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NCLB Stories: Nevada

"I have been a public school teacher for 28 years. When I started at Sparks Middle School (while also working with four or five additional elementary schools), I created a string orchestra program with the 15 students I had adopted from the previous teacher. At that time, strings started in the fourth grade, and the middle schools offered many electives: a very successful fine arts and music program (including string orchestra, band, choir, and drama), industrial arts, home and careers, languages (French, Spanish, German), art. Students had room in their schedules for two electives, and they had PE every day. "Over the years, even as budgets decreased, my program grew from those first 15 students to over 100 students. Then NCLB arrived.

"Some of my students began getting pulled out of my classes involuntarily to take second math classes. Then our schedule was reduced from seven periods to five. All of the foreign language classes were eliminated from the schedule, PE was reduced to one semester per year, and industrial arts was eliminated. Elective scheduling options were reduced from two full-year periods to one full-year period, and PE joined the electives as an optional class. I had to fight vigorously for a schedule to be to created that would allow me to remain at the middle school with my very successful program and still travel to the other four or five elementary schools and remain a full-time teacher.

"Needless to say, the requirements now make it extremely difficult for many students to take strings, especially if they have any math or English difficulties. My program has fallen from a peak of over 100 students to 42 students. Students who have difficulties in math and English may flourish in music. In the words of one of my former students: 'The only reason I stayed in and completed high school was because I could play the viola in my high school orchestra.' "I will never forget the anguished look on the face of the young man (the fifth in a family of musicians whose siblings had preceded him) when his counselor came to my class and told him his schedule would be changed-and he was removed from my class right there and then.

"It is becoming harder and harder to justify funding for our diminished music program when our school board looks at the severely reduced budgets, due to the funding transferred to fund NCLB. "Besides the severe effect this has had on my students, I, as a teacher, am also personally affected by NCLB. Our state, Nevada, has had to legislate financial incentives to attract and retain teachers for Title I schools. However, there is too little funding for this program. I teach with colleagues who are getting huge bonuses that I do not receive, despite having been forced to be assigned to these schools because I am highly qualified. I am not compensated for this additional burden because even though I teach the same students, I am not a classroom teacher, a teacher of English or math or special ed. Hundreds of studies have proven the many benefits of music (improving students' test scores in math and reading), yet NCLB puts the cart before the horse. If we really wanted to improve all of our students' math and reading skills and truly leave no child behind, we would start with music in order to train these children's brains at an early age, wiring their brains to better process math and language. "Enough is enough. My students deserve music and an opportunity for right-brain activities. No more NCLB!"


Nancy Hoffman
Middle School Teacher
Washoe County Sparks,
Nevada


"I am a special education teacher who teaches the severely emotionally challenged . Due to their disabilities, many students have a very difficult time with standardized tests and will either just give up or become extremely agitated when they encounter a question they do not know. One of my students two years ago encountered one of these questions and tore his test up into very small pieces. "With the implementation of NCLB, however, his scores had to be counted and without an alternative measure of achievement, his ability to learn will not be correctly measured."

Steven Horner
Middle School Teacher
Clark County
Las Vegas, Nevada


"I used to work in an at-risk, low socioeconomic school in North Las Vegas . The school, McCall Elementary, had not made adequate yearly progress under NCLB for three years. I transferred to a school closer to my house, Sue Morrow Elementary, which was not at risk and was in a middle-class neighborhood in Henderson. This school did well this year as far as AYP. In fact, the school made the high achieving list in the state of Nevada.
"As a teacher, I know that I worked harder at the at-risk school in North Las Vegas than I did at the Henderson school. At both schools I had the same number of students in my classroom, and I mention this because class size makes a big difference in at-risk schools. I also know that my fellow teachers at the North Las Vegas school were highly qualified professionals who also worked hard.
"NCLB punishes the teachers working at these at-risk schools for things over which they have no control. Children cannot learn if they have no health care, no food to eat, and lack a stable home with responsible parents. These are the aspects of a student's life that cannot be controlled by the teacher. Also, the amount of recourses available at Sue Morrow were far more than I had at McCall. One example: I did not have enough math books at McCall to send my students home with homework, while I had more than enough at Sue Morrow. Yet both schools were in the same district, using the same textbook. "Please consider changing the law when the ESEA is up for reauthorization next year, so that all students can achieve and all teachers can be successful on behalf of their students. NCLB in its present state is leaving more children behind than before-and causing highly qualified teachers to leave the profession."

