NCLB Stories: Oregon
"My name is Donna Bauer, and I have a bachelor's degree in special education and speech pathology, a Master's degree in learning disabilities and speech pathology, and I hold a standard certificate for school administration. I have worked in public schools since 1972, and I would not presume to have the knowledge to write legislation to tell teachers how they should run their classrooms.
"I have worked in many schools, and if our elected officials believe there is a problem with public schools, they need to ask teachers, the experts, how to fix the problem.
"If you have a brain tumor, I urge you to seek the opinion of two neurologists. If your car won't start, I urge you to take your car to a master automobile mechanic. And I urge you to seek out the opinion of teachers when enacting policies that deal with education. Go to the experts. Teachers are more than willing to educate you and our students, and teachers will usually do this with a smile."
Speech and Language Pathologist
NW Regional Education Service District
"Would you ever invite 25 five-year-olds to your home for six hours a day? That is my life. I teach an all-day kindergarten class, and I have no additional help. I love what I do, but I feel badly for the children because they need to wait for everything! Before each transition in our day, I give two directions.
"One direction informs the students of what the next activity will be, and the other direction gathers all those who will need basic help in tying shoes or wiping tears or calming fears. Little ones need an adult who they can count on for reassurance as well as instruction. I am often torn between the two.
"A classroom with 25 children needs at least two adults. But 25 children deserve better care. There are regulations for child care centers, and they would be shut down if their staffing exceeded 15 children per adult. Why is kindergarten so different? How can school districts have staffing standards that even doggie daycares would never accept?
"ESEA has placed even greater strains on these little students. They are labeled as deficient if, at the end of a trimester, they haven't made an acceptable score on our testing measure, DIBELS. I worked extremely hard to prevent this from happening last year, and when all of my 25 students exceeded the benchmark, instead of being congratulated, I was asked if possibly I cheated and somehow got the test and taught it to my students!
"I was so proud of the accomplishments of my kids, and then so deflated by the reaction of our testing staff. Kindergarten should be the garden where all students thrive and grow. Learning needs to take place in a group that allows for the exploration and discovery that our youngest students deserve."
"I teach newly arrived English language learners who are being tested after one year here and who are still not able to fully understand English. This causes them much unnecessary stress. Stop this unreasonable practice. Studies prove that they are not going to be proficient in English for three to seven years. Be fair."
"This law has been a nightmare for me. I am elementary certified and was moved to the junior high to teach science seven years ago. It took me months to get clear on what I needed to do to become 'highly certified.' I live on the coast, in a rural area, so taking classes was not an option. I finally took the MSAT (I only took the science portion) and became highly qualified in science.
"Now, our district has built a new middle school, and all of a sudden am required to teach math, science, reading, and health. My district says that as long as I teach fewer than 10 hours a week, I don't have to be certified as 'highly qualified' in that subject.
"There are still way too many hoops to jump through and too many misunderstandings about what 'highly qualified' means. This continues to be an epic nightmare."
Middle School Teacher
"The school where I teach is comprised predominately of low-income students of color. The NCLB bill is requiring teachers to focus their attention on teaching to the test rather than providing these students with a well-rounded education that encompasses more than reading, writing, math, and science.
"What about foreign languages so students can compete in the international world? What about the arts? Some students like and excel in the arts. What about geography? If it's not going to be on the test, teachers won't waste their time teaching geography. Don't our students deserve to learn about where they are in the world?
"It's time that teachers were celebrated for our work. Most teachers agree with the concept of leaving no child behind, but we are working toward that goal on a daily basis and don't deserve policymakers, who are not in the classroom, mandating what goes on in our classrooms."
Elementary School Teacher
"I am a reading specialist in a Title I/Reading First School. Consequently, we have to give our students many standardized tests to measure their reading growth. I usually work with the very lowest reading groups in each grade.
