NCLB Stories: Iowa
"As president of my local Association, I have seen the focus on assessment take time away from teaching. I have seen instructional freedom taken from the teachers and more prescribed curriculum put in the areas of reading and mathematics. I have also seen teachers overwhelmed with all these changes added to the technological demands that NCLB has 'sold' to districts.
"Teachers are feeling less appreciated, less effective because their tried-and-true methods are being ignored, and they are less willing to share their successes with their peers. Teaching has become a very lonely profession in which the trust from parents, administrators, and board members has eroded the efficacy of the work that we do."
High School Math Teacher
Iowa City Community School District
Iowa City, Iowa
"I am a Title I reading teacher with over 20 years of teaching experience. I hold a Master's degree and have taught college courses in reading instruction, among other things. For the past seven years, I have taught at North Cedar Elementary in Cedar Falls, Iowa. Cedar Falls is an affluent community that has six elementary schools and is the home of the University of Northern Iowa. North Cedar Elementary is located across the Cedar River and, with 53 percent of the population in need of free and reduced lunch, qualifies as a Title 1 school. Twenty-five percent of the student population at North Cedar qualifies for additional special needs services.
"In the spring of 2002, our director of elementary education notified us during a reading teachers meeting that North Cedar Elementary did not have adequate proficiency in reading. It was a shock to the three of us Title I reading teachers and very humiliating to us o be told this in front of our peers. At that time, not much was known about what would happen when a school was cited for not meeting the reading proficiency requirements on the Iowa Test of Basic Skills.
"Just prior to our citing, our principal had resigned, so we were without a principal. We were very unclear on how to proceed; the Iowa State Department did not know much about the in-service program that it would be providing for our teachers. Since we were without a principal, we chose to have the Iowa Department of Ed lead us through the professional development component required for NCLB-cited schools. Also that spring, every parent was sent a letter giving them the option to transfer their children to any other elementary in the district, which was humiliating to us, as a staff of highly dedicated professionals. The local newspaper also printed a story on the top half of the front page describing our citing. It was a shock to read it in the paper because the information had not yet been released to the community.
"And so in the fall of 2002, we continued down the road toward achieving the all-important goal of proficiency in reading on our standardized tests. We were required to have additional, intensive professional development. The Iowa Department of Education led us through the Every Child Reads Program. We, as a staff, found the program to be inflexible, unresearched (we were never shown the research), and highly prescriptive.
"We were treated unprofessionally by our trainers, required to put in many additional unpaid hours, and spent many hours outside of our classrooms, so that our children were often taught by substitute teachers. Our workload and the activities required by this professional development model, along with the work we took home just to keep up with our teaching in the classroom and preparing for substitutes, resulted in the workload for our staff well exceeding that of staff members in the other elementary buildings.
"In the fall of 2002, we were also told that our students would be tutored after school in reading. Our fellow reading teachers in the district came to our building after school and tutored our students. We, the three Title I teachers, were not allowed to tutor the children or work with the reading teachers who would tutor our children. This was infuriating, humiliating, and embarrassing to the three of us who were the building reading teachers. We are highly trained professionals who know our students, know our community, and work countless hours teaching children to become proficient readers. Two of our Title I teachers were trained in Reading Recovery; I have taught courses in reading at the college level and hold a Master's degree in reading, and all of us stay abreast of and apply current research and practices in the field of reading instruction.
"At the fall kickoff meeting for all teachers in our district, our superintendent described the NCLB law and its ramifications and stated, '... and we all know what happened at North Cedar, and none of us want to go through that.' We felt our administrators were embarrassed by the citing because our district tries to remain one of the top districts in the state of Iowa.
"By the end of 2002, our staff was exhausted—mentally, physically, and emotionally. We were a defeated group. The following year we continued our professional development program and much was the same. By the spring of 2003, seven of our 24 staff members requested to transfer out of the building. We wanted out! If this is what was required to work with special needs and poor children, we could not mentally, physically, and emotionally continue. Of the five who interviewed in different schools in the district, none were offered the new jobs. Many veteran teachers talked often of getting out of the profession. We were burned out. The joy and excitement we had felt about teaching children and greeting each new school day was gone. And in its place was a group of exhausted, bitter, worn-out teachers.
