guides I am required to follow because of the testing schedule do not allow time for me to re-teach skills to students who did not learn them in the first lesson.    

"The speed and pace of our current curriculum does not allow children to explore their learning. I am currently teaching math and science to seventh-grade students in an under-performing school. Most of my students arrive come to me with a mathematics skill level that is far below grade level. I am supposed to teach them the grade level material for which they have not mastered the prerequisite skills. The text books and pacing guides script these lessons in such a way that the students check out as soon as the lesson begins. To keep their attention and help them grasp the concepts, I need to deviate from the scripted text. These students have already shown the world that they don't learn in the same way as the grade-level students. For whatever reason, they come to me needing someone who cares and feels strong enough to deviate from the script. It is sad that I was trained to seek out the areas where a student needs support, but today I deviate from curriculum if I take time to teach to the student rather than to the state-mandated test.    

"We need to get the joy and wonder of learning back into our schools. We are training a generation of students who don't know that learning is exciting. Please help us get control of the learning, so we can meet the needs of our students and help them learn to be productive members of society."

Shari Megaw
Middle Schoool Teacher
Ontario-Montclair
Alta Loma, California

 

"I have seen parents complain at school site council meetings because all the fun is being taken out of education. We have been told that social studies, science, art, and just about everything else needs to go, so that we have more time to get students ready for testing.

"Our school has scored higher than most other schools with our population (high EL), and higher than most of the special education classes in the district. Eighty percent of our students receive free lunches. Every year, the standards go up. Last year we made it, but we still have to make it again to be taken off the list.

"In sports, if you keep raising the bar, well, the eventual outcome is that you have one winner. Our children are losing. Many of them go to school from 8:30 a.m. until 6 p.m. in extra programs, working on nothing but skills and test smartness. If they didn't make the standards, they go to afterschool programs or else they may not pass the grade they are in.

"I agree we need to teach the standards, but the pressure we are placing on our children is not a good education plan. We need to repeal this act and make one that works for the children. NCLB is leaving children behind."

Nancy Moralez
Elementary School Teacher
Ceres Unified School District
Modesto, California

 

"LAUSD's interpretation of NCLB is that only teachers who are credentialed in a specific subject area at the secondary level are qualified to teach. I have a multiple subject credential, a special education credential with authorizations in both learning handicapped and severely handicapped, a resource specialist's certificate, and a Master of Science degree in special education. But I can no longer have my own students.

"This year was horrible. All of my students failed the first semester of math. Two-thirds of them failed English for the year. Fewer resource students graduated than in any year I can remember. I want my students back. This is really devastating to everybody!"

Diane Moss
resource specialist teacher
Los Angeles Unified SD
Westlake Village, California

 

"My principal has asked me to lie to parents about the true nature of state testing. He wants me to tell them that it is mandatory and provides a benefit to them. If I lie to parents about this, how can they believe anything else I say to them?"

Tim Nichols
Alternative School Teacher
Fremont Unified School District
Fremont, California

 

"I am a second-grade veteran teacher with a Master's degree. As a professional educator, I was hired to meet the educational needs of all students in my classroom. In order to reach all children, I believe that along with a rigorous reading and writing curriculum, students also need to experience the arts, the sciences, and physical education. The educational code mandates ample time to be spent on the above activities.

"Because of ESEA, we have been expected to follow a scripted curriculum, although we don't have enough time in the day to cover it as well as the arts, sciences, and physical education. In order to close the achievement gap in my diverse classroom, it is imperative that I receive funding and support for teaching a well-rounded curriculum."

Theresa Nutt
Elementary School Teacher
Vallejo City Unified School District
Vacaville, California

 

"Teaching is not only my profession, but it is also my life!  Be it such, I love to see students' eyes light up when they learn new concepts, or when they are engaged in various activities that allow them to be creative. But in recent years, I have seen bright eyes, that had been full of life and ideas, turn dull with boredom and stress. Why?  Where has the curiosity gone?  Test prep, test prep, and more test prep!

"Most of our school days are filled with test-prep activities. If not test prep, then we are reviewing for the test! It saddens me. It tears my heart apart to have to share this. I can recall days in which we have done so much mandated test prep that my students have begged me to go out for PE. Unfortunately, we couldn't because we needed to get ready for the test! 