"All of the newly required testing is causing unbelievable stress for these very young children, stress that I believe is harmful to their mental and physical health. Not only that, the stress interferes with their ability to achieve to their levels on these tests. Most of my students, even though they are small, know that they have trouble reading. Even though I try to minimize the stress during testing time, young students get so frustrated that they cry. I believe that this prevents them from showing what they truly know.
"I also believe that this kind of testing is certainly developmentally inappropriate. If we must test, I feel that child development professionals need to be involved at some point in assuring the mental well-being of these young students."
Elementary School Teacher
"Our junior high lost two of our elective teachers last year due to continuing cutbacks that came out of NCLB requirements. This means that the three remaining elective teachers, one of whom is only part time, have to provide enriching experiences to a school of about 500 students.
"Needless to say, as the only art teacher, I have had large classes. Most of my classes began the semester at 28 to 30 students.This has taken much of the joy out of teaching art because so much of my time is spent in just controlling the classroom. Many of the fun and interesting projects kids love to do, I don't even offer because it is to hard to keep an eye out for safety issues, such as sharp points and cutting tools. The number of kids also increases the difficulty in prepping supplies for complex artwork.
"From the kids' point of view, they are in a school with limited opportunities for fun classes that will expand their physical, mental, and creative abilities and that may keep them engaged and in school. Many students get to take only the 'elective' of remedial reading. Sounds like fun to a seventh- or eighth-grader!
"Please give students, educators, and public education a chance for success by providing adequate funding and reasonable expectations for educational results. Give kids the chance to show what they can do without the pressure of one-size-fits-all requirements for student development and learning."
Junior High School Art Teacher
Klamath Falls, Oregon
"Since the beginning of my teaching career 21 years ago, I have been required to implement testing of my students. This usually took place at the end of the school year. The results were used by the students' teachers the next year to help teach these students.
"NCLB has, more and more, required us to teach to the test. No longer is the school interested in using assessment to benefit children and see their progress.Testing now is done to meet AYP and to stay out of hot water with district administrators, state officials, and federal education leaders. Because districts are so concerned about school scores, teachers have been mandated to devote extraordinary hours to reading, writing, and math.
"In my building, we are required to give 90 minutes each day to reading, to devote a minimum of one hour for math each day, and to spend 30 minutes on writing. This leaves only 45 minutes each day for all other subjects: science, social studies, art, and health.
"I was hired 21 years ago, given my keys, my classroom, and my kids. I felt that there was a clear expectation that I would make and would carry out educational decisions that would be in the best interest of my students. I no longer feel as though my creativity and knowledge is what is cared about but rather how well I can read a textbook.
"It breaks my heart every year when I pass out the Record of Student Achievement to my second-language students who have struggled to increase their understanding of English, many of whom are living in poverty, and tell them that they did not meet the state criteria for their grade level. What the RSA doesn't show is how much progress they have made throughout the year."
"Since NCLB went into effect, I spend the first seven months of the school year preparing for testing and then only really get to teach the last two months. I engage the students in practical application activities that, in my opinion, are more important than how well they perform on a test. These activities allow students to prove what they know and how to use it."
Elementary School Teacher
Canyon City, Oregon
"In our state we have benchmark testing, with benchmark one achieved in third grade, benchmark two achieved in fifth grade, and benchmark three achieved in eighth grade. The Certificate of Initial Mastery is supposed to be achieved by tenth grade.
"Last year I had a fifth-grade student who reads at a second-grade level. We were allowed to challenge down to the first benchmark and he passed! He knew immediately that he passed and the smile was beautiful. However, now he will be required to take the sixth grade test.
"There is no way he will be able to pass the test, and he will feel defeated and a failure. We must have system to allow those students who have educational delays feel like a success and not like a failure."
Special Education Teacher
Klamath Falls, Oregon
"The effects of ESEA that I have seen so far include the following:
1. Our school has a large percentage of non-English speakers who come to us directly from Mexico. They were never taught to read or write in Mexico but are expected to read and write at a tenth grade level when they come here.
