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NCLB Sets Students up to Fail

March 19, 2009 By Laurie Knapp, guest commentary

The 2007-08 MCA-II testing year rocked our world. How can a school that tests in the top 15 percent in the state in math and reading, whose students continually score in the upper 90 percent in the writing test, whose students consistently score above the state on ACTs, has a high graduation rate, high quality teaching, strong parent support and that belongs to a community that places high value on education, end up not making Adequate Yearly Progress?

There's nothing wrong with accountability. We all want our students to be successful and graduate to become contributing members of society and our community. There is nothing wrong with requiring high standards and increasing rigor and expectations for our kids.

But there is a need for reasonableness to NCLB's expectations. It is a prescription for failure when we set the expectations and goals so high that they are unreachable for most of our most fragile and at-risk populations. We set them up to fail again and again and again.

Our school has felt the effects of NCLB, from the stigma of not making AYP to eliminating creative and beneficial curriculum as we focus on teaching to the test, loss of instructional time as a result of numerous days for testing and test prep, and to witness the defeat in the eyes of our kids who struggle in the classroom everyday and then faces an unattainable roadblock of a test that further reinforces their academic struggles.

NCLB is unattainable by 2014. Research shows that all children can learn at higher levels, some just may take longer than others. That's why we double-dose our algebra levels and why we offer reading programs in two-hour blocks. Not all kids achieve at the same pace. The expectation of NCLB is that all kids learn the same and at the same rate and that all will reach that bar by 2014.

The mandate also needs to be adequately funded by the state and federal government. Schools are continually asked to do more with less. Class size is increased because extra teachers are needed for remediation and extra programs to help students pass the MCA II's.

Students are forced to choose between elective courses and double-dosing to help them remediate. This has an effect on course offerings and programming. Teachers' focus changes from valued curriculum to teaching to the test, test-taking skills and test preparation rather than exposing students to hands-on, investigative and inquiry approaches to learning.

For NCLB to be successful, it needs to be funded. Rather than putting further burden on the schools with high expectations and mandates, money should be attached to support those mandates. Those schools with higher populations of poverty and that are not performing well should receive more funding. Teachers should be given opportunities for high quality staff development, students with special needs and circumstances should not be compromised by numerous test show dates, and teaching to the test.

The MCA II shows how students do on one test on one day. Our public schools are about more than that. High school success is about the whole child and the whole elementary, middle school and high school experience, not just the results on a standardized test.

Laura Knapp is the principal at Duluth East High School

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