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NCLB Stories: Pennsylvania

"As a teacher and a parent, I have several issues with NCLB. I currently teach ESL. Research shows that it takes seven to nine years for a student literate in their first, non-English language to become proficient in English, yet these same students are expected to become proficient in English after one year of ESL education.

"Let's put some of these legislators for one year in a country in which English is not spoken, give them a language proficiency test, and see if they can pass it at a high-school level.

"In Pennsylvania, we are also required to give the Stanford English Language Proficiency test. It is my observation that this would suffice to mark a student's progress until they reach the intermediate level, and only then would they have a fighting chance to become proficient according to the PSSA, the Pennsylvania state test. A little common sense would go a long way.

"Also my only child is a special needs student. He realizes that he is not learning as well as his peers, so let's just reinforce this by making him take tests that regular students are struggling with. I truly wish that we were producing widgets, but we are not. Not all students are created equal, and as long as we can show progress for those with a learning problem, with language-related learning difficulties, or for those who lack some education because they are immigrants, NCLB does not make sense.

"Also, where is the technology? I would love to have several computers with Internet service in my classroom (my school is located in a neighborhood that is socioeconomically disadvantaged). How can we expect those who do not have the same advantages to do as well without a little help? Again, where is the common sense?"

Jayne Cutter
ESL Teacher
City of Erie
Erie, Pennsylvania

 

"What is happening to early childhood education in our country? Once upon a time, the kindergarten classroom was filled with singing, laughing, speaking, listening, doing artwork, sharing, and so many more developmentally appropriate practices.

"And now, since NCLB, the story has changed. Our little ones must be able to read, write, add, and subtract before their sixth birthday, regardless of their background, and that means lots of  practice tests and then passing the high-stakes tests. Let's not let the story end there. Let's work together with the legislators to fund and fix NCLB!"

Jean Eller
Elementary School Teacher
Wattsburg Area
Waterford, Pennsylvania

 

"I was a secondary school teacher for 38 years and now am a retired member. I am an adjunct at Cabrini College, teaching elementary social studies methods to local teachers.

"I have heard a lot of stories over the last several years. The most common complaint in my class is that social studies time has been cut. In some schools, it has been eliminated. In many schools, it has been limited to a half-hour three times a week. The social studies curriculum has been bastardized by making it the stepchild of language arts and just another way of teaching reading and reading skills. Doesn't social studies have value in itself?

"While this has upset me, my students are more upset about another change in their school. In a few schools in our area, recess time has been reduced or eliminated. How can administrators be so blind? I have had to lend a shoulder to cry on.

"One evening, a third-grade teacher arrived to class distraught. She informed us that starting the next day her class would no longer have recess time. She didn't know how they would handle that, and how she would handle it herself.

"This creative teacher reported, later in the course, that she had found ways during the classroom day for the students to move about, so that some physical tension could be released. How can administrators forget the real needs of children? Can a few points on a test be more important? How?"

Richard Erickson
Adjunct Professor
Cabrini College
Media, Pennsylvania

 

"As a counselor, I am well aware of the trials and tribulations that my students face. On a daily basis, I am reminded that my students have so much more to worry about than just getting a proficient score on a state standards test.

"I am consistently forced to set aside the mental health and well being of my students because they are too busy preparing for state tests, taking state tests, and then worrying about whether or not their school will be standing as-is the following year.

"Our students are well aware of the stresses that are placed upon them and the extreme expectations set upon them by the state. Many of my students are too concerned with their home lives -- the stress their parents face, the incarceration of their parents, their family's financial situation, and life in general. It is unjust to only judge a student's worth and a teacher's worth using a single test and to place unbelievable expectations on a child because of ESEA. They are children!

"We must remember that, yes, students need a strong education, and they will get it, but they also need support and a chance to breathe and live. They need to know that, as teachers, parents, educators, and supporters, we are here for them personally, socially, and academically -- we're not just around to teach to a test and to create pressure based upon a piece of legislation.

"We are here for our students in every way. We should care for them, nurture them, and educate them. Doing so will create the best students of all. ESEA allows only for testing and pressure -- this does not create successful students."

Kristie Fitzpatrick
Elementary School Counselor
Norristown Area
Allentown, Pennsylvania

 

"Each year, the special education classroom teachers I work with spend hours preparing to give the alternative test to their students. My students miss their individual speech sessions as I stay in the classroom and the children are taken, one by one, for their individual tests.

"It takes the teachers hours to make or buy the items that are required in order for them to administer the test. The testing takes days and requires at least one assistant, sometimes more, to accomplish each test, since the child is videotaped while he or she moves through the tasks. The amount of time taken to administer the test seems endless.

"On the testing days, the teacher is pulled from the classroom and the children are given substitute activities, which are not as helpful as regularly scheduled activities. It should be noted that the scoring, which is done at the state level, requires a large amount of money and time, as other teachers watch each testing video and score the student's performance. 

