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NCLB Stories: Colorado

 

"I am in a rural agricultural area, and my school population is largely mobile Hispanic children, some 92 percent of whom qualify for free lunch and speak Spanish as their primary language. I am not making excuses for the great gains my students make; however, the ESEA one-size-fits-all idea has left my co-workers and students discouraged because all of the creativity has been taken out of the curriculum.

"My school is in its second year of academic/accreditation watch. Last year, the fourth- and fifth-grade students lost morning recess. Social studies, geography, history, and government have been relegated to the occasional minute, if available. Art has been totally cut out, as have many field trips.

"This has been destructive to students who have no physical or artistic outlet for their energy and creativity."

Susan Banning
Third Grade Teacher
Center Consolidated
Center, Colorado

 

"This a personal account. My story: I am 51 years old and I was a late bloomer. As a child, I attended a very strict Catholic school. We had no art, no PE,  and a very limited music program. I felt I was a low-achieving student and always wondered why I didn't flunk.

"I can remember being moved from the high group to a lower-achieving group in first grade and, from then on, I knew I wasn't good enough. Young children who are expected to take these NCLB assessments feel this same frustration and, believe me, they will feel unsuccessful. 

"As a sixth grader, I attended a public school where I became super-confident and a leader in my class. I found I had a talent for art, tumbling, and music. This inspired me to get better grades, and I became a junior leader in Girl Scouts, a pom pom girl, and a member of student council in high school.

"With No Child Left Behind, some of the most creative and talented children are being left behind. We need to instill a love for learning in all of our students, and they will rise to the occasion, succeeding in academics and the arts.

"The most gifted individuals are well-rounded in academics, the arts, languages, and critical thinking. We are missing the boat when we only focus on the 3 R's without integrating the arts, PE, languages, and the critical application of all. Please don't label our children with only a written statewide test. Thanks for lending me your ear."

Lynn Comaianni
Second Grade Teacher
Pueblo #60
Pueblo, Colorado

 

"Our district, like many other districts, is gradually eating away at all of the classes that are not tested on the CSAP. Social studies -- the original purpose of the public education system was to have an informed electorate -- are being reduced or eliminated.

"Arts and other electives are being eroded. We will be creating a generation of students who cannot think critically and who have little or no cultural awareness. This must end."

William Dosher
High School Teacher
Cherry Creek School District
Aurora, Colorado

 

"I spend my days defending our excellent reading and writing programs in an extremely overcrowded school because there might be a blip in the testing results. (Try having 720 kids in a school built for 500, two new administrators, and no materials to teach mandated programs.)

"Standardized state testing is but one measure of a child's progress, not the only measure. It's like judging the quality of a dentist based on how many cavities his patients have. What if they only come to him when they have a problem? He can't control that.

"We must have a shared responsibility to educate our children. Don't penalize us because our kids might come to school unprepared to learn. Let us help make them better."

Melissa Fike
Elementary School Teacher
St Vrain Valley
Longmont, Colorado

 

"My district tried to be proactive and prepare our ESPs for the deadline to be highly qualified. If the ESPs did not have the required education, they had to take a test. As a high school mathematics teacher, I tutored many ESPs to help them pass the test.

"Most of my 'students' passed the test, but they agreed that the test was traumatic, demeaning, and that it cost us many people who found the experience simply not worth the reward of being allowed to keep the job they had loved. 

"We are losing great people who love students, who work with disabled students unable to add one plus one, and who give our students the love and support they are not getting at home. And now, our new EAs must have certain educational qualifications, which are expensive to earn. Who in their right mind would go to school for this, then go to a job where they earn less than the average clerk at McDonald's? 

"Teachers cannot do their work without their co-workers who are ESPs. Thanks for ensuring that a whole generation of potential ESPs never even consider the profession."

Kathryn Freidel
High School Math Teacher
Colorado Springs District #11
Colorado Springs, Colorado

 

"I work in a school where 60 percent of the students are Latino and the other 40 percent are a split between Black and White students. It is located in a neighborhood that is considered to be in the lower-socioeconomic bracket.

"Our school has always turned out good citizens. We focus a lot of attention on character education, and it shows. I have seen the focus shift over the past few years to teaching to the test at the expense of creating lifelong learners.

"As students get older, teachers are more hesitant to let them out of the classroom for mental-health support and social-skills development. The teachers see every minute out of their classroom as points lost on our state achievement test, the CSAP. It seems to me that many of our students need both the academic and social/emotional support that schools have to offer.

"By focusing solely on academic achievement, we are missing out on highlighting the skills of students who excel in other areas, and we are damaging their self-esteem. I see more and more children who hate coming to school because it is a miserable experience for them. I hope that we can get back to focusing on the whole child when we take a new look at ESEA."

Karen Hampel
Social Worker
Cherry Creek School District
Denver, Colorado

 

"As president of the Aurora Education Association, I have heard from members regularly about how the current version of ESEA has siphoned joy from the work they do with students and the passion they originally had in coming to our profession.

"Teachers in my district are required to assess student progress on a continual and rotating basis to such an extent that there is little time left for actual teaching, and there is literally no time left for anything that might be deemed creative or fun. Social studies and science (until last year) had become expendable content areas (particularly at the elementary level) and were simply not taught. Now, because science will be tested on the state assessment, students do get science on a more regular basis, but social studies is almost forgotten. The only areas of emphasis are math and literacy.

