NCLB Stories: Connecticut
"As a reading specialist, I live to empower students through literacy. However, the ESEA has limited my ability to promote true learning. I am a educator with the moral responsibility to ensure that each of my students can be a productive citizen. Teaching to the test is not the way to ensure that our students will be able to contribute. Instead, high-stakes testing ensures high dropout rates, crime, and dependence."
High School Teacher
Bronx, New York
"My concerns regarding NCLB include the fact that, to my knowledge, no provisions are being made to provide an effective preschool program to children entering the public school system. As a speech pathologist, I deal constantly with children who have had little or no preschool experience before entering school, thus causing them to be judged as deficient in their social and/or academic readiness as soon as they hit the school house doors.
"Preschool program costs are prohibitive to many families. Ironically, these are the children who most need these early educational and social experiences due to the financial, educational, and emotional needs of their families.
"With their first step into a classroom, they begin a downward spiral that is often difficult, if not impossible, to prevent. Head Start programs address a percentage of that population, but in relatively affluent towns like my home district, this program is not available to working families because they are simply not poor enough. The initiatives of No Child Left Behind should begin before the kindergarten experience begins."
Elementary School Speech Pathologist
South Glastonbury, Connecticut
"I'm a special education teacher at Sarah Noble Intermediate School in New Milford. We have been on 'the list' for two years in a row, and it's our special education children who are the guilty subgroup. The thing that upsets me most is that my kids have to be tested on grade-level tests, and that's not fair. They wouldn't be special ed if they were on grade level, and it makes them feel stupid and worthless when they can't even read the test.
"I have watched as kids took these tests in small groups and untimed settings (as if that's going to help, when they can't even read the tests) and just filled in bubbles because the tests were so overwhelming to them. It makes me want to cry because I can just see and feel their frustration, and yet I'm the one making them take it.
"I spend all year trying to build up their self-image, and those 10 days of testing undoes everything I worked for. It would be like us having to take a reading test in Russian, and everyone getting mad at us if we weren't proficient and brought the group's scores down.
"Because of NCLB, there is way too much time and effort put on teaching to the test. In our school, since we were on the school improvement list last year, we were receiving material that resembled the CMT format, so we could practice with our classes. I really resent this!
"School is already much more stressful than when we were kids -- our regular ed children are doing things in fourth and fifth grade that we did in seventh and eighth grade; all this emphasis on testing is taking the fun out of learning and of being a child.
"Especially with special ed kids we need to use our time more wisely and teach the things they need to know to be successful in later life. They don't need to be drilled on things they will never use again, just so we make adequate yearly progress.
"I measure AYP by seeing a child's self-esteem grow because he has been successful at his level and will continue to move ahead each year. The progress might be a little slower, but in the end, my kids find what they are good at, learn to compensate for what they aren't good at, and build their lives and employment around their strengths -- and they don't feel like failures.
"The last thing I hate about NCLB is the issue of 'highly qualified.' I am certified from K-12 in music education and K-12 in special education (both mentally handicapped and emotionally disturbed), but I wasn't highly qualified enough to teach reading to sixth graders after having done it for 30 years and having earned a million CEUs that show that I kept up to date. I'm a BEST mentor because my superintendent felt I would be a good role model for new teachers, but I'm not highly qualified to teach! Someone needs to rethink many parts of this law.
"I'm sorry to be so negative -- that is actually not part of my nature -- but I feel like a mama bear when it comes to my kids!"
Middle School Special
New Milford, Connecticut
"I am one of many special education teachers at ACES who teaches low-cognitive-level students who range in age from six months to five years. These students learn life skills and are given the attention necessary to survive in this world. They do not get math, science, language arts, or social studies in any formal way because it has no relevance to their existence.
"Last year, I was required to become highly qualified in one area; the area I chose was science. I got credit for some committee work and then did two lessons to become highly qualified. Now, I have been told that I have to be highly qualified in the three other areas. For most of us, language arts are communication skills with signs and pictures because for most of our students, expressive oral and written language is nonexistent. What do we gain from being made to do all this work to become highly qualified to feed, change, and work on life skills?
"Our special needs students are not like those in public schools who go to resource special education or who have special education teachers helping in the classrooms. Please voice to whomever that there are other special needs students who are not academically oriented and are in need of special education teachers like myself who specialize in the needs of a totally different population of students and that making a teacher highly qualified in four academic areas does not make us better teachers."