"I am left wondering how this can be a productive use of student and teacher time and resources. It seems like we are moving through a process with little purpose.

"Take, for example, one of my nonverbal autistic students who has been evaluated through other means and found to be working at  the level of a high school senior, although he is still of middle-school age.This student, when given the required alternative state test, does nothing but sit and laugh at the camera during the testing situation.

"We have tried hiding the camera to encourage better performance, but he is a bright autistic student and knows that his environment has changed and his response is to sit and laugh. He fails his testing simply because he is out of his classroom routine and cannot function.  

"One test will not tell the academic ability of this student nor the ability of many others. We need to be allowed to measure student performance in a variety of ways if we are truly concerned about accurately measuring any student's performance."

Anne Loeffler
Speech Therapist
Lincoln Intermediate Unit #12
Codorus, Pennsylvania

 

"Every year I help give the Pennsylvania state test. This year I assisted the ESL teacher. There was a student who had just arrived at our school five days before the PSSA test. She and her family were from Russia. She knew a very limited amount of English.

"She did not need to take the reading test, but she had to take the math test. She concentrated so much, and we did try to arrange for a Russian interpreter, but none was available. Each day she tried to work, and she did work to the best of her ability. As the days ended, she was near tears because she did not understand what to do.

"When the testing was done, she came and told me in broken English that she tried hard to work, but she said some of the things she had not learned in Russia. At one break, she attempted to do some flash cards with me to learn basic English direction words. She worked hard. I had the opportunity to meet her parents.

"The interpreter, who had spoken with them, told me that they had come to America for religious freedom, and they had tried to have their children learn English before they came. I watched the father sit in our school office waiting for his daughter, practicing basic English words with picture cards. This family wanted to do the best for their new country. They wanted to become citizens as soon as possible.

"When I told them that their daughter had worked hard on the state test, they did not understand the need for government tests when they had only just arrived in this country. I hope that I alleviated their fears about this test. Please do not have people new to our country take a test before they have some knowledge of the language."

Susan Grimm McCoy
Library Media Specialist
Lancaster
Lancaster, Pennsylvania

 

"So much of what we do as educators, especially in the elementary grades, involves helping our students learn to become real human beings. Math, reading, science, social studies, the arts, and health issues are critical to a student's success in life. So why are those things not considered in ESEA?

"I see my job as helping my kids grow as much as they are capable of growing in all academic areas, but that's not enough. I want my kids to leave my classroom as better citizens of our community, as more respected and respectful than when they arrived.

"My students are expected to learn the academics and to apply positive social skills to all of their interactions. From pushing in their chairs, to holding doors for others, from saying please and thank you, to asking permission to use someone's materials -- these and many other social habits are learned in a positive classroom environment.

"And it is just these environments that are being eroded by the increasing pressure to improve test scores every year.

"Less time is being devoted to having students learn social skills, as we focus more core time on test prep. Where once there was time for daily gatherings to discuss the social issues that affect our day, we now have time devoted each day to another practice math problem or to another writing prompt. I see the slow, inexorable process of turning once-rich classroom experiences into cookie-cutter test prep centers devoted to turning out test-taker widgets.

"Tomorrow's leaders are in our classrooms today. Will they be prepared to read, write, and cypher? Probably. Will they have the skills to be a positive, supportive member of tomorrow's communities? Not if we keep going down the road of No Child Left Untested.

"Let's step back and ask what we really want -- and, yes ,we really do want it all. I think we can have it all as well, if we begin to see the process of education as a continuum that begins at birth and in which all the stakeholders -- parents, community and business leaders,  politicians, educators, every one of us -- take our rightful place and accept our responsibility for success and follow through with the support and the resources to help see that all children reach their greatest potential.

"Only then can we hope to really leave no child behind."

Jim Sando
Fifth Grade Teacher
Wissahickon
North Wales, Pennsylvania

 

"I work in an excellent school district. The board, superintendent, and administrators are all committed to doing what is best for kids. Recently, the local paper -- the Scranton Times --  'graded' 37 districts in northeastern Pennsylvania. My district was one of the top three performing districts for the fourth year.

"What is really amazing about this is that my district has 34.2 percent of our students classified as low-income; the other top two districts had a 8.1 percent and 16 percent low-income population. We also have a special education population of 17.5 percent; the other top two districts were at 14 percent and 11.9 percent.

"Now for the kicker: For the last two years we have been in 'school improvement' because of the scores that our special education students are getting on the PSSAs. This just doesn't make sense to me.

"I truly believe that my district goes above and beyond to educate all our students. People actually move into our district because of what is done for the special education students, and now we are being cited because we have a large enough special education population to be considered a sub-group. This is not fair to those children or my district.

Susan Strada
Second Grade Teacher
Wallenpaupack Area
Lake Ariel, Pennsylvania