"Year three after our citing, we were forced to continue with our professional development program and all it entailed; since our district felt the program was 'working' in our building, we were forced to become leaders in the district in training other buildings in ECR strategies. We were never brought to the table to share our feelings and thoughts about the ECR program. It was assumed that we embraced the program, felt it was working, and would love to teach everyone else in these strategies. Once again, we were not even part of the process. We, the highly trained and experienced professionals, were bypassed.
"Did our children's reading scores improve? Yes. Did our children learn how to take standardized tests? Yes. Did our school's reputation in the community improve? No. Did our staff learn and grow throughout the process? No. Did it make us better teachers? No. Did it take the joy out of teaching? Absolutely.
"In my 20 years in this profession, I have never experienced anything like the NCLB law. It is flawed beyond belief. It punishes the most vulnerable in our schools—the poor and special needs children—and the dedicated professionals who already work twice as hard to help them succeed each and every day. We need laws that help us, not hurt us."
Title I Reading Teacher
Cedar Falls Community Schools
Cedar Falls, Iowa
"I am privileged to be an ESL teacher. I work with intelligent, creative, vibrant, and enthusiastic students whose native language is not English. The most dreaded activity for these students is taking the statewide ITEDS, our mandated standardized test. I see our students become apprehensive and anxious. The language learners are fearful of failing and ask if they are required to take the test.
"They want to know if they do not do well on the test, will they still be able to graduate. They ask if colleges look at their test score because they are concerned that a low score will decrease their chances of being accepted. They wonder if studying for the test will help and ask if I know what notes or chapters they can review from class that may help to raise their score. What am I to tell them?
"Despite all of our efforts to reassure them and prepare them, the reality remains that these tests are not fair to our English language learners. They do not adequately or appropriately assess their progress in learning—not only in language, but in grade-level content. The assessment is not an accurate measure of their true achievement. They remain in school and continue their education despite the many academic, cultural, economic, and established societal challenges they face. And what do we do to them? We force them to take a test that they are not ready to take. We make them cry in frustration to comply with a mandate. We ask them to reach a proficient level on a test, when they have not even reached a proficient level in the language necessary to complete the test.
"We lump all students together to take the same test, despite their many differences, and then look at their scores as if they all have the same access to opportunities, resources, and assistance that make all the difference in children's learning. Our students are being hurt—let's help them. Please, let's find another way—one that encourages, not discourages, our English language learners in our great public schools."
High School Teacher
"NCLB regulations require that a school must test 95 percent-plus of its total number of students. At first glance, this expectation appears to be reasonable; however, the problem is in the implementation of the regulation. As a school counselor, I help in the coordination of standardized tests. It is imperative that all students take the assessments. I have found myself in juvenile detention centers, hospitals, and in the homes of students to administer tests to students who have other issues in their lives that interfere with their academic development.
"I remember last fall administering the ITEDS to a student in her home who had delivered a baby four days earlier. I question the validity of scores obtained in alternative settings. However, common sense and ethical practice do not prevail. We must reach the required percentage or be sanctioned as a school."
School Counselor/Facilitator of Teacher Induction
Sioux City Community Schools
Sioux City, Iowa
My name is Donna Phipps. I was born, raised, and educated in the great state of Iowa . I am a graduate of Iowa State University. I have been an art teacher in three different school districts in the last nine years. I have taught every grade level from kindergarten to high school seniors.
"I knew as early as second grade that I wanted to be a teacher. It was not until middle school, with my first experience with an actual art teacher, that I realized that I wanted to be an art teacher. I have been fortunate to have art teachers in middle school, high school, college, and graduate school who have been willing to guide me and allow me to explore what I love the most. I feel fortunate to pursue higher education in a field I love and have the opportunity to reach others in their exploration of the arts.
