Tuesday, July 14, 2009

NCLB assessment of school’s success (AYP) is a watery soup that fools you into feeling nourished

The assessment of a student’s intellectual progress should be matched to his/her contribution to understanding or acting for a social issue. Paolo Friere writes, “Verbalistic lessons, reading requirements, the methods for evaluating “knowledge,” the distance between the teacher and the taught, the criteria for promotion: everything in this ready-to-wear approoach serves to obviate thinking.” This essay attempts to portray the disenfranchisement of the teacher and student in place of an ineffective ‘method for evaluating knowledge,’ which is otherwise know as AYP.

Within the current system, rather than the strengthening of society’s morals and its consideration of how small acts have consequences, teachers and students are moving in the opposite direction. Both are motivated toward a meaningless directive set by a politician who has his/her own self-interest at heart not the intellectual or moral development of students.

There is a total contradiction in the current educational system. From the President to the Teacher, there are only directives and instructions. There is little communication between these sets. Instead the level above places certain expectations on the level below. If the tests or other easily corruptible data does not demonstrate progress, there is little room for panic because also built in this system of determining progress is a simultaneous system of determining who is accountable. At every level, there is an actor with agency who studies the system and analytically proposes the reasons for failure or motivates the actor directly below his/her set to “fudge” the numbers. So the President pressures the Mayor who in turn pressures the Chancellor who in turn pressures the Principal who finally takes all that built up tension and pressures the Teacher to pass the students. The pressures exist because of the consequences set by NCLB. We need to move past the dictates of NCLB. Jennings and Corcoran in their article on the different errors found in NYC measurement models advise to avoid overreliance on these measurements of progress. They quote a Boston College education professor, Walt Haney, who says, “These (grades) are showing dramatic changes that can have nothing to do with what is actually happening” (Jennings and Cocoran 2009).

Now when we’ve gotten to the level of the teacher, the pressure needs to be directed elsewhere. Every teacher knows you can’t just “pressure” a child to learn. Instead a year of intense, analytical, organized instruction is in place for both the student and teacher. However, reality is not such an organized system, such that you put in certain factors and pre-determined factors follow. So when the child does not pass the standardized test, said child has not been educated properly and the system has failed. However, those random occurