NCLB Stories: Illinois
"In my school, the staff is so worried about closing the achievement gap for the students, it is becoming the norm to have academic after school groups. On rotating days, the students stay for one-and-a-half hours to review and learn math and reading skills. The idea looks good on paper, but it has cut into our arts programs, limiting the music, art, and drama groups to only a few students. For chorus or band, this is not a good thing.
"It seems to the children who are in the after school math and reading groups that they will never measure up to the other students who are in the chorus. The performing groups have become the elite bunch in the school.
"For many of the slower achievers, the arts are what keep them interested in coming to school. It may be just the motivation they need to stay in school and succeed in other areas. We had a student who was labeled as 'troubled' from his elementary school, and he was placed in the school chorus his first year in the middle school. His behavior changed both in school and at home. His mother got more involved in his academic education, and the student went on to the high school and was very popular and successful.
"With NCLB, pulling students from arts classes should not be a remedy for making sure all students learn together. The problem with NCLB is that all children do not achieve at the same time. They are not all on the same page when it comes to learning. All students will learn what they need to become successful, but they will do it at their own pace. NCLB must make sure all students start at the same level in order to achieve what needs to be done. We must all make sure the resources are in place for the development of the whole child. To lose any of our classes just to ensure that one program works the way the government wants it to is not an option.
"Leave the education to the ones who are in the trenches and work every day with the students who need them. We do know what we are doing, and we can help all students become smart, successful, productive citizens for the future."
Evanston Dist #65
"I teach students with special needs. There is no way a sixth-, seventh-, or eighth-grade student can pass the state-mandated tests on that grade level if their ability to read is at or below a second-, third-, or fourth-grade level. These students should be totally exempt from these tests! This includes the portfolio assessment tests, since these are assessing the teachers, not the students.
"The portfolios are assessed through a search for certain information, n a certain order. The teacher puts the portfolio together, not the students. If one item is out of place, the test is considered incomplete. This is not assessing the students' abilities at all! Get rid of the testing, and let us teach our students!
"There are more important things to learn in life and in school than how to take a state or federal test. States and districts shouldn't have to be in competition for the best scores. Rather, we should be proud that we have stable students, who become stable citizens, who aren't worrying about test scores that will mean nothing to them by their 10th high school reunion!"
Brenda L. Bandy
Special Education Teacher
Flora Comm. Unit 35
"Jackson Elementary School teachers worked tirelessly in the first year of corrective action to bring up scores to the level set by NCLB. The students made incredible gains; unfortunately, they missed AYP by less than one percent. This translates to one or two students who made gains, but not enough gains to bring them to the prescribed level; therefore, they are in their second year of corrective action, and the school is labeled as failing."
vice president, Rockford Education Association
"When I taught special education students, I often had children who faced almost insurmountable handicaps to learning. I deeply resent ESEA's implied message that all children learn in a cookie-cutter way and should master knowledge at the same rate as non-identified special ed students. For many of those I taught, I would have been thrilled to see two or three months' gain during the course of a school year but, according to ESEA, these children and I, as their teacher, were failures. How incredibly sad for those students.
"ESEA needs to leave best teaching practices and instructional levels and ratings to the professionals who work daily with these students. While well intended, ESEA has caused irreparable harm to those students with disabilities and to their instructors."
Elementary School Teacher
North Palos #117
Tinley Park, Illinois
"My name is Stephanee Jordan. I have taught in public schools for 19 years. I used to be a great teacher. Last year, I realized I had become something else.
"I was the proud teacher of English language learners. I spent between 10 and 12 hours every day planning lessons and designing curriculum that would not only teach students English but also expand their world and change and enhance their lives and that of their families. I didn't mind the hard work. I could see the benefit to students, and I was invigorated by it.
"My students stayed in school, graduated at a higher rate than the rest of the high school population, and have gone on to wonderful careers. The bilingual and ESL programs I created were viewed as models by universities in our area.
