Secretary Duncan and President Obama are changing No Child Left Behind.
The way it currently works where I teach is thus: there is a list of standards in each grade in math and reading. Children get tested on that material the following year: the school gets those results the following spring. Scores are reported in the local papers as to whether or not a school has made what the federal government calls Adequate Yearly Progress or AYP.
School populations are divided into sub groups called cohorts by race, socio economic status or whether the child receives special education services. If any one of those cohorts fails to make AYP, the entire school is considered to have failed. There are several more steps after that, including entire faculties being fired, school-wide self study, etc.
Rather than waivers, I suggest revisions to the current law to make it more effective.
- Stop failing an entire school because of one group. That invalidates the weeks and months of hard work of everyone else in that building in one fell swoop. Report the scores as they are: “Oak Elementary made AYP in reading and math school wide except one cohort missed it by Y amount.” As it is now, no one ever gets to know that a particular class actually did meet that standard, which is an indicator of superior teaching.
- Follow the teacher. Do their kids improve year after year? Sometimes a year’s growth is easy, but if a kid comes to fourth grade reading like a first grader, it will be nearly impossible to get that kid ready for fifth grade reading in ten months. If that educator’s students consistently trend upwards, that is another mark of solid teaching.
- Administer the test in the testing year. It is more appropriate for the kids to take the test with the teacher with whom they have been learning. The test measures learning, not memory, so why wait? The kids will work harder because of the relationship built with that teacher over the past 10 months. Not only can nothing be said during a test, nothing needs to be said: a kid will try and try hard because he knows his teacher is watching. Watching, not cheating. Proctoring, walking around the room, not saying a word, not pointing anything out. Just the presence is enough to motivate, ok, to put the fear of God into the kid. All I have to do is keep walking around and they work like the dickens.
- Score and return the tests before the end of that school year. Eighteen months are entirely too long to wait if I am expected to use that data to improve my teaching. Teachers reflect upon the year at the end of that year when events are fresh.
The public wants to know what kids are supposed to know, if they know it and how well they know it. Teachers want to show how far students were able to learn from the beginning of the year to the end, not just how they did on assessments.
What we need now is for President Obama and Secretary Duncan to see that simply demanding that every kid be perfect by a certain age or else isn’t the way; we need to focus on them individually, as people, not plot points on a graph.