"Why so much test prep?  I am teaching in a district that is considered low performing, and many of our schools are labeled non-performing or program improvement. And being one of the few schools on the border, we want very much -- and will work very hard -- to make sure our students are not stigmatized. The consequence of such a desire has a cost. I'm not sure that the price is worth it. Yet that is the choice NCLB leaves us with."

David Ouch
Elementary School Teacher
Compton Unified School District
Sierra Madre, California

 

"Teaching has turned from a joyful voyage of discovery to drudgery. I must prepare students every day for the test. I teach second graders, seven- and eight-year-olds, who are being turned off to education. We have been told to focus on language arts and math with no time left for what really turns kids on: science, social studies, art, and music. We have been told to forget those subjects -- we must raise test scores, or we will be in Program Improvement!

"I have children who cry during the test. They don't sleep, and they have stomach aches. How can a country that purports to love and care for its kids allow this kind of abuse!

"I have discovered through years of teaching that children develop at different rates. Because they don't have an understanding of something this year does not mean that they won't master the same subject next year. Instead, we treat all children as though they develop at exactly the same rate and at exactly the same time. The adopted curriculum does not allow for differences in rates of development, and we do not go back and review material. If they don't understand it in second grade, they may never have a chance to review the concept again. I know we are losing children!! They are losing the excitement and wonder of education! We will see the fruits of NCLB in a few years, and it will be devastating for the future of our country."

Lisa Peterson
Elementary School Teacher
Covina-Valley
Covina, California

 

"I have watched the erosion of a viable resource year by year since the 1964 establishment of the ESEA: the voice of the teaching professional. I would like to see the return of the teacher's professional voice in every classroom as it relates to all of the issues that affect the curriculum, quality of education, the pace of instruction, and the selection of instructional materials in all grade levels."

Michael Riley
Elementary School Teacher
OUSD
San Clemente, California

 

"I work in a low socioeconomic, urban high school. Many of my students are immigrants and refugees who are either illiterate in their primary language or who arrived in America with very limited education.

I firmly believe all students can learn through muliple modes -- art, music, poetry, and physical education. All schools need to infuse these methods of learning into the curriculum.

A drill-and-kill approach to learning will eliminate curiosity and the desire to continue in school. NCLB and constant testing are doing this. Please, listen to teachers, and put joy back into our schools."

Karen Robinson
High School Teacher
San Diego Unified City Schools
La Mesa, California

 

"I have yet to see any positive benefits to NCLB. Teachers are being forced to cease teaching what the students need to learn and instead to teach them how to pass the test. Students who cannot pass the test are losing electives, so they can be trained to pass the test. All too often, these electives are the only reason some students come to school; once they are stripped of these electives, they quit coming to school. I have only been teaching for two-and-a-half years, but I have not found a single colleague who can say anything positive about NCLB."

Randall Robinson
Music Teacher
Chowchilla Union High School
Fresno, California

 

"I am a special education teacher and have been for the past 37 years. If anyone has worked in this area, they know that success requires skill, patience, and the fine-tuning of the education machine. My children are successful.

My fellow teamworker (my paraprofessional, with whom I had teamed for the last 11 years) was forced to retire sooner than she wanted because of the requirements of NCLB. She was a dedicated, hardworking, capable assistant who served the children for 30 years.

She was forced to either take and pass a test or to go back to college. She has had terrible experiences with school because she had been learning-disabled herself, so she chose to study, study, and study for the tests, which she took five times. She was unsuccessful, so she began to fill out her retirement papers as the June 2006 deadline approached. All of the paperwork was required to be submitted by April 2006. The week before school was out, word came that the deadline had been extended. But she said,  'I cannot go through the humiliation of taking that test again.'     

"There was no consideration of the fact that in 30 years she had received excellent evaluations and really understood what the special needs students were going through. Not only was she there to help them, but she had true empathy and was skilled in making learning attainable for them. She's gone, and now the children whom she may have been able to help will no longer have that option. This should never have happened. That was wrong!"

Laura Sanders-Duncan
Learning Handicapped Specialist Teacher
Los Angeles Unified SD
Los Angeles, California

 

"As a teacher with 10 years of experience working with high school students in our county drug-rehabilitation program, I was often proud of the wonderful program I designed that intergrated components on drug addiction, physical health, biology, English, history, and student self-reflection. But with NCLB, I have been forced to teach only to the state requirments and hope that what I now teach will be asked on the state STAR test.