"My ESL students designed the first student-created Web site in our school district after they read the novel Holes. My students read and wrote meaningful, expressive poetry. Some of them even had their work published in the school literary magazine. My students read Shakespeare and performed their own versions of Romeo and Juliet in a contemporary setting. My students acted out the courtroom scene from To Kill A Mockingbird with a jury composed of students, and they wrote papers about racism. These projects changed their lives. I have had former students come back to me years later and tell me the exact moment they experienced transformation.
"Jacob Martinez told me, 'I knew I could work in the computer industry when we made that Web site. Today, I am a project manager for Sony PlayStation.' Gabriela Nunez told me, 'I had the confidence I needed to attend college after being in your class. I knew I could read and think about great books, and I wrote papers that were read aloud in class. My classmates thought I had something important to say.' Messifa Ankou old me, 'To Kill a Mockingbird is the best book I ever read. I will always remember Atticus when I feel afraid to speak up about things that are wrong.' No student has ever come up to me and said, 'My life is better because you had me do lots of worksheets and test preparations and take standardized tests so you could keep your job.'
"What has happened to us? I don't know any educator who thinks we are going in the right direction. I still love students and want to teach, but I don't like what I'm being forced to do right now. I've turned into something I'm not proud of. Please, I want to teach. I want to help students in meaningful ways. I want to be a great teacher again.
"My students don't do any of these things anymore. We prepare for tests and are tested. I have been forced to squander 17 days of class time because of standardized tests. One of the curriculum changes I have had to make is to use boring vocabulary drills. Last spring, one of my students said to me, 'Mrs. Jordan, when my brother had you in class, everyone made a poetry book. When are we going to write poetry?' I answered, 'We don't have time for poetry any more. We have to get ready for the test.'
"Another student said, 'Can't we read a book instead? I heard we were going to read some cool books this year, and we've only read two.' Tears welled in my eyes as I replied, 'We don't have time to read books in English class. I'm sorry kids, I'm so sorry. I don't know what happened to us.'"
High School Teacher
Moline School District #40
"I am a 10-year veteran teacher in a small school district in Illinois. Ever since the start of this NCLB/ESEA business, my job has not been the same. The pressure that this legislation has placed on students and teachers is unbearable and stressful. Before this legislation, we had our curriculum in place and we had numerous activities included in that curriculum. With only 180 days to work, every day is precious to me. I lost at least two weeks of class time this year to the pressures of our school district to teach to the test, so we would meet the percentages.
"In addition, many of our math classes have switched over to a multiple-choice format to train students to take the tests. This does not allow for the kind of higher-level thinking problems that students need for true math skills. On another note, with our small numbers, the percentage system is completely unbearable. When you only graduate 16 students, the difference that a single student makes in your percentages is amazing. This needs to be looked at. The previous year, our school failed, literally, by one student. Small school districts are unfairly punished by this and will eventually lose if this continues.
"ESEA's percentage system seems to be in direct opposition to Nebraska's belief—and the findings of numerous studies— that small classes with 15 or fewer students improves education. I strongly urge you to develop improvements to this legislation that will take the emphasis off testing, so we can teach students again, and not just test them."
High School Teacher
Villa Grove, Illinois
"I work with three high schools in Springfield school district as a 'push and support' to assist them in their school improvement reform efforts. These high schools are trying to restructure their schools into small learning communities, to implement a school wide instructional focus on improving reading in all content areas, to collect and analyze data on student performance that enables every teacher to address individual student's educational needs (targeting students with specific educational interventions), and to develop and implement a professional development plan that will effectively assist teachers and other staff in improving student achievement.
"There are few funds to assist these high schools in this work. Little or no technology dollars are available for us to keep current with our global economy, little or no funds are available to upgrade our buildings into small learning communities, and little or no funds are available to significantly train and support educators around these reform efforts -- especially in curriculum areas that will help teachers help their students to become better readers.
"Most high school teachers do not have background knowledge and skills in that area, even though they need and want to become better reading teachers. ESEA does not provide adequate funding to enable our large high schools to do this work. We want to 'go there' but need access to appropriate resources, models, time, and training to do so effectively."
