NCLB Stories: Kansas
"Working in an elementary school this spring, I learned what happened to one school under NCLB. Under improvement status for two years, the school's reading and mathematics scores had improved considerably, but at a price. They have doubled the time spent on reading and mathematics instruction. To make this happen, however, the only science and social studies instruction that this school conducts takes place after the normal school day has concluded.
"When I was there, they had neither a teacher who was prepared to teach the additional one-and-a-half hours each day, nor the signatures from parents that would extend their children's school day by that long.
"As part of a lesson I had planned, I attempted to use a globe with my class to discuss weather. They did not know anything about the globe, the continents, weather, or climate (first graders, in April!), all material from the first unit of their first-grade social studies textbooks. Their teacher is very capable, and the students were doing well in their studies. They simply have not had any social studies or science instruction.
"I hear from other teachers that this situation is repeated in countless urban elementary schools. The national social studies standards are excellent, as are the science standards. Teachers in many schools are being restricted, however, to the material that is assessed on the high-stakes tests. Leavenworth schools have a considerable number of recent immigrants in their student body (and a neighboring school district has well over 60 foreign languages to deal with among its ELL student population). Do we really want to eliminate any coverage of the U.S. Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, and other important parts of U.S. history?
"As a school counselor, I am seeing the stress level of students rise considerably . Most really do want to perform, and most are performing to their ability level. Unfortunately, this ability level is not what others have set as a proficient. Sally, for example, is EMH. She is required to take the same test that her seventh-grade regular education peers take. (The one percent cap is for those whose IQs are around 40.) Sally will never go to a community college or tech school.
"Sally could be a very efficient receptionist, a welcoming service provider at a restaurant. She shines with her ability to greet and welcome. She should be tested on reading recipes and on deciding if she is being cheated if she has given the grocery clerk $20 for an $8 purchase and has received only $5 in change.
"My heart feels heavy for the numbers of students who feel like failures, but also for the number of educators who feel that their life's work is no longer of value. My heart is heavy for the parents who feel like failures because their child doesn't make the cut. I am asking that you trust each of us. Give us the power to see each child and what is the best prescriptive education for him or her. We can do this together; we have a responsibility to do this together.
"Thank you for choosing to vote for public schools, children who attend those schools, and the multitudes who staff them."
Great Bend, Kansas
"I'm writing to tell you about a situation that I found myself in but truly never believed I'd be this type of teacher. "I had a student who joined my class a few weeks after school started. She came to me with only the shirt on her back. She, her older sister, and her mother had left another state in the middle of the night to escape an abusive situation. Their resources were very limited, and they only knew one person in the community, the girl's aunt. We couldn't get her official school records because she still had a textbook checked out (imagine that, she didn't grab the textbook on the way out while escaping!) The previous school could not send her records until they had the missing book.
"The school nurse and I put her family in contact with local agencies that could help them (with food, clothes, abuse hotline number, and so forth). As this young girl spent time in my classroom, it became clear to me that she loved school, but she struggled tremendously with both reading and math skills. She was significantly behind the rest of the students in my class. I set to work to help this young girl.
"She spent time with me after school for one-on-one instruction and qualified to receive special help from our resource teachers. The closer we were to the Kansas state math and reading tests, the more nervous I became. It was evident to me that this little girl was trying her hardest, but she was having a difficult time.
"About a month before the state tests, I found out that this little girl was moving to another school district because they were unable to live where they had been. When I found out, for a short moment I was actually excited. My first thought was, 'Yes! Her scores won't count against us!' Then I literally broke down. I had tears streaming down my face and felt so ashamed. How could I ever be happy that a child was leaving me?
"I realized that I had let the stress of NCLB get to me and had forgotten that there was a little girl here, a beautiful little girl who had started to see some hope and was encouraged that someone cared about her. I went home that evening and reflected on what had happened, and the more I did, the more upset I became. I started thinking about how we, as fourth-Grade Teachers, were directed by our administration to stop teaching art and to put off teaching science and social studies for over half of the year.
"I'm thankful that NEA is working towards making vital changes, changes so that teachers can focus on students and not tests."
Fourth Grade Teacher
USD 231 Gardner-Edgerton
Overland Park, Kansas
"As a high school math teacher, every moment I am very aware of our state testing
and its implications. These stakes are high, especially for a district such as ours that has not performed well in the past. That bar keeps rising, and the pressure grows. I'm aware of this pressure not only in planning and teaching for lessons and in reflection, but also in all contact with students.
"Our students experience a great deal of pressure already. I am amazed at the number of hours my students work to help supplement family incomes, especially with gas prices at the levels they have been this past year. Students are also working long hours academically to maintain good grade point averages so they will be able to obtain scholarships, since rising college tuitions have placed higher education out of reach for many of our families. Still our students are involved with extracurricular activities like sports, drama, musicals, debate, forensics, KAY, Math Club, Spanish Club, SADD, Earth Care (just to name a few), and they volunteer at local hospitals.
"These young adults make our community proud. Yet, the pressure grows from our school for one math test when they are sophomores and for a reading test when they are juniors. This pressure starts the moment they enter our school doors, either in early childhood education centers or in kindergarten. It starts with the school year in the fall and continues until school lets out in the spring. We are now even incorporating test preparation into summer programs in the elementary and middle schools.
