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NCLB Stories: Maryland

"Since my students have begun to take the tests to show that we are meeting ESEA standards, their understanding of math has gone down. I have been teaching seventh-grade math. My students understand less about math now than they did before ESEA. Now, we have all these concepts that must be presented by early March. I am told that the students must know the processes for getting the answers.

"Understanding why does not matter, as long as they get the correct answers. They must learn which buttons to push on the calculator, and in what order, but without understanding, knowing which buttons to push will not lead to more advanced thinking. They just want to know what to do next, not why.

"The students are concerned about passing the tests, not knowing what they are doing. They are improving in passing the required tests for ESEA purposes; however, they are doing worse in the tests that I give them, the ones that show true understanding.

"I cannot continue to present information to my students at a breakneck speed regardless of their ability to absorb the information. I have had students who have tested on a fourth-grade level in math, and I have still been expected to teach them the seventh-grade curriculum, following the timetable for students who are on grade level. Needless to say, those students just fall further behind and learn to hate math and think that they are stupid because they cannot learn the math that is being presented to them.

"I am extremely frustrated, and so are my students. I must be allowed to teach the students at the level they have achieved and to work with them at their speed. We all learn at different rates, just as we achieve physical milestones at different rates. Yes, all children can learn, but they learn differently and this must be accepted. We accept physical differences; we make allowances for physical differences. Why do we think that we are all the same intellectually? Why can we not accept intellectual differences?"

Susan Allen
Middle School Teacher
Baltimore County
Baltimore, Maryland


"Because ESEA testing focuses solely on reading, math, and now science, all available time and money is spent on only these subjects. All other areas, especially the creative arts, are being cut and ignored. Students are not being given opportunities to have a well-rounded education. Employers require employees who can think outside the box. We are not preparing students for the 21st century job market. We are now only preparing our kids to pass the test, so the school doesn't lose funding.

"Because the AYP requirements are so slanted, my school was labeled a failing school. It was not because the school's population didn't pass the tests; we did, but one subgroup didn't pass one year, and a different subgroup didn't pass the next year. Both of those subgroups had fewer than 20 students in them. Our school was not failing; in reality, it was fewer than 20 students who caused the whole school to be labeled failing.

"It is this environment that fosters the belief that we only have time to teach the three subjects that will be tested on ESEA. Our students deserve better than that. Our students deserve a balanced, well-rounded, complete education. Please work with Nebraska to see this happens in the reauthorization of ESEA."

Melissa Dirks
Art Teacher
Frederick County Public Schools
Hagerstown, Maryland


"As a teacher in a racially diverse school with a 55 percent FARM population , I find that the current demands of ESEA/NCLB are becoming more and more demanding. We have been able to make AYP for the last two years, having been in school improvement for the former three years and having faced state reconstitution. Finding faculty who will stay with us is very difficult. Veteran teachers choose to work in other settings, and newer teachers do not have the necessary skills and experience to remain at the school, with the many demands they face every day.

"Reauthorization should include providing the funding necessary to implement the goals and requirements of ESEA. Local boards of education need the financial resources that the federal government can provide to assist schools in continuing to make progress toward closing the achievement gap.

"Your support of adequate funding is vital to the important work that my colleagues and I do each and every day." ll-rounded, complete education. Please work with Nebraska to see this happens in the reauthorization of ESEA."

Nancy Gordon
Elementary School Reading Specialist
Jefferson, Maryland


"After a 16-year hiatus from teaching, last August I took my pension and returned to my old high school to teach Latin again. You know Senge's story about the frog in the pan, in which the frog is cooked before he realizes he's heating up? I knew something had changed the minute I met my kids.

"They are brighter and smarter than I remember high school kids being, but their learning is much more channeled into predictive patterns. Throwing Latin at them and expecting them to learn the 'stuff' of it—vocabulary, syntax—really did run counter to their patterns of learning. I think this is largely because so much of their instruction tends toward predictable responses—albeit and ironically—in the name of higher-order thinking skills or some such thing.