"This program I am now teaching meets all of the state and federal needs, but it does not meet the main social needs of my students. My student graduation rate was higher prior to NCLB, as was the rate of graduating students who went on to attend college.

Please restore my program by allowing me, the teacher, to meet the needs of my students. I understand guidelines and requirements. I have a very difficult time using a curriculum that is so tightly controlled and that does not address my students' real needs."

Rozlyn Scholze
Alternative Education Teacher
Sonoma County
Petaluma, California

 

"For two-and-a-half years, our school had a science room. Every child (all 1,110 of them, including special ed students) had the opportunity to come once a week for a hands-on lesson that was related to the unit of study being taught at that child's grade level.

The students who went on to middle school came back and proudly stated that they are getting straight A's in science. But our principal came in and threw out the program because it did not affect the test scores. The students still ask why there is no more science.

"No science, no social studies, no art, no music, no PE. What makes education memorable? Learning that is enjoyable. Learning that addresses the needs of the students. Learning that uses the multiple intelligences.

"Can you imagine getting in trouble for teaching to the needs of the child?  Yet, we do. Do the same thing, at the same time; make sure you are on the same page as every other teacher of that grade level, regardless of the fact that the majority of one teacher's students are at the beginning of English language learning, another teacher has low-level students, and another teacher has students who are considered high-level learners.

"Imagine being in the Senate, and every senator being required to be on the same page, on the same word. Would you accept this for yourselves? Why is it required for every student? If we, the teachers, are not smart enough to know how to reach and teach our students, what makes you, the untrained in our profession, so much smarter?"

Gloria Simosky
Third Grade Teacher
Los Angeles Unified SD
Lawndale, California

 

"No Child Left Behind sounds good on paper, but I have a classroom of students who will be left behind by virtue of their IQs.

"I do believe that all children can learn and that they should be given  as much academic rigor as they can handle. For my students, that means functional skills.

"The state of California has an alternate curriculum and test that attempts to address their needs, but the test is labor intensive, and I am the only one who can give it. It takes at least an hour for each student to complete, and every test must be given one on one. It takes the entire two-week testing window to do this.

"Beyond time concerns, I don't believe that the skills are all appropriate. For example, students who take Level I and who function at two years or less were asked to point to the first letter of their name. (They don't even recognize their name.) The test is also very language based, so it puts students with autism at a disadvantage, even though they tend to be the ones with better skills. The test also expects a lot of writing, and anyone who knows the severely handicapped population knows that fine motor skills are a major weakness for the majority of my students.

"I like that we are placing value on my students and on their education, but it will be very difficult to get them to the proficient level. It's not right for us to stress out our less severely handicapped students in special ed by making them take their grade-level tests. They are placed into special education for a reason -- they are unable to work at grade level. We need to develop a test to meet the needs of students who fall between those who work from the regular ed curriculum and the alternate curriculum."

Beth Sivrais
Teacher of Severely Handicapped Students
South Bay Union
Chula Vista, California

 

"I am an adult school ESL teacher and counselor. However, I am also a special education advocate and a National Board Certified teacher in English as a New Language for Early Adolescent and Young Adults. I am listed as a highly qualified teacher under the NCLB legislation guidelines, but I  am treated by my district as if I know nothing about my area of expertise.

"I regularly speak at Board of Education meetings, and I spend an inordinate amount of time listening to our Board of Education members discuss educational issues affecting our students. Our district, because of the extremely hard work of our teaching staff, has managed to achieve the highest test scores in San Bernardino County, yet our district still has at least five underperforming schools, according to NCLB guidelines.  

"The Board of Education is hopelessly ignorant of the factors that affect the achievement gap, and although members say that they support equal educational opportunities for all students, they fail to support the elements that need to be fully implemented to achieve the responsibility, respect, and results that are needed.     

"I have taught in my district, the Chino Valley Unified School District, for 22 years, and I see no respect for teachers. I see only lip service. I see a staff that has been so demoralized not only by the effects of NCLB, but also by the extreme ignorance of those who should be informed about the state and federal guidelines that govern our public education process.     

"Until teachers are respected and their expertise acknowledged, no amount of legislation will produce the results that we desire. All children must be given the oppportunities necessary for them to not only succeed, but also to thrive, compete, and be whole individuals with good hearts and fulfilled minds.