"When is it enough? Education has always been our number one priority. Children have been at the top of our agenda. Let educators educate, not pressure anymore."
High School Math Teacher
El Dorado, Kansas
"I am a science teacher. In the past two or three years, class time for students in the third to fifth grades has been reduced from 30 minutes every day to class only two or three times per week. During the spring testing period, in order to get data for AYP, the students are lucky to have class once a week. In the middle school, the sixth- to eighth-grade students lose nearly two weeks of instruction time. By the time students come to high school, they have lost over half a year of instruction time in science due to testing required by NCLB.
"This means that the students are coming into my high school science classes less prepared than they were five years ago. The lost instructional time is a major reason for this. My subject area, science, is one for which districts across Kansas and the nation have difficulty finding teachers. With the restrictions on what can be taught and the drill preparations for the high-stakes science tests, I have heard too many young, promising science teachers declare that they will leave teaching because teaching is no longer fun.
" The young teachers indicate they no longer have the freedom to teach their subject in the way they had been taught was most effective or the freedom to make changes to meet the needs of individuals in their classes.
"I am about to retire and these comments concern me. Where will the enthusiastic science teachers come from to fill the science classrooms? Happy teachers are able to communicate a love for learning that stressed teachers cannot! I love science and I love teaching, but my enthusiasm for teaching is also declining. If I were 25 years younger, I would be considering the same thing.
"This love of learning is a key piece that is totally absent from NCLB, with its emphasis on AYP. Why spend the time learning the pedagogy of teaching? Why spend the time attending so many science workshops to find practical applications and keep up on the latest research when all the government appears to want is for students to pass a test of multiple choice questions?
"The most fundamental problem with the current version of ESEA is that it has taken the joy out of teaching and the joy out of learning. If Congress were to make the changes recommended by the Nebraskan, the joy of teaching and learning could return."
High School Science Teacher
USD 315 Colby Public Schools
"As a special education teacher, I believe the mandates of the law are extremely harmful to our children. My school is low-income and has children in it who have lived in poverty for many years. We are making gains in our scores, but not at the rate that is expected by the mandate. Children with special needs are being forced to struggle even more due to mandates. My students are experiencing even more frustration because they are expected to try to take tests at levels well above their ability.
"I believe all children can learn but not at the same rate, in the same ways! This mandate forces our children to all learn at the same rate."
Julie Ann Stuck
Special Education Teacher
Junction City, Kansas
"I have been in education over 20 years. I started out as a paraprofessional, and I loved my job . It was to teach children. I loved teaching so much that I had a burning desire to become a certified teacher, even though I did not have a single college credit and was married with two children. I kept my beloved para job and took classes at night. I first attained my Associate of Arts degree. I kept my day job and continued taking classes until I attained my teacher's certification.
"I did have to give up my para position to do my student teaching. Tears streamed down my face as I packed up my personal belongings because I loved teaching, and it was not easy to give up the job.
"I taught for 10 years before NCLB had a direct impact on my teaching. It was the 2005-2006 school year, when I was to administer the math test to my eighth graders. I knew from the beginning of the year that I would have to skip some of the lessons that I had previously taught in order to cover the information that my students would be tested on in the spring. The last few weeks before the test, we had to rapidly cover material to finish in time for the test.
"The hardest thing I have ever done as a teacher was not planning lessons for over 100 students who I see daily. It was not teaching the lesson to over 100 middle school students, who were more concerned about their social life than the Pythagorean Theorem (on the test). It was not grading over 100 math papers nightly. It was not going home after school every day and only leaving my work area to eat dinner and then to go to bed. It was not communicating with the parents, step-parents, grandparents or whomever else was the child's guardian and keeping them informed of the students' progress, grades, and behavior.
"It was not checking my email periodically from home in case a student forgot what the assignment was or how to do a problem or in case a parent had a concern. The most difficult time I had that school year was when I looked out and read that look on my students' faces. That look said, 'I don't get it.'
"In the past, that would have been a signal for me to change my lesson plans for the next day, and maybe the day after that, until my students were more confident. Unfortunately, I no longer had that luxury, Sure, many students were fine with the new concept; however, some were not. I had to move on in order to cover all the concepts before test time. It broke my heart. I was leaving students behind.
"My school has a new position next year. It is called Discovery Math but we all know it is really remedial math. The student will figure that out too. You see, they are not dumb. They just need a little more time to master some concepts. They were left behind because of the No Child Left Behind Act. I was asked to teach this class. My principal told me I was the perfect candidate for the job. I had been a paraprofessional, and I have taught fourth-, fifth-, sixth-, and eighth-grade math. I accepted the position because he wanted me to, and I know the students need me. How do I feel about it? I am sad that I will no longer be teaching my eighth-graders algebra.
"This was my dream job; however, I will do my best in my new position. Students in my class will be missing one of their exploratory class to take Discovery Math. Exploratory classes are art, music, band, PE, foreign language, and so forth. You see, these classes will not have a state test. Last year, students were tested only in reading and math. Soon, they will also be tested in science and social studies. I shudder to think what effect this will have on students.
"I hope there is someone out there who cares about the effect NCLB has had on schools. By the way, I do not teach in an inner-city school. I teach an upper-middle-class, mostly White population."
DeSoto School District