Special Education Teacher
Area Cooperative Education Services (ACES), Hamden
"I teach an intervention class with special needs and regular students who are performing two or three grade levels below their current grade (eighth grade this year). These children are wonderful children who work very hard, but for whom the work needs to be modified and adjusted. I have no problem doing this.
"I have no problem working with them to increase their comprehension. As independent readers, they are on third-, fourth-, or fifth-grade reading levels. They can only do some of the eighth-grade work with support (scaffolding) and diversified instruction. None of these are allowed on the CMT.
"On the CMT, these children are tested in the same way as their classmates who are reading and writing on a high school level. Because our subgroup (which is large, given the area in which we live) has failed to make goal for three years, we are in danger of being taken over by the courts, losing our funding, and perhaps, having our principal, who is a hardworking woman, lose her job.
"I have one little girl this year who, after 10 weeks, still can not remember her science teacher's name without prompting. I have another girl who cannot open her locker without someone standing there to prompt her which direction to turn the lock. This is after four years in schools with lockers. She can remember her combination, but cannot remember which way she is supposed to turn the knob. I could go on and on, but you get the idea.
"If we designate these children as special needs because they have problems that preclude them from being able to work on the level of their peers, how can we justify testing them on that level and then punishing the school district because they can't do grade-level work? If they could do grade-level work, many of them wouldn't be classified as special needs. What a Catch-22."
Middle School Reading
Language Arts Teacher
"I obtained middle grades certification (006) in 1995. I attended Quinnipiac College to obtain teacher certification and received a Master's degree in a one-year program. I was certified to teach math, science, social studies, and language arts in fourth through eighth grades. There were no requirements that I take any Praxis II exams to obtain my certification.
"My first year teaching in East Haven, I taught seventh-grade science and language arts and eighth-grade language arts. After that first year, I was able to teach seventh-grade social studies. I taught at Joseph Melillo Middle School for six years. For the next two years, I taught language arts and science at Amistad Academy in New Haven. Just over two years ago, I relocated to the Hartford area and took a job teaching reading at Two Rivers Magnet Middle School in East Hartford.
"My first reality check concerning NCLB came in the spring of that year, when I was given a notice stating that I was not highly qualified to teach reading. At that time, Two Rivers started changing teaching assignments. I had already notified the administration that I planned to leave, and I tried to find information about NCLB. I called the state, concerned that my certification was no longer valid. I was told that my certification was valid. I asked what good a valid certification was if I wasn't highly qualified to teach anything. It was impossible to find information about (006) certification. It certainly didn't help that this certification was no longer offered.
"I was panic-stricken trying to find a new job. I had never taken a Praxis II and had been out of college since 1977. All the job postings listed certifications that were subject particular and required highly qualified (HQ)status. Any school at which I interviewed knew they'd have to 'HQ' me before June 2005.
"I finally found a job teaching in Union, Connecticut. The superintendent in Union wanted someone with middle grades certification because the position required teaching all academic subjects to a seventh and eighth grade combined class. In the fall of 2005, I was presented with Union's plan for me to be HOUSSED. Since I knew I'd never pass a math or science Praxis II, I opted for classroom observations.
"By now, I'd found some information from the state and from emails exchanged with people at the Department of Education and, most helpfully, the CEA website. The superintendent in Union insisted on three observations in math and hours of CEU credits and training in science. Against the advice of people at the state, I opted to take Praxis II exams in language arts and social studies. I was given this advice because taking the Praxis exams is expensive, and the school district could qualify me with one observation in each subject.
"The superintendent in Union told me she was following the legal advice of some regional consultant. (Mind you, I had to figure this all out while teaching seventh-grade and eighth-grade math and language arts, and combined seventh- and eighth-grade science and social studies classes.)
"In January last year, I took and passed the Praxis II exams in middle-grades language arts and social studies. After scoring high on both exams, I decided to take the Praxis II for high school history to open up job opportunities. I took that in April and received a score high enough to receive the ETS Award of Excellence. Interestingly enough, the score I had to obtain to receive that award was lower than my other scores.
"I am pleased that I am now teaching at Illing Middle School in Manchester; however, it is ridiculous that I had to suffer such anxiety and spend so much money to prove that I am highly qualified to teach. I had years of experience teaching language arts and social studies. I never wanted to teach science or math.
"NCLB really hurt me and made my year teaching in Union even more difficult. In addition to an incredible teaching burden, I also had to prove that I was qualified to teach. I can't think of any other profession where they would dare change the rules for former graduates and degreed professionals. My certification should have been grandfathered in. I very nearly left teaching and very clearly I have the brains to be a teacher."
