Why is our country spending billions of dollars on exams, scoring, test preparation materials, and extra instruction that demoralizes and disenfranchises the very students they were intended to help?

Dear Mr. and Mrs. Gates,

I have been teaching for 32 years. The students I teach are mostly from lower socio-economic backgrounds and also have learning differences. For many of my early teaching years, I advocated for improved services for these students. When NCLB was passed, I was hopeful that high quality, effective education would be available for all students. As NCLB has been implemented, my hopes have been dashed.

Far from doing what is right for students, corporations and politicians have hijacked education for their own gain. Alfie Kohn got it right in his article, “The 500 Pound Gorilla”- education has become a money maker for big business and a power trip for politicians.

What does the current implementation of NCLB and it’s high stakes, data-driven, money-based framework look like in my classroom?

I teach in a Career and Technical Education high school (formerly know as vo-tech). My students are reading on average 3-5 years below grade level. Our school created an innovative program which included an hour and a half of reading/writing instruction, co-taught by a reading specialist and a special education teacher. Based on our progress monitoring data, students made between one and two years’ progress each year. Let’s look at the effect of high stakes testing in 11th grade on students who made such wonderful progress.. One student, Jay (not his real name) came to us in 9th grade, reading at a 1st grade level. His former school was going to place him in a life skills class. Three years into our program, he was reading at an 8th grade level. Then he had to take the 11th grade state test. He read for a few minutes, looked at me and put his head on his desk, unable to go any further.

You see, he made 7 years progress in 3 years, but the state would still rank him “below basic” and he would have to participate in special instruction (which would take him out of his vocational training class) for a semester and then retake the exam. His comment, “I already know I’m a “f-ing” retard, why do I have to prove it to the state?” haunts me, still. Why indeed?

Why is our country spending billions of dollars on exams, scoring, test preparation materials, and extra instruction that demoralizes and disenfranchises the very students they were intended to help?

I very much appreciate your willingness to improve education in our country. Please listen to those of us in the trenches of education. High stakes testing is expensive, ineffective, and inefficient, and, according to some research, has been correlated with higher drop out rates. There are effective, efficient, inexpensive ways to improve learning for all students, please help us pursue those.

Linda S. Hudson
Reading Specialist/ESL/Special Ed

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About Highlighting Members' Needs

We are running for the following Renton Education Association positions because we believe in the following planks: Becca Ritchie, Candidate for REA President, Nelsen Middle School, Computer Tech Susan DuFresne, Candidate for Primary Executive Board, Maplewood Heights Elementary, Integrated Kindergarten ✅  Demanding a healthy work-load/life balance. ✅  Bargaining competitive professional compensation. ✅  Challenging the status quo test culture with: Less is more! ✅  Emphasizing our professional expertise. ✅  Prioritizing equity and access for all. ✅  Utilizing 2-way 21st century communication tools. ✅  Acting in solidarity with all unions. ✅  Supporting ALL members. ✅   Implementing developmentally appropriate K-3 curriculum/assessment.
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2 Responses to Why is our country spending billions of dollars on exams, scoring, test preparation materials, and extra instruction that demoralizes and disenfranchises the very students they were intended to help?

  1. June Brown says:

    I’d be very interested in hearing more about the ‘effective, efficient, inexpensive ways to improve learning for all students’. I’ve just started working with children and would like to see how many of these ideas I can implement to improve their experience.

  2. Serena Espino says:

    I am interested as well. As a parent of an incoming 6th grader and an 11th grader, I’ve found that relying on the school system to make any effective changes for the betterment of the students is simply too little too late. Besides working full time and attending SJSU, I am also my sons’ only academic advocate and I am only able to do this effectively because I have a solid support system at home. I shudder to think where my boys would be headed if we did not have my mother living with us and a father figure in the home as well who not only provides financial support and discipline but is a wonderful role model. As a single mother for 10+ years I know there is only so much working parents can do. I trusted the school to educate my children and to ensure that they were learning and progressing but that did not happen. Last year I enrolled my eldest son in a Kumon’s math program because he was failing miserably. He had to do up to 1000 math problems per day to get up to grade level and now both of my children are enrolled in Kumon. This past year, I also convinced my son’s high school counselor to place him in AP classes even though his standardized testing scores did not support that move but he has shown that he is capable of learning at that level, of course I already knew that. Last year both of my boys were rated at an elementary level for math but through Kumon, they have since mastered their respective grade levels. I am confident that both will continue to excel in math and I am also confident that had I not enrolled them in Kumon, they would have continued to fail and feel like they were the fucking retards the school expected them to be. My heart breaks every day for the hundreds of thousands of children who will never know how good it feels to experience self-confidence and pride in one’s abilities. At home I supplement their education by making them read a lot of books and write short paragraphs after each section they’ve read. I make myself available to help with homework and my fiancé does too. We also forego date nights, vacations and weekends out with friends so that our boys can participate in competitive rowing and Kumon and basketball camps etc. I wish more of my friends were doing the same for their failing children. Even more so, I wish we didn’t have to do any of this and that our tax money was sufficient and that our children were actually learning something of substance during the 6+ hours per day they spend in classroom instruction besides how they aren’t good enough. I can’t afford private school but the investments I do make in their education are far reaching and I see the results. Rant aside, my point is that it’s pretty much every man for himself when you don’t live in an excellent public school district or come from a family of substantial means. I’m not saying success isn’t possible at all for poor/working class students but en masse the current system is a failure. This topic always gets me so angry because most of these kids just don’t have a chance with a public school education…

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