“If you want to change your target students, now is the time. We only want to focus on the students who will be able to move from basic to proficient. The below basic students should not be targeted.”
It bothered me when I heard it. I jotted down a sarcastic note on my scratch paper - ignore the kids who need the most help. At an administrative grade team meeting this week, our CEO/Principal met with teachers to discuss the list of ‘target students’ we had chosen from our homeroom. The list of 3 names had been due the week before, but she was giving us an opportunity to change our names in the hopes we would only target the students at the basic level, thereby increasing our chances of bringing them to the proficient testing level, and therefore increasing the likelihood that our school would reach the federally mandated AYP (adequate yearly progress) we had missed the year before. The entire meeting fit well within our school-wide theme this year – found in the heading of every memo and newsletter – “Success – Our Only Option.” Although I teach at a high need school, we have an abundance of resources and a qualified staff.We should be able to reach these goals, but there are no guarentees or hints of flexibility in such a high-stakes testing environment. Every instructional day and every dollar needs to be tracked and scheduled to ensure the maximum academic performance outcomes. I would be lieing if I said I’m assured of our success this year.
NCLB (NickleB in techer lingo, a.k.a the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001) has been in full force for almost 7 years now. The language of the legislation requires that every child, at every school in every state, will be proficient (80% mastery-ish) in Math and Reading by 2014. It was an ambitious goal. I support ambitious goals, but this was ridiculous. In even an ideal world, in which all educators were fully supportive of the law and the government fully funded its mandates, the idea that every child could reach proficiency within 13 years is laughable and regretgful at the same time. I was a high school student for only 2 years under NCLB, so I never felt the full effect of the law. Now I know. As a teacher and college graduate, I’m in a position to not only analyze NCLB, but I think I can confidently criticize it.
Ok, maybe the idea of NCLB is not so bad. A shift to a rigorous, data driven approach to education had been swelling since the early 1990′s and education reform was a top priority for the new President. NCLB was born with bipartisan support and optimism. Perhaps they knew every child wouldn’t reach proficiency by 2014 – they probably just wanted to believe it was possible. At least it looked good on paper. But what I think they didn’t realize at the time was how destructive a federally mandated education program could be to the neediest and stripped down schools in the hardest to reach and most upside down cities and districts in the country. Accountability is one thing – unrealistic demands without enough money, time or flexibility is quite another matter. Granted – I don’t have the statistics down or the facts completely straight. And I’m not trying to be an aspiring policy expert. I’m speaking from the scant encounters I’ve had with the law, and my daily exercises in the classroom – all of which are dictated by a law I previously knew little about. I routienly joined the chorus of teachers and educators I knew who disliked the law, but I had not truly grasped the extent of their frustrations and disappointments with NCLB. I do now, and I’m not happy about it.
The meeting ended abruptly without much explanation or discussion about the decisions that had been made, or about how to implement the next steps of our target student plan. It was reflective of the no-time-to-waste, high-pressure atmosphere the administration and teachers feel this time of year. I don’t necessarily blame them for any of this. It’s what they feel they need to do to survive. If schools fail to meet their AYP goals for several years in a row, they are eventually shut down or re-staffed. In two months, my students will come to school and take a series of standardized tests called the PSSA (Pennsylvania System of School Assessment). How they perform on that test will determine what happens to my school, my paycheck, and ultimately, my student’s futures. Some highly selective Philadelphia high schools require proficiency on the PSSA and most students are explicitly tracked into classes based on these scores.
I’m 23 years old. I’m a first year teacher. I don’t have a teaching certification or degree. Is it fair that I get to choose and focus on the three students in my class that I think might make it? Is it right that I can’t choose the ones who need me the most?
The answer is a resounding no.