"But my story is not just about me. It is about my fellow teachers who work hard each year to help our district shine with regard to our test scores. The scores makes our district look great to members of the public, who consider these all-important statistics when deciding where to reside; however (and most unfortunately), the district seems to take most, if not all, of the credit for these top scores and rarely gives credit to the teachers who work day in and day out on the front lines.

"Our district is made up of thousands of English language learners. We have a very high rate of CLAD and BCLAD teachers who are highly qualified to teach these children; however, other factors, such as socioeconomics, single-parent families, and immigration-related issues, have influenced how well students are able to perform on these high-stakes tests. This has resulted in several of our schools being labeled underperforming. In turn, the morale of the teachers on these campuses is at an all-time low.

"Unfortunately, the administration blames the hard-working teaching staff. At the rate we are going, it will be no time at all before more qualified teachers decide either to leave the profession altogether, or at least go to a better district, where teachers are treated as the professionals they are, dedicated to improving student success without taking away the joy of learning."

Sindi Wasserman
ESL Teacher/Counselor
Chino Valley Unified SD
Chino, California

 

"In the beginning of the school year, I was answering questions from my students regarding the important things we would be learning during the school year. One of my sixth graders raised his hand and stated that he had a question about what we would be learning.

I was anxious to hear the question. He simply asked, 'Is there anything we will be learning this year that we need to remember for longer than the test?' I was struck by the fact that my students have experienced so many years of NCLB, and they have the idea that learning was only for the test."

Michael Weilein
Middle School Teacher
Ontario-Montclair
Ontario, California

 

"Testing, testing, testing!  What happened to teaching, teaching, teaching?  So much to cover and never enough time!  Teaching to a test, instead of teaching for a test (knowledge), is all we have time for. Involving and engaging our students in active learning is crucial. We need time and resources to do this! Smaller classes will enable us to do this and to do it well. Please help us do our job: teach.

"Thank you for your support in helping us to achieve NEA's vision that all children have the basic right to a great public school. You are helping make NEA's ESEA reauthorization a reality. This will help to provide students with 21st century skills, help to close achievement gaps, help to create enthusiasm for teaching and learning, and help to ensure that public school employees have the resources to get the job done."

Cheryl Wester
high school teacher
Corona-Norco Unified SD
Perris, California

 

"I work at a Title I school that has 18 different languages represented on our campus. My colleagues and I believe in the motto 'It takes a village to raise a child,' and we represent 470-plus years of teaching experience. In our district, we are always the school with the largest point increase in our API scores, although we are one of the district's poorest schools. We have met our state API scores continuously since California enacted this policy. We have the most subgroups of all the schools in our district, and 94 percent of our students receive free or reduced lunch.  

"The pass/fail process that is given to the AYP subgroup scores is unfair to schools such as ours. Last year, all of our subgroups made their AYP goals, except for one. The goal was 24.6 percent, and the score of the subgroup that did not make it, Hispanics who are not English Language Learners, was 24.2 percent. To fall short of our AYP goal by only .4 percent was disheartening and frustrating, especially since we had worked so hard and every other subgroup had made it. This was one student, on a bad day, who missed 10 questions.

"I do not think the all-or-none, pass-or-fail policy is fair to those of us who are in the trenches everyday; we know how hard we work to give these students a solid education all year. Our students deal with so many hardships (poverty, hunger, homelessness, neighborhood drug or gang activity, absentee parents) outside of the academic setting that the number of subgroups that did make the goal is a testament to the resiliency of youth, and the desire to learn.

The students feel like failures when they see in our local papers a big "No" listed next to our school for not having made the AYP goals. The papers don't delineate that we didn't make it due to .4 percent. Please change the way NCLB sets its goals, so that we may be given credit for the subgroups that do make their goal and not punished for the one group that doesn't. Thank you for support in this very important matter."

Suzie White-Gomez
Fourth Grade Teacher
Redlands Unified School District
Highland, California

 

"As a high-school special education teacher, I have watched students face and overcome a multitude of challenges. Some students not only have learning disabilities, but also face having to learn a second language. Due to NCLB's new requirements, students face the same obstacles, but they now have no promise at the end.

Years of effort and progress do not pay off. Students are becoming increasingly frustated and hopeless. What hope will we give them? The needs of all, including those with disabilities, should be more carefully addressed. We need to bring back hope."

Stacey Willett
High School Special Education Teacher
Sacramento City Unified SD
Sacramento, California