2. Our Special Education Teachers work hard to give their students the appropriate skills for functioning in the regular classroom setting.
"Each year our AYP fails in special education because when the teachers are successful in moving students out, they no longer have students who can pass the tests."
High School Teacher
"The ESEA has caused ESPs to go back to school, which is a great thing, but the problem is not many ESPs can afford to go back to school. To make things worse, there is no compensation for schooling, or once a degree is earned, there is no compensation for the degree. ESPs are the lowest wage earners, and they cannot always afford to pay for more education.
"The Oregon Department of Education has not established a statewide assessment for districts, so what is 'highly qualified' in one district might not meet the definition of highly qualified in another district. There is no consistency throughout the state. This pits member against member. In some cases, a member who obtains more education may receive a wage increase, while a member who takes a test to demonstrate that he or she is highly qualified may not receive an increase."
Middle School Office Manager
"My eighth grade student Tony came to me in September 2005, with an Oregon reading assessment score of 216, which means he was reading at approximately the fifth grade level as an eighth grader. On his statewide assessment test in reading this year, he scored a 230! He had gained almost three years' growth in one year. But he felt like he had failed the test-and failed me-because he had not met the benchmark score of 231.
"He was not the only student who had shown significant gains in reading only to feel like a failure because the score still wasn't good enough. This breaks my heart.
"Over my seven years as a teacher, I have collected two file cabinet drawers full of practice materials and sample tests to help my students solve the reading assessment puzzle. Depending on how they feel on a specific day, how they slept the night before, what is happening in their family life, or the amount of test anxiety they have, they do well on the test or not. I do not teach only to the test, but we do practice test-taking skills and strategies more than I'd like. I feel like I am creating a generation of test takers, but not critical thinkers. They ask for help and practice because they are stressed, and I try to teach them the skills they need in reading.
"I want to assess my students, but I also know that it needs to be realistic and not make them feel like they are not good enough when they still achieve tremendous growth."
Middle School Teacher
"As site council chair at my school for the last year, I was in charge of the school improvement plan. We spent months developing and writing our plan. Near the end of this year, our district--in order to meet NCLB requirements--required us to write next year's plan before we had any of the data for this year's plan. That's just wrong!
"In addition, I teach at a high-poverty school with no majority population. We exemplify diversity. In one senior English class, I had 43 students, and in the other I had 38.
"Our professional/technical funding has dried up not only because of the changes to vocational funding, but also because our district has had to cut somewhere to meet the increasing mandates of the federal government for testing and other bureaucratic requirements. This year, instead of vocational funding going to support vocational programs, it went to each high school to support a half-time bureaucrat to develop a plan to meet new career ed requirements that can't be implemented because of declining funding in schools.
"We are a magnet-type school, and yet we are threatened with closure as a result of school board policies that require students from so-called failing schools under NCLB to have priority entrance. The new policy also eliminated our only requirement for entrance, which was a letter telling why they wanted to attend a professional/technical school. As a result, we have about 125 students out of 400 from our freshman class who read below the fifth- grade level, and only 33 percent of the freshman class is in our school for a professional/technical curriculum-the very focus of our school."
High School Teacher
"I have been a teacher for the past 10 years and have witnessed what I consider to be a serious decline in the quality of education due to the ESEA. Students are being asked to do more at a younger age than ever before. I started teaching sixth grade and now teach third grade. My third graders are now being asked to perform tasks once asked of the sixth graders. Is this reasonable or ethical? I think not. In addition, students are tested almost more than they are taught. Does this make sense? Absolutely not!
"In the 10 years that I have been teaching in my district, the number of students living in poverty has risen dramatically. This makes it more difficult for them to learn, as they are just trying to survive. However, the ESEA does not take this into account when it comes to what is expected of them. In addition, we have seen a dramatic increase in English language learners in our classrooms. These students are expected to reach the same standards as those who have always lived in the United States, with all of the opportunities that includes.
