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