Middle School language Arts/Social Studies Teacher
Broad Brook, Connecticut
"I'm a comprehensive life skills teacher at the North Haven Middle School. My chief concern has been my special education students who can no longer take out-of-level testing during the CMTs (Connecticut Mastery Tests).
"I contacted U.S. Representative Rosa DeLauro two years ago; she contacted the Department of Education in Washington. I wrote a letter to the editor of the New Haven Register. (Much to my surprise, an editorial was written on the subject that supported my position.)
"Unfortunately, no changes have been made. Special education students, who are putting forth fantastic effort with slow amounts of academic growth over time, are still required to take a test on grade level when they have no chance of meeting with success. Please press forward with this issue."
Middle School Teacher
North Haven, Connecticut
"As NCLB and testing requirements become more ingrained in our curriculum, the option to incorporate integrated curriculum and to relate curriculum to current events becomes limited.
"As a teacher in a science and technology middle school, the students in my class remembered more content and were more engaged when I was able to do this. But as state frameworks and district/state assessments become more frequent, we are required to align our curriculum with the rest of the district. If they are on page 10, or state framework 5A, we must be. It severely limits any creativity or special projects.
"My school has always scored highly on state exams, but our methods are not preferred by district leaders or are more difficult to implement across the district, so we must do it their way. I strongly feel that if it is not broken, don't implement demands based only on law."
"I hold an endorsement in math and have taught ninth through twelfth grade math since 1982 in Bridgeport. In June 2006, I was told that I was not highly qualified in math but I was highly qualified in world language (Spanish) and ESL.
"My principal asked if I wanted to switch to teaching Spanish, since I met the highly qualified requirements for that subject. I told him I haven't taught Spanish since 1980, but I have taught math for the last 24 years with perfect evaluations. Isn't the NCLB law unfair -- not only to myself but to all my future students!"
High School Math Teacher
"This is not so much a story as a year-after-year experience. Every year I am given 20 to 25 new students. Most of them arrive eager to learn and very excited. I, as well, am very excited and eager to teach them. We start our learning experience on day one and continue through the end of the year.
"Because of NCLB, I am always trying to get my special education students to achieve goals and meet expectations that their individualized testing shows they are not capable of doing (including IQ testing).
"I watch their little faces get confused and even sad at times because they just do not have the abilities that other students have, yet they are expected to do the same work.
"On top of that, I teach in an area that has a high ESL population. Many of these children have parents who never had more than a second-grade education. These parents cannot help their children at home. Many of them work two to three jobs in order to pay bills. "They send their kids into schools underfed, tired, and inappropriately dressed for the weather. That does not mean that they aren't doing the best that they can as parents. It means that when these kids come into school, they are not ready to learn.
"Most of these same students have language barriers. These students are expected to take state standardized tests after being in our country for only thirty months. Yet, studies show that it takes five to seven years in order to be truly fluent in a new language. What this shows me is that we are setting these children up for failure. These students cannot even successfully complete the math portion of the test due to the number of word problems or the reading that is needed for some problems.
"The same holds true for the special education students. Maybe someone who helped institute NCLB should step foot into a classroom during the CMT's or any other state test and watch these kids' faces while they are trying to take these tests. I have watched children cry and have little fits of anger or frustration.
"There is nothing worse than watching a student of yours struggle and not being able to help them. It is even worse when you know that they are going to become overwhelmed, and you still have to sit back and watch. It is awful. Every year, I try to come up with new ways of reaching all of these children in order to meet our AYP. I do not know how much more we, as teachers, can do.
"I do not feel that the people setting these standards know what really goes on in a classroom. I firmly believe that some of these state and national representatives should spend a couple of weeks teaching a classroom to find the truth.
"I do not mean visit a couple of schools. I mean pick a classroom in any elementary school in a needy area and stay there for the term. Watch what every teacher does and how much work we put into our day and how tired we are at the end. Then, tell me we need to do more with no help financially for supplies or people. I think some people will change their thinking.
"I do not believe the thought behind NCLB is bad; however, it was not executed properly nor was it thoroughly thought out. I do not believe that every child's needs or those of the schools were taken into consideration. A child with an IQ of 70 is not going to read on grade level. It does not matter what kind of funding or magic you promise, it will not happen. My hope is for some aspects of this act to change and for people with current teaching experience to have some input into it."