"My little third graders, who want to do their best and please their teacher, are crushed when they do not pass the test. Although I try to assure them that I only expect them to do their best, they don't understand why they cannot pass when the others do. It is so sad to me that rather than praising all that these students have accomplished and learned, the ESEA simply measures them on the benchmark standards. Not only that, but they are counted in several areas when it comes to the AYP reports. This is crazy!
"I am an educator and want to be able to teach my wonderful, hard-working students. They want to learn to be creative, intelligent, contributing members of our society. ESEA is getting in our way!"
Third Grade Teacher
"I have been teaching at the kindergarten level for 10 years now. Since the passage of the so-called No Child Left Behind Act, I have seen more children left behind by tests, tests, and more tests.
"Kindergarten is the time for children to come to school and learn to love learning. It is the time for children to build a strong foundation of learning that will support them as life-long learners. Instead, kindergarten has become a place where children arrive already behind, and the expectations continue to rise without the proper amount of support. We do not have funding for every child who is eligible to attend Head Start or another preschool program.
"We do not have funding for all children to attend a full day of kindergarten. We do not have funding to assist parents in making better child care choices. We do not have the funding to find students who have learning difficulties before they enter school.
"This year I started with a class of over 20 students. Some of these students were able to attend extended-day kindergarten--these few students made remarkable progress. Sadly, there was only room for six of my students. That meant that another six to eight students who could have benefitted were left behind. There is not enough funding for full-day kindergarten for all. At the end of the year, a few of my lowest students had never had the opportunity to join our full day program.
"My district has placed a high priority on testing students, but it has done little to provide the resources we need to teach our students."
"During the last few years, testing seems to have become the priority. Our computer lab is unavailable for use by regular teachers for almost three months of the year due to testing. My eighth graders are tested in the fall in reading and math then retested in the spring on the same subjects, along with social studies and science.
"The kids are tired of being tested and tested and tested. We continue to try to do more stuff with less and less funding and time. We are also responsible for attendance. Even though we are trying to get kids to school, we get punished when they don't come.
"Teaching is getting harder and harder. We do the best to teach them while we have them but parents may not be at home and may not have to skills to help. We even had to cut school days last year due to lack of funding. It was either close schools or cut teachers and programs, which are already bare bones."
Middle School Teacher
Coos Bay, Oregon
"As a local president, I'm becoming concerned by the stories I'm hearing from younger teachers who are being asked by our school district to become certified to meet NCLB requirements by taking the Praxis test. This test will cost each individual about $400, even though they have been certified by our state Teacher Standards and Practices Commission and are in the process of paying off loans acquired during their college career.
"More than one young teacher has said it may cause her to reconsider her dcision to remain in education."
High School Teacher
"I recently retired from Roosevelt High School with much sadness. Roosevelt is a school which serves a very diverse student population, including students new to this country. In my 23 years at Roosevelt, staff worked tirelessly to provide programs to meet the needs of the changing population. The staff was not afraid of making changes, as long as the changes met the needs of our students.
"With NCLB's impact on ESEA, all of the sudden we were being told what to teach and in some cases how to teach. Why? Because NCLB does not recognize progress, only whether the students have met a benchmark. Please change NCLB so student progress, not just meeting benchmarks, is reflected as a success, especially for our ELL and special education students."
High School Teacher (retired)
"As an English language learner teacher, I'm having to spend many weeks testing my students' English language proficiency. As a good teacher, I like to know where my students are performing; however, testing all students every year takes me out of the classroom and away from teaching the exact thing I'm testing. Please fund more teachers so I can continue testing and continue teaching at the same time.
"Also, my students are required to take math and science tests their first year in the country, and reading them the test in their native language is considered not passing by the state. Please change this so that any language can be used on all tests except reading."