"With No Child Left Behind, the fine arts and the vast fields of vocational education are left in the dust. It is infuriating to hear time and time again that my field does not matter because it is not tested. What we learn from a standardized test is a mere fraction of the whole student. Students are much more than the final results of a series of properly filled-in bubble sheets.
"Arts education and vocational education are the heart and soul of students. They allow students to explore and expand who they are. Fine arts and vocational education programs allow students to explore who they have been, to see who they are now, and to expose themselves to the immense possibilities for who they may become.
"These programs have been cut to ensure that schools remain off the watch list and the list of schools in need of assistance. When art and vocational programs are cut, you might as well tell students that the innermost core of who they are no longer matters.
"Support the fine arts and vocational education programs to ensure the heartbeat of this nation is not silenced. Don't allow NCLB to stifle future artistic exploration and invention."
New London, Iowa
"Since NCLB, we spend entirely too much time testing and too much time teaching to the test . There is nothing wrong with tests, but testing should reflect what is taught. Teaching should not be done to obtain the right test results. Some of the testing focus is good and allows analysis of what a student needs to know. Much of the testing means rote memorization for a student.
"Since NCLB, there are mandates without funds. Newly hired principals are so driven to produce high test scores that the social, civic, and human focus are pushed to the back. High test scores are the important thing. High tests scores are becoming the only thing.
"It is wrong to treat all students equally. It is wrong to punish schools for having students with many special needs. If the needs are evident, then the resources to meet the needs should be furnished."
Elementary School Teacher
School District Iowa City Community Schools
Iowa City, Iowa
"Almost all of the research indicates that classroom environment is a critical component to establishing quality learning. The classroom needs to be a comfort zone, so children can try things and not worry about failing. Research states that children who are happy and secure in their environment (classroom) demonstrate higher achievement levels.
"Since the No Child Left Behind legislation was passed, I have found it more and more difficult to establish the inappropriate learning environment. At the beginning of the year, when I should be bonding with my new students, making them feel safe, and showing them how much fun learning can be, I find myself spending countless hours testing and testing some more. If a farmer spent his days weighing his hogs instead of feeding them, he would have a lot of well- weighed, skinny hogs. The same is true in education.
"My colleagues and I ask ourselves at the beginning of the year, when do we get to teach? If teachers aren't given time to teach, we'll have a lot of well-tested students with lower achievement levels to show for it.
"I teach at an at-risk school. It seems that every year Title I funding gets cut, and we lose a teacher. These schools need more support, not less funding, more paperwork, and more testing. My district has received a number of Reading First grants to help raise reading scores; however, the teachers have found that while this brings some excellent strategies it also brings overwhelming paperwork and, yes, more testing. We just cannot get all this done in our day. When do we get to teach science and social studies? When do we get to do the hands-on, and yes, more time- consuming activities that make learning meaningful and lasting for our students?
"Now, don't get me wrong, I believe in authentic assessment that is research-based, but I don't believe in testing just to comply with some politician's ideas of accountability. Not all children do well on standardized tests. We need to be able to use a variety of testing methods to get a true picture of what students are learning. This assessment needs to be a tool that drives our instruction.
"I am especially disgruntled this year with our reading tests. We are testing students on how many words they can read per minute. To the students, it seems it is more important to read fast than to understand what is read. We do not all run on fast speed; however, speed is graded as fluency on our report cards. In my opinion, it is much more important to understand what you are reading than to read it faster than anyone else. The emphasis on fast reading is a bad view of reading to give my second graders. It may help our students to become excellent decoders, but they will have poor comprehension. Again, scores will go down, and what about the difficult content-area text they will encounter in middle school and high school?
"My second-grade students deserve better than to be tested to the point of frustration just so someone who has never been in the classroom can pass judgment on my ability as a teacher or on the student's performance. That is artificial accountability, and it should be unacceptable to every parent and professional educator in America. It sure is to me."
Elementary School Teacher
Sioux City Community Schools
Sioux City, Iowa