Roy Mendez
Elementary School Teacher
Clark County Henderson, Nevada


"The NCLB act has impeded my teaching strategies to the detriment of my kids. I used to spend time giving the kids a varied background and exposing them to rich literature and activities that made school memorable. Unfortunately, now I spend most of my time testing them or preparing them for testing. This leaves little time for the enrichment activities that my low-income students desperately need. I feel that this puts my students at a disadvantage and deprives them of opportunities for creative outlets that they so desperately need.
"Please bring some genuine assessments and stop this insane, continuous testing that robs my children of happy and rich experiences. Give them advantages that their richer counterparts already enjoy by virtue of coming from backgrounds where the parents can afford to provide those experiences. Poorer children deserve the same opportunities and a chance for the American dream also. Thank you for your consideration."

Irma Perez
Elementary School Teacher
Clark County
Las Vegas, Nevada


"Sixteen years ago I began teaching first graders. Over time I have watched curriculum and assessments change drastically. There are many types of assessments that teachers use to develop and individualize curriculum. This move toward using standardized assessment as the primary indicator of success limits teachers in a drastic way.
"While this act was supposed to provide a better education for children, I have watched standardized assessments force out the science and social studies curriculum. I have watched standardized assessments measure minority students in a way that limits their success. I have watched as qualified teachers are moved from classrooms where they are needed to other places because of technicalities. I have watched as crazy decisions are made under this act to supply a number on a paper to some faraway person. These decisions often benefit zero people-not parents, children, teachers, or administrators.
"I have watched as good schools are labeled inadequate because one special education student with severe disabilities couldn't adequately pass one part of one test. I have watched as teachers only teach to 'bubble' students, or students on the edge of passing, forgetting the lower end and the upper end students to focus only on the four or five who could make a difference for meeting AYP. I have watched as teachers become so driven for scores that they bend the rules, violating testing protocol. I have watched as teachers become irate because they didn't want a certain type of student in their classroom because the student would lower the class's scores. "I think that businessmen measure with numbers and use scores to drive their business model. I think teachers should measure with a variety of tools--standardized data, observation, informal assessments, family background information, cultural awareness information, medical information, and common sense. While this more authentic way of assessing may not be able to be published in the paper with a convenient number system, students benefit from good teaching and from informed teachers who use their professional training to teach students at their most appropriate level in an individualized and caring way.
"I would like to see us move back to teaching with more balance and with emphasis placed squarely on student achievement rather than on improving numbers that mean nothing authentic to anyone."

Angie Sullivan
Elementary School Teacher
Clark County
Las Vegas, Nevada



"I am writing to you today as the parent of a special education student. My son, now 12, has endured years of humiliating tests and test results. He already knows that he does not perform at his classmates' level, yet to be repeatedly tested throughout the year to assess his progress towards success on grade-level tests-even though he is not performing at grade level-is demoralizing for his teachers, his parents but, most importantly, for him. "We are always doing damage control after these tests are administered and the results are returned. This madness must end and we need realistic methods, objectives, and goals for our students."

Lynn Warne
Elementary School Teacher
Washoe County Sparks, Nevada



"My school was a high-performing school one year. Students, for the most part, are interested in learning and they perform well. The next year, because one too few students took the test, we were in need of improvement.
"This demonstrates that the requirements for meeting AYP certainly are not indicative of true academic progress by students in the school. Also, given the nature of standardized tests and the difficulty of improving as one moves toward the upper end of the spectrum, most schools will eventually be in need of improvement.
"Because of NCLB, teachers at my middle school, some with excellent evaluations for 10 or more years, suddenly were told they were not highly qualified. Many were special education teachers whose students had made excellent progress. These teachers were under a great deal of stress because one office would tell them that they had to meet one set of criteria, but if they talked to someone else, they would get a different answer.
"They were conscientious and wanted to continue working in their profession. Many of them spent hundreds of dollars to take a test to prove they were highly qualified. This cost, of course, was not repaid for by the school district but was borne by the individual. Many were under a great deal of stress for more than six months while they waited to hear whether they could continue in their jobs. "High quality teachers should not have had to experience this stress."


Marjorie Zimmerman
Middle School Teacher
Clark County
Las Vegas, Nevada