Teacher/School Improvement Coach
Springfield District 186
"I had a student this fall who was a third grader. When she came to me, the word 'the' was too difficult for her to read. She was functionally illiterate. She also had huge self-esteem issues because of the teasing she received from her older siblings and the kids in the neighborhood, as well as the chiding she received from the adults in her life who thought she just wasn't trying hard enough. We spent lots of time working to improve her self-esteem as well as her reading.
"She was by no means able to read at a third-grade level by the time ISAT came, but she could read, and she felt really good about herself and the accomplishments she had made.
"We spent lots of time during the year working on test- taking strategies, work on decoding, and so forth. I left on Wednesday night to attend the IEA Representative Assembly. When I returned on Monday, we had to start the ISAT testing. I spent a couple of minutes talking about attitude and about doing our best, then we started the test. I walked around the room, monitoring, to be sure the students were in the right place and focused. When I came to this little girl, she was sitting at her desk sobbing.
"I leaned in and asked her what was wrong. She looked at me with huge sad eyes and said, 'You lied to me.' I was shocked, and asked what I had lied about. She sobbed to me: 'I am too stupid!' All I could do was give her a huge hug, remind her that this test was not really for her, and that when we got to the math portion, she would shine.
"After a week of ISAT, it took until May before we could re -establish her self-confidence in reading and a small portion of the self-esteem she had worked so hard to achieve. For this one little girl, three days of reading tests destroyed an entire year of instruction!"
LD Resource Teacher
"A year ago, Bloom Elementary was put on the early watch list. Additional funding resulted in the hiring of tutors. At the end of that year, Bloom's scores improved enough to remove the school from the watch list. So what happened? The money was taken away, and they had no funding to continue the tutoring program for their at-risk students.
"In effect, they were penalized for succeeding."
President, Rockford Education Association
"I am almost ready to give it up. I graduated from college at the top of my class with a science degree, I am well-read and articulated I care deeply about the education of our most at-risk children, but I am almost ready to give it up. I spent last year attempting to achieve National Board Certification, an arduous process that indicates how deeply I care about my practice, but I am almost ready to give it up.
"I work harder than any of my similarly credentialed friends in other fields. Certainly, I make far less. Yet, this doesn't matter because I am doing what I feel I have been called to do. I am a good teacher, but I am about ready to give it up.
"I am at school constantly, working with my students, most of whom come from impoverished homes (and many of whom are struggling with violence and neglect as well). I spend a great deal of time getting to know my students so that I can find the best way to reach them. I meet their families, go to their churches, and find them resources. When they come to school, they are often malnourished, exceedingly depressed, anxious, and desperate.
"Despite all of these problems, I teach them to balance equations, solve genetics problems, and make sense of the dauntingly complex natural world that surrounds them. My students succeed, yet I am a failure. Day in and day out, a single test score is dictating my professional development and forcing my focus away from what I know is important toward what I have to teach for a test.
"My students are considered failures as well. They have no stake in passing a three-hour test, and they simply do not care. And my school is a failure. We have made great strides on behalf of our children, but we still do not have enough children passing a single test. I am ready to give it up. I am tired of being made to feel like a failure. I am tired of my students being made to feel like failures.
"The reason why I haven't yet given it up is that I hope the reauthorization of NCLB will fix the deep flaws in the act. I appreciate that the act has laid bare the criminal difference in achievement of children of color. I appreciate that we are focusing attention on our students with disabilities. I appreciate that we are devoting attention to our ESL students. What I don't appreciate, however, is being constantly made to feel like a failure. I will give up my calling if something doesn't change. I hope someone listens to my voice."
High School Teacher
Springfield District 186
"This is an example from a special education teacher in my school. We have several students with IEPs that provide them with special assistance and modifications. The students may have severe learning disabilities, reading problems, problems with comprehension, and so forth. For example, we have students who have been identified as readers at the second- and third-grade level, and since they are learning eighth-grade material, they are given support or scaffolding (a teaching technique) that presents the material in an easier way, and then they take modified tests with fewer answer choices, or have their tests read out loud to them.