"Teachers are required to teach in a way that does not allow for their professional expertise or judgment to be applied to the work they do with their students. ESEA has placed such an emphasis on student proficiency based on performance on one state assessment that little else appears to matter, neither providing students with a well rounded, creative, and engaging learning experience, nor encouraging teachers to be passionate, creative, engaging practitioners of their profession.

Brenna Isaacs
Elementary School Teacher
Aurora Public Schools
Aurora, Colorado

 

"At another school in my district, the kindergarten kids no longer get recess because that would interfere with their literacy block!"

Mike Lindstrom
Elementary School Teacher
Jefferson County
Lakewood, Colorado

 

"Teachers who best meet the individual needs of students through creative teaching methods and the professional assessment of student needs can't teach to the best of their abilities. I have been told numerous times that I shouldn't, couldn't, or will not be able to teach a subject or topic the way I want to teach it because it is not how the district wants me to teach it.

"Most of the time, this discussion comes from my wanting to vary my teaching approach to what I know my students need versus the distict's understanding of what topics the NCLB/ESEA requirements mandate be taught. This is not in the best interests of the students or teachers in the educational system."

Gwynn Moore
Elementary School Teacher
Aurora Public Schools
Aurora, Colorado

 

"My school was the first in our district to go on watch. Approximately 35 percent of our population is in either special ed or ESL subgroups. Our ESL students gained 40 points, but that was not good enough for them to meet AYP.

"Evaluation, assessment, and accountability need to be about student growth from year to year, not about one subgroup population versus another, or one graduation class versus another! Fix ESEA!

"In Colorado, a Denver middle school was taken over by the state after it did not make AYP. A private company came in to run the school. They were allowed to be selective about which students they accepted to attend 'their' school. Even after being allowed to discriminate, the new school still did not make AYP!"

Marylou Rogers
High School Teacher
Thompson R2-J
Loveland, Colorado

 

"I teach English language learners, who I have found to be the hardest-working, most-appreciative students I have ever worked with in almost 30 years in education. One recent student's story is a prime example of how NCLB legislation, by unfairly labeling students, is demoralizing and needs to be changed.  

"Cesar, a third grade student, came to me in August without word one of English. Cesar worked together with his classroom teacher, he did a significant amount of work with me, and he had a fantastic group of peers; as a result, he learned English amazingly quickly. I almost exempted him from the test, but two things stopped me: the first was the part of NCLB that says that any child who doesn't take the test counts as a zero for our school's report card, and the second was Cesar, himself, whose personal goal was to know enough English to pass CSAP (Colorado's state mandated NCLB test). Reluctantly, but with Cesar's terrific desire to succeed coaxing us on, we had him take the test.

"He struggled and struggled, reading every word over and over again until he thought he understood well enough to answer each question. He worked so hard and so long on that test, it brought tears to my eyes. He was so proud of himself after he completed it, you should have seen his face.

"Remember, he had only been working in English since August, and the reading test was given in February -- six short months with a new language, and he took the same test that native speakers took. He kept asking what his score was and actually looked forward to the day his parents would get 'the letter.'

"Well, the scores came out, and while we celebrated (understanding statistics and scoring), he and his family were devastated. Cesar earned a score that was only two tiny points below the cut off to be considered partially proficient on CSAP, but it was still below the cutoff, so he was labeled an unsatisfactory learner.

"Nothing could be further from the truth; he had gone from basically zero to almost proficient in just six months, but the federal government didn't care about that effort or progress. To the feds, the state, and the public, he was unsatisfactory.

"I tried explaining it all to his parents, and tried even harder to lift Cesar's spirits, but I'm not sure how much success I had. Without changes in the structure and process of reporting scores, stories like Cesar's will continue to deflate and demoralize the best and brightest students."

Mary Beth Solano
ESL Teacher
Poudre School District
Fort Collins, Colorado

 

"ESEA has made it extremely difficult for our district to hire support personnel because of declining enrollment and lack of funds. The ability to find people who are willing to work for minimal salaries and who have a degree is a challenge.

"I would ask you to consider making sure that mandates are funded so that we continue to ensure that every child has the right to a quality public education. It is your responsibility to ensure that the resources are available to all of us as teachers and support personnel. The needs are real."

Irma Valerio-Garcia
Middle School Teacher
District #11
Colorado Springs, Colorado

 

"I work at a school that has a 75 percent free lunch rate and about a 65 percent Hispanic population. We have never made AYP and have been on academic watch because:

  1. "We house severe-needs special ed students, and all 21 of those youngsters receive a grade of 0 (zero) on the Colorado state tests, known as CSAP. Most of those youngsters do not even have verbal skills, never mind the ability to read and pass the test.
  2. "We also house the Newcomers Program, special classes for youngsters who are coming into American schools for the first time. They spend about one year in that special program, and they make enormous progress in their English language abilities; however, they do not have enough skill to read the test during that first year so they, too, all get zero.    

"As you can see, there is no way that my school will ever get off academic watch with at least 60 youngsters being graded as zero every year. The frustration of the students, staff, and administration is becoming overwhelming, and we all have a sense of failure. True education in our school is being beaten down and destroyed by this legislation. Thank you, NEA, for trying to fix this legislation."

Virginia Villafranca
Middle School Teacher
St. Vrain Valley
Longmont, Colorado