NCLB Stories: Oklahoma
"Teaching reading used to be fun. We worked on expression and on interacting with the book through connections that the children made with the text. This year, as I finished yet another fluency benchmark, a young lady of seven years of age beamed at me as as she finished and asked, 'Did I read fast enough this time?' and was unable to tell me anything of what she read.
"In the past few years, it seems as if I am doing less and less teaching and more and more testing. We do not expect each toddler to begin walking at the same age, nor do we expect each toddler to speak at the same age, why then should we expect students to learn at the same rate?"
Elementary School Teacher
Muskogee Public Schools I20
"It seems as though all I get done is testing my Title I reading students. We started school in August, and I'm still trying to fit the required assessments in during critical teaching times. Assessments are important, but actual one-on-one teaching time with the students will get them to the point where they are proficient with their skills by the end of the year."
"For the last five years, my primary teaching duty has been English II. In Oklahoma, this is the class in which all Oklahoma students take the End of Instruction Test for English II. This test is designed to determine student reading skills, writing skills, and analytic-comprehension skills. In the last four years, because of the effect that students' scores on this one test has had on our district's annual API (Annual Performance Index) score, our district and department have had to totally revamp our English II curriculum.
"Here are the measures we have taken:
Our district moved all secondary curriculum to a trimester system to help us meet the increasing state requirements in core areas other than English. After three years, the results are mostly negative; students cover more material in less time and do not have the maturity or skill level that this sort of structure demands.
When it became apparent that students were not learning enough in two trimesters to cover the core objectives that are covered on the EOI tests (in all core areas), we added to our curriculum a required third trimester of English II, part of which is EOI test prep. However, students can only earn one extracurricular credit for this third trimester, so their interest and motivation is very low, since most of them dislike standardized testing in the first place.
The next decision we made was to spread the responsibility for English II classes across our department, so that more than two or three teachers could be held accountable for low test scores, should such scores occur. This meant that all of our teachers had at least three class preps per trimester this past year; some teachers had four. We also lost every elective in our department, including a world art, music, and literature course that I spent two years developing and for which we have amazing textbooks and grant resources.
We then met for many, many hours and plotted out English II curriculum for every day of the school year, down to strategies and page numbers. This means that every teacher is teaching the same material at the same time. We did this not only to ensure we were covering every objective, but also because we were under great pressure from our district administrators to prove we were doing our jobs. Our district also wanted to make it easier for students to transfer from one class to another and for students to repeat a trimester due to a failing grade.
"By standardizing our curriculum, we had to eliminate most creative student projects, in-depth class discussions, in-depth thematic research opportunities, and group work. I have received extensive professional-development training in using all forms of music and art in my classroom to help reach my students and to increase their interest in and understanding of material. I lost almost every opportunity to use these important lesson enhancers in my classroom. Kids went from saying 'Mrs. Meigs' English class is so cool; she uses music all the time!' to 'I hate English II!'
"So will these strategies increase my student test scores? Maybe a little bit; we'll see in September what last May's scores were. What they have done is remove the creative joy that my job once gave me, remove the opportunity I once had to inspire my students to learn, and if this trend continues, they will remove me from this profession, despite my having pursued national certification this year.
"Please, put the burden and responsibility of true student assessment where it belongs--in the hands of professional teachers who, when given time, materials, and resources, can truly assess student ability! Allow me to teach to the students who need my expertise; no one learns anything when I teach only to a test."
High School English Teacher
"Our early childhood center was put on the at-risk list due to attendance . We average an attendance of 320 preK students. Attendance at any preK program is not compulsory; it is optional. I do not feel that we should be held accountable for attendance when enrolling is a choice."