"However, when it comes time to do state testing, all of the protection and support that their IEPs have given them is thrown out the window. They cannot have the tests read to them, and the test is, of course, at an eighth-grade level, since they are considered an eighth grader because of their age.
"So, what happens? These students don't reach AYP as an eighth grader, even though we already know that they won't and can't at this time. Even if these students have improved 100 percent over the last year and now read at a fourth- grade level—which is such amazing progress that no legislator should complain—the achievement is not recognized. This category of students is then labeled as failing; this can even lead to the school being labeled as failing, since one subgroup population can dictate if the entire school gets that label. Who thought this up?
"NCLB is setting up these children to fail and not giving them credit, even though they have shown Adequate Yearly Progress from where they started (second- and third-grade level) to where they are now (fourth-grade level). Why not recognize that?
"We make such progress in our schools, and people who don't understand or have any concept about how to help children learn are creating these rules and laws. Children learn at different levels and at different speeds, and if they are identified as children who need extra support, that information should be taken into consideration.
"This is so frustrating to all teachers, and we really want our legislators to understand. You need to listen to the teaching professionals (us, not you!) when we tell you what we know. Don't make outrageous demands for all children to learn at the same level and at the same time. Stop underfunding our educational programs so terribly or cutting programs completely and then expecting us to work miracles.
"Teachers do amazing work educating this country's future leaders, and why is that not valued more? This should be one of our country's most important issues, and it's not. Stop voting against the education of our children, and start looking realistically at what we do. Thank you for your time and your immediate response to re-focusing on our children, our future!"
Bilingual TBE Teacher
School District 54, Schaumburg
"NCLB has greatly impacted my job because it has eliminated the electives in our special ed department that were both fun and educational for our students. We had an art class just for special ed students and also a driver's ed class. But they have both been eliminated to just teach to the test."
"I am the president of my local Association, which is a special education cooperative in Illinois. This year, I had teachers with Master's degrees and multiple certifications petrified that they would lose their jobs next year because they would not be considered highly qualified under NCLB. This is even though we are all having to meet new, extensive continuing-education requirements to simply maintain our certification.
"Of course we are all highly qualified to teach the subjects we do. Ninety-five percent of my staff have a minimum of six years of experience and most have at least 10.
"Their feeling of foreboding was compounded when told that Illinois' first HOUSSE proposal was denied by the federal government because it would certify too many staff as highly qualified? Shouldn't every person be highly qualified if working in a school? I certainly believe all the staff in my district already are highly qualified!"
Speech Language Pathologist
"Ah, the power of cheese. We have probably all heard this slogan from the American Dairy Association; however, to me, it means Colby! That's right. I have a precious student in my class named Colby. And, he is powerful! Colby delighted me each and every day of this past school year. His clever insights and timely comments added such enchantment to my room. Colby's understanding of the literature and respect for an author's words and insights often left me breathless.
"His eyes filled with tears over the transcendentalists, and he really understood the power of the soul, and the concept of listening to one's spirit and instinct as he gleaned Emerson's and Thoreau's every word. As he told the tale of his own spiritual journey, his classmates (and his teacher) were awestruck over his incredible grasp of these amazing men's theories and their ideals of successful life. Self-reliance and belief in the individual became Colby's mantra. Colby, to quote Thoreau, 'marches to the beat of a different drummer.' And he found success and contentment. My classroom was the oasis where he excelled in his own way and achieved at his own pace.
"But, as enjoyable as my classroom can be, for Colby and so many others across the United States of America, No Child Left Behind has reared its ugly head. My sweet Colby is left more like smelly linburger! You see, Colby had an accident and received major head trauma. Colby is able to stay in the regular classroom because he can verbally delight and enlighten any teacher. But I am required to have him achieving at the 4.0's. He simply cannot. If you want to see the spark and shine in a young man's eyes suddenly fizzle and fade, please come to my classroom and watch as the required testings and other horrors of No Child Left Behind blatantly leave Colby feeling that he is a failure, and leave me feeling that I, too, am one.
