Personal Response to NCLB

September 8, 2011 at 1:07 pm Leave a comment

Sharon Sarles

6 Posts. Joined 2/2011

The effects of NCLB — large subject, but you have asked for a personal response. I remember when Gov. White first put in teacher testing — literacy testing for teachers — into place here in Texas. My daughter, second grade, came home saying that the teachers spent the entire day in the teachers’ lounge fussing about it. I remember then, when she was in the 9th grade, and the Lubbock school system’s re-takers filled the parking lot of the high school. So back then I was all for testing. TASS, TEKS etc. was the Texas forerunner of the testing plan that became NCLB.

But for the past few years in my classroom (freshman level Sociology at a community college) I have found that recent high school students have such bad comportment that it dwarfs the “learning disabilities” or the “poor demographics” or the academic underpreparedness that I have previously been addressing. Students are astonished and offended to be expected to turn things in on time or have only 1 crack at an exam. I have an extremely liberal syllabus, eliciting rewrites until the A is made, offering 142 points (through choices of small papers) when only 90 makes an A. Further, one may drop 3/4 of the way through the semester, but now, now since NCLB has been in place, I find that many (all recent high school grads) find a way to fail.

I had a student who demanded, in the middle of an exam, when the restest was. I laughed. Another student piped up to correct me, “That is a serious question!” “That was a serious answer.” I had never in all my born days – 4 degrees – have I ever heard of a retest. They assumed it. Along with the assumption that it was okay to talk, even correct me, during the administration of an exam.

I asked around about what was going on. I was told that the problem was that the Texas Legislature ruled that NCLB would be applied in specified ways, including that there would now be no deadlines and innumerable retakes. I found that the paperwork and committee requirements were so onerous that no teacher would fail a student. Students knowing that, come to expect that even with absolutely no effort that they would be passed.

No longer is it the “students at risk” but the middle and upper middle class students who are the problem. For instance, I had a lovely young lady come to me after the final, asking me to help her raise her grade. She insisted that that is what all the teachers do. After the final? A week after all other papers are turned in? While I am calculating the grades? Yes, and if I did not, *I* was out of line. She was quite surprised when after some rather heated pressure from her, my response was “If we are to continue this conversation, we will do so in the Dean’s office.”

Having long been an advoacte for learning disabilities remediation, long an advoacte of public school improvement, and long an instructor who was able to salvage and trun around few student each semester I was for increasing rigor. Yes, I wanted to encourage teachers to do what I had always done. I wanted to motivate better performance throughout the system. The opposite has clearly happened. Good intentions have become a disaster. W. James Popham’s *The Truth About Testing* c2001 explains how the political logic of making tests by which teachers and schools are tested has meant that the tests are made ever easier, and the curricula is drastically dumbed down, not only by being now factual instead of skill building , analytical or ever synthetic, but now also by those very items being scaled down and further down.

College instructors have to reduce the level at which they teach every few years; that’s been my experience for the 20 years I’ve taught. I previewed a textbook for college freshmen yesterday written at a 6th grade reading level. Clearly most of the committee will adopt it.

But I can’t leave without an answer, an encouragement. Yes, we need increased rigor. Yes we need accountability. Yes, we have had standardized testing before. Yes NCLB is a disaster. Yes, we need to go back to the drawing board for public policy. But as parents, as educators, as citizens, individually we must go back to character, ethics, virtue, truth & love. Sociologists need to do public sociology that includes moral competence and a re-embrace of honor for religion — just like the founding fathers assumed would always happen — and certainly did happen in their day. Shame on us for having not taught that – not even correct history — for now about 50 years!

As a believer I say the church should get out of the political strife and bifurcation and start offering leadership based on going back to the methods of Jesus. As a parent, gosh I realize it is difficult to stretch to do everything, but the priority is teaching honor & altruism, Truth & Love — basic ways of behaving. Without this moral underpinning, we are doomed to any deception and disaster at any obstacle, but with moral competence as a foundation, then we will be able to build aright.

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