Monday, December 11, 2006

Winning the war on terror: How I learned to love No Child Left Behind

A friend recently shared her story of woe at the hands of the education system. Her son had always gotten solid grades, a dedicated and hard-working kid who worked well with others and colored within the lines. Parent-teacher conferences were a joy. Yet even while basking in the afterglow of the praise heaped on her son, Mrs. X had a niggling doubt that wouldn’t go away. Over the years she had voiced her concern over what she felt was a problem with little Johnny’s reading comprehension. She felt that concepts weren’t “clicking” for him. Shouldn’t such a strong student be capable of more than just the most basic, literal understanding of the text? Year after year her concerns were met with the same answer. Yes, little Johnny was very literal, but he would grow out of it. Not to worry!

The years passed and my friend continued to be reassured both by the teachers and by her son’s state test scores in language arts. Scoring low to mid-range threes on the exams, he was deemed to have “met the learning standards “set by New York State. Not wanting to seem to be a “helicopter parent”, (a term used by those in education circles to denote those parents who “hover” over their children) my friend backed off. Imagine her surprise when her son entered 8th grade and was placed in a service reserved for children with comprehension problems. Why? She was informed that little Johnny was comprehending at a fourth or fifth grade level… three to four grades below his own grade level! How could this happen?

As far as I can determine, there are two possibilities:

The learning standards set by New York State are set abysmally low.
The teachers are doing a spectacular job of teaching the test.

My bet is on the second option, although the first is well within the realm of possibility.

After a completely unscientific poll of neighboring school districts, approximately three months is spent preparing for the state tests in math and language arts. This does not include the time spent prepping for the science and social studies exam. In addition to the time spent in school, some schools even require that students attend 45 minute after-school “study sessions” two or three times a week for the eight weeks preceding the test. This is all done, by the way, while telling students that the tests are nothing to get stressed about. Yeah, okay.

Yet even with all this prepping, many district’s scores stay within the same few percentage points or they drop. Like a stone. I have to wonder, what might happen if the teachers were actually allowed more time to teach the children how to think instead of train them how to answer certain types of test questions.

Ultimately, it is the misguided and under-funded pet white elephant of our president, the No Child Left Behind Act, that is to blame. Determined that not one child will fall behind, our government has chosen to throw them ALL under the bus.

Now the question is how to make the proverbial lemonade from this lemon of an idea. I say we export it in “not-so-smart” bombs to the hostile forces intent on wreaking havoc and destruction in the world. Think about it… not only would they be buried under reams of paperwork and paralyzed by near constant test anxiety, but (after examining the apparent link between frequent testing and low reading and comprehending ability) they would quickly be rendered incapable of reading or comprehending any text that might instruct them in how to cause harm.

Who said no good could ever come from over-testing?



Gene Bach said...

Ah, the standardised test. What a joy they are. My wife, bless her heart, homeschooled all three of our daughters. The oldest completely through high school, the middle until high school, and the youngest currently (7th grade). The oldest received straight A's in college and the middle daughters is close to that in high school. The middle daughter is an English master, a complete brainiac. She actually LIKES to look up words in the dictionary. The youngest does very well too. Hmmm, might be a pattern?

I hate the idea of those tests as it takes away a good portion of the thinking process that SHOULD be going on in school. I don't give a rip if my girls can pass the standardised test with flying colors...I want them to be able to think and reason in the face of adversity. That is something they do very well.

I don't think I'd want to be a teacher in a public school...too many handcuffs anymore.


Women on the Verge said...

I've thought about homeschooling many times. You and your wife deserve a lot of credit for choosing the path least taken.

I agree 100% that the schools are more into training than teaching. I think of the kids as mice being trained to find a piece of cheese. Very depressing... I spend a great deal of time with my kids building those thinking skills at home. I encourage them to think for themselves and to question. I don't want them to ever accept something as gospel just cause it came from a person in a position of authority.