"NCLB simply does not and cannot do what I can do, if I am left to run my classroom without the NCLB interference: love and cherish Colby for who he is, where he is, and where, with individual guidance, he will soar. Please don't treat him as a cookie-cutter kid. He is his own unique creation! Please, I beg you, let me teach these precious creations without your interference and gross misunderstanding of what a teacher is and does. Thank you."
High School English Teacher
Bond County Unit Two
"I am totally in awe that my previous school made double- digit gains on our state test, and yet my school was dubbed a failing school and closed. It will reopen as a magnet school; boundaries were changed to lure other communities to come to the school.
"The staff was made to transfer to other schools, and the best and the brightest were moved to the new school. Any teacher can teach those students on grade level. The challenge is teaching at-risk students. We met the challenge and raised the scores, but it was all in vain. The children were successful, but they are still labeled nevertheless. It was a slap in the face to our staff who worked very hard to raise the test scores; however, it was not good enough.
"We did not reach state standards. We feel that another year would have given us a chance to meet the standards, yet the decision to close the school was made in haste. I view it as a political move that did not benefit the children I service."
Loretta Tisdel Thomas
Elementary School Teacher
Crete Monee District 201U
South Holland, Illinois
"I teach high school special education with students who are, on average, at a fourth-grade reading level and a third-grade math level. Having the students take a test that is on the eleventh-grade level reaffirms their belief that they are stupid. The building sweats whether or not we will have a subgroup of special education students.
"If this group does not meet or exceed the benchmarks, then the school is deemed unsatisfactory and further stress is put on these students. This test is a snapshot and doesn't prove whether or not the students are achieving. Please allow them to take the test that is at their academic age and not chronological age."
High School Special Education Teacher
"I am a paraprofessional in East Central Illinois; however, I am also the parent of a child who has a learning disability and Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder. NCLB's constraints have directly affected both my child and me. I have seen firsthand how stressful standardized testing can be, especially in the eyes of child who believes in perfection.
"The section of a standardized test that may take the average child only 45 minutes could take my child double that time; however, my child does not qualify for extended testing time and so he may not complete the test. This, in turn, affects his overall testing scores, not to mention the effect on his overall self-esteem when he cannot complete the test, or when he receives his test scores and the scores are not within the AYP range or maybe are not even what my child thinks his progress should have been. Once again, devastating.
"This in no way reflects my child's cognitive or academic ability within the classroom. In fact, he is an honor student, a student who is a good citizen. This is not just the mother in me speaking. This is continually stated at his annual IEP meetings. And these types of standardized tests in no way reflect the ability of the teachers who teach him.
"As I stated before, I am not just a mother, I am also a paraprofessional. I have watched children who because of their behavior have been placed in alternative school settings, and who struggle to focus when taking standardized tests. These children will tell you that they struggle to foresee the future because they do not give their overall best when taking these tests. Once again, this is no reflection of the education that they are receiving; it is, however, a reflection of their lifestyles.
"As a paraprofessional, I have also watched as 16-year-olds who may function at a third-grade level take standardized tests. They feel like complete failures; however, we are forced to make them continue the test. They may cry or become frustrated and act out because they cannot complete the test.
"I urge Mr. Bush, our senators, and representatives to look closely at what we are doing to the mental well-being of the children of the future. NCLB is destroying their self- esteem, systematically sending them a message that they cannot be all that they can be. And with NCLB, we are also losing some great teachers because they no longer feel the passion to teach when they are are, in fact, teaching test preparation and not content. I ask you to consider very carefully the long-term effects of NCLB and to consider the mental well-being of our children!"
"Because of the pressure for all children to score high on the standardized ISAT , my students lost three-and-a-half weeks of science instruction. That is how much time I needed to to teach them various test-taking strategies to help them to score well on the test. This loss of subject matter instruction time put them behind students from previous years."
