NCLB Stories: Florida
"I strongly believe that NCLB and ESEA are designed to inhibit academic freedom, creativity in lesson preparation, and enthusiasm for teaching and acquiring knowledge. The focus on test scores has highlighted the need for quality instruction methods, without sacrificing the enrichment that the arts provide.
"The stripping of the English curriculum has resulted in a weak and fragile skeleton, battered by the expectations and demands of tests such as the FCAT. Consequently, more time is alloted to testable items and fewer positive results are generated.
"Evaluating teachers solely by the standardized test results has, for many teachers, lowered classroom expectations and handicapped their ability to teach, making it less likely that they will have a positive impact their students.
"Students are more than a test score. Similarly, teachers are a great deal more than test coaches!"
Mary Lou Fitzpatrick
Middle School Teacher
Palm Beach County
Lake Worth, Florida
"NCLB has had a negative effect on my students, rather than improving their education. I work with the most difficult students in the district, those with severe emotional and behavior problems. These students have serious problems with which to contend, without the poorly thought-out demands placed on schools by NCLB.
"A prime example would be Quatavius, a fourth-grade African-American boy who comes from a low-income home. His father had been in prison for several years and was slated to be released this year, but he recently passed away while still incarcerated. His [Quatavius's] grandfather died one week later from a heart attack.
"Quatavius has been in special education for most of his school career. He has difficulty in most academic areas but still is eager to learn. What I should be doing for this child, in addition to assisting him in receiving couseling, is providing him with a high-interest curriculum with multi-sensory approaches to help further his progress. I do as much of this as possible.
"In the past year, we ran a class business as a part of our study of economics, we grew a vegetable garden as a part of our science unit on plants, and we set up our own classroom planetarium as a part of our study of the solar system. These units included activities from all of the curriculum areas and were highly motivating to my students. Unfortunately, with the emphasis on high-stakes testing for student promotion and school grades in the state of Florida, I have had to divert a great deal of time to test preparation.
"The anxiety created in already emotionally fragile students is incredible. Quatavius will frequently shut down and will refuse to try, rather than risk failure. This just exacerbates his current situation. While he and other students in my classroom have shown more than a year's growth in a year's time, they still do not meet the criteria set by NCLB. This leaves me feeling discouraged and disillusioned about my role in the education of these very needy children.
"Florida has established stringent guidelines for measuring success and promotion. While my students and my school have shown progress and have received good grades from the state, we are still listed as failing to meet AYP.
"I think the federal guidelines were created by uninformed individuals who lack the perspective to develop realistic, practical goals for schools. I also believe that education is the responsibility of the states and that we should not have to deal with additional and often conflicting demands placed upon teachers and schools by the federal government. Learning should be interesting and fun and teaching a joy. NCLB has taken this from education. Lawmakers should look at the unintended consequences of their actions and let those of us on the frontlines have a voice in deciding what we need for our students, rather than having our hands tied."
Techer of Exceptional Students
"Before the beginning of the last school year, during a summer planning meeting, my principal laid out several new policies for the coming year. The apparent impetus for these new policies was the fact that our school, like most schools in Florida, had never made AYP under NCLB.
"The new policies included a couple that directly affected the students. One was that there would be no more Fun Fridays. While I certainly do not condone teachers taking time at the end of the day on Friday just to goof off, certainly a fun curriculum-related activity as a reward for good behavior seems reasonable. But no.
"The other, more nefarious policy, one that has become common in our district, was to forbid field trips for grades three through five until after FCAT testing (first two weeks of March).
"This policy ignores that field trips might be an integral part of the learning that will be tested by FCAT, and that many opportunities for appropriate field trips will be lost when shows, performances, and volunteers can only be scheduled after FCAT (a performance might only be scheduled during the first semester, for example).
"These are the symptoms that are being felt even in schools with principals who had not previously made concessions to the testing insanity. Eventually, NCLB will force us all into insanity."
Elementary School Teacher
"Teaching has been my profession and my love for the past 33 years. I have been able to incorporate the never-ending rules and obligations of the underfunded ESEA/NCLB debacle into my routine.
"My children are grown, and I have more time to devote to the many rules and increased paperwork.
"My huge concern is for teachers who have come into our profession in the past five years. They are overwhelmed. They have no time for their families or for even building relationships so that they can have families. The result is that they are not staying in education, which is a huge loss to our nation's future. I am worried."
High School Teacher
"Sometimes it is difficult to know where to start. I have been a classroom teacher for 20 years and feel that I have been successful most of the time in reaching the students who have the most difficulty with learning.
"I had worked in dropout-prevention programs for 15 years, until ESEA legislation ended many of the programs directed toward the students most in need. It seems to me that members of Congress have no concept of the fact that students learn at different levels and have different periods of emotional and academic development.
"ESEA has done considerable harm to the self-esteem of students who perform at levels considered by their state system of accountability as meeting learning gains, but considered by ESA standards as failing. As my grandmother would say, 'shame on you.'"
Middle School Teacher
St. Petersburg, Florida
"In yesterday's newspaper, the headlines highlighted that a high school principal in Brevard County was asked to resign and four assistant principals were transferred from that school. Why? I feel the stress and high expectations placed on students' FCAT scores have caused this to happen.
"The demand for all students to not be left behind has created a monster called 'cheat and conquer,' regardless of integrity. During FCAT testing, many administrators are pressured by the state and county officials to have an 'A' school. In the above mentioned incident, the administration was asked to resign for promoting special education students from ninth and tenth grades to eleventh grade so that their tests scores would not influence the school's grade. What a scandal! This has caused the principal, the four vice principals, and the county to be investigated.
"I am horrified that if one school got caught, maybe there are many more getting away with this type of practice. It's indeed sad and tragic that NCLB and high-stakes testing have created this kind of destruction. I am an advocate for accountability; however, it is my opinion that a well-balanced portfolio that gives a genuine snapshot of a student's academic ability provides hard evidence of a student's best performance. The FCAT should not be the main focus.
"The way to educate students is to direct them to be critical thinkers and problem solvers, rather than to focus on teaching-to-the-test so that students parrot what they have learned. Say 'no' to the high-stakes testing that only encourages students to feel anxious and inferior to their peers if they have a learning disability or cannot control test anxiety.
"I have seen elementary students cry and bite their nails during the weeks of FCAT testing. Surely, in this age of technology, we can create a democratic nation with students who are encouraged to be critical thinkers and problem solvers. Just say 'no' to high-stakes testing. Instead, keep our students prepared to engage in problem solving. Let there be a more varied way to document student progress.
"The Florida FCAT is leaving students behind in the arts, which includes music, drama, and foreign language. I feel that students deserve the very best that they can achieve. Students don't just need the core of education. They deserve the whole apple.
"Our students deserve the best in education exellence. Save our public schools for the future of our democracy. Vote 'no' on the ESEA/NCLB authorization. We need to touch the lives of students to accomplish $ucce$$. (I spelled success with the dollar signs to indicate that a good, sound, well-balanced education will lead to earning a better well paying jobs and good citizenship.)
"ESEA has taken and will continue to take the joy out of teaching and learning. Students retain what they are learning much better if they are actively involved in the learning processes. This is not the way to prove that a student can learn or a teacher can teach. Please say 'no'!"
Anne Marie Wolfe
Elementary School Teacher