"It really hit the fan on May 1 when I discovered, without warning, that for all practical purposes, the instructional year was over. So many of my students were taking two, three, even four AP courses and were being tested the first two weeks of May that their pleas for rest were legitimate. No homework during that time. Then, the Maryland tests jumped into the calendar, and I had another two weeks of deference to the testing regimen that my students confronted.

"The AP exams, of course, display a school's 'challenging curriculum,' so questions about the value of the approach or assumptions about students' quality learning in other subjects are not to be addressed. It is a cruel joke.

 "The state's HSA's are equally perverse. While they are supposedly exit exams, the drive is to get the kids through them as early as possible, setting aside all the developmental work in the meanwhile. I have no doubt that my top Latin I students will have passed all or most of their HSA's … and that this fall, in Latin II, I will have to reteach most of the last quarter's Latin I because the students simply could not handle it all.

 "At the end of the school year, when I told my principal how disappointed I was in the mandated finals my students had taken, he told me, 'Don't worry about it, they're burned out.'

 "So, as excited as I was and am to return to teaching, I am more troubled than ever at the miseducation of public school students. The test that is really being flunked is the test of common sense, good judgment, and balance in ensuring that all our kids learn."

Karl Pence
High School Latin Teacher
St Mary's County
Hollywood, Maryland


"Our children are already being left behind. We teach the most severely disabled students in our county, and yet we have to teach at least 10 objectives in math and reading after we have reviewed the state standards and curriculum's. Appropriate education is not one of the objectives. Our students need to learn the most basic functional life skills, but we have to spend most of our time putting together and creating a test based on math and reading (soon to be science and social studies).

"It has broken the spirit of many of the teachers in our school and many schools in our county. We are told to start September 1.

"One teacher asked if she could transfer to another class that does not have alternative Maryland assessment (alt-msa), so she can go to graduate school (so she can be deemed to be highly qualified). She cannot do both. "We have visited the state's department of ed to share our stories, to no avail. I have presented information to our MSTA board of directors, including the state director of special education, who had been asked to attend. But we have not made any major changes.

"It is very difficult to teach math and reading skills to students who are so disabled that toileting, feeding, and language development are more important in their daily life. Our stories would make any teacher want to leave our profession. And many are.

"I spoke to our negotiating team and, due to my presentation, we were to include a half day of planning for each student that a teacher has to provide alt-msa. The story goes on and on. We are not giving up yet. We are planning to visit the state education department during one of their open meetings in September. We will not be quiet. We need help. Please listen to our stories.

"We do want accountability and appropriate education for our students, but NCLB has been a disaster to our schools, especially for the special education students in our system. So many of our school programs have been canceled, professional development has been canceled, all due to the amount of time and work needed just to create the alt-msa testing. Please help us. Where is the common sense?

"I could go on about the amount of money spent on materials, substitutes, and copying, money that could have been spent more wisely on good education. I do not have enough time to tell all the stories."

Carol Petrosky
Special Education Teacher
Anne Arundel County
Severn, Maryland


"I work with special needs children who are only two- and three-years old. I have been doing this for eight years. I have had several trainings, and I am great at my job. The ESEA frightens me because it wants me to have some type of degree or take a test. If I fail, I lose my job.

"I love my job, and my students' families love me. I don't want to lose my job."

Maxine Salah
Howard County
Ellicott, Maryland


"I am a Special Education Teacher who teaches high school science courses to students with autism spectrum disorders and students with social and emotional disorders. I find that to meet the requirements of high-stakes state and local one-size-fits-all assessments and exams, I am having to spend more and more time teaching to the tests rather than providing my students with instruction and activities that meet their individual needs.

"The parents have expectations that their children will be able to meet the requirements for a high school diploma. The students are trying to meet the state and local requirements to earn their diploma; however, the high-stakes state assessments do not accommodate and recognize that students with special needs may not be able, or socially and emotionally available, to be successful on these tests, and they may not have success in the stressful environment associated with the testing situation.

"As a teacher, it is very difficult to watch these students work so hard in my classroom and then be overwhelmed by the mandated state assessments."

Jeffrey Wolf
High School Teacher
Montgomery County
Germantown, Maryland