Middle School Teacher
Queen Bee 16
Villa Park, Illinois
"I teach kindergarten, two-and-a-half hours a day per class, two classes. Some years, I have 29 students in a class. This year, there were 24 and 23 kids in my classes. Some children come to school and turn five on the first day. Some have attended academic preschools, and some have participated in play groups. But others have never held a pair of scissors or a paintbrush.
"Five were part of a special ed program and were in my class in the morning and received special services in a diagnostics class in the afternoon. One could read. I celebrate the diversity of my students and accept every one of them as they are. How they come in to my class is where we start to learn.
"Where they are supposed to 'end' has been accelerated beyond comprehension. They need to read—not beginning of first-grade level material, but middle-of-first-grade material. They need to make words—and write multiple sentences on a subject with a capital letter at the beginning and a period at the end. They need to add details, vary the beginnings of their sentences, and stay on topic. Their April and May district writing prompts are to be evaluated using a rubric based on the third-grade state testing standards.
"Many of my kids can do this at the end of the year. Not Doug. But Doug learned to make patterns. Not Brighton. He can name six of eight colors now and can almost write his name. Stacy came to afternoon kindergarten without any experience with the alphabet. She learned all her letters and the sounds that go with them. I was so proud of her progress. She could cut, color, make letters, recognize many sight words—she blossomed in my kindergarten. I think she made adequate yearly progress, but she said, 'I was in kindergarten all year, and I can't even read.' She knew the others had done something she couldn't—yet. She thinks she has an achievement gap.
"Our superintendent has recently announced that 97 percent of all students in our district are going to meet or exceed standards on the tests. He wants to hold teachers accountable to that objective. We aren't going to have an achievement gap.
"My kids don't come to school with the same skills. It's said that you can't get 1000 watts out of a 40-watt bulb. Expecting all students to end the year at the same place is just silly. Some lose teeth. Some don't. Some read. Some don't. Some can skip, and some still walk down the stairs putting both feet on each step. "It's time to stop looking at children as assembly line products on which to impose improvement and to start seeing children as unique, curious, and wonderful. I teach. They learn."
Oswego District # 308
"ESEA has taken the fun and creativity out of the teaching profession. Gone are the days when I could take an entire class period to react to current events and develop the whole child by teaching them how what is going on in the world impacts their life. Instead, my instruction is limited to being on a certain page of the text by a certain day of the year. I leave many, many children behind because if they are not ready to move on, I have no time to go back and help them.
"We have scheduled math help sessions that begin daily at 7:15 a.m.—long before my school and work day begins. Children don't come very often because the buses don't arrive at school early enough, and most of the children at our school take a bus. We offer after school help until 5 p.m. Same story. The buses leave at 2:20 p.m. Our elementary schools are released an hour later, so our middle schoolers have to get home to meet their younger brothers and sisters—no time to stay and get help with math.
"I am so frustrated because I used to be able to take more time, as needed, on some things and consolidate other things, but I am required to give my students chapter tests within a narrow time period. The district is having us write chapter tests so that every teacher gives the same test. I can no longer make the test fun or interesting by writing my own problems that use things in which I know my current students are interested in while still addressing the state goals and standards.
"I don't mind accountability. I like having goals and standards as a guideline. I used to write my own worksheets and projects, incorporating those standards in a fun and meaningful way. I can't do that any longer because I have to follow the formula.
"Students are not responding favorably. They are not motivated by testing. They are not motivated by 'You are going to be retained if you don't do this.' It is hard to put a positive spin on such a negative process. We have had to retain more students than ever before because they are not meeting the objectives at the pace the law says they should be meeting them. These retainees are your future dropouts. School needs to be relevant and responsive to the needs and interests of the students, not formulaic and dry.
"Please let me teach. I really do know what I am doing. More of my students achieved and were productive and happy when I wasn't labeled as a teacher at a failing school and required to change everything that I do best."
Seventh Grade Math Teacher
Round Lake Area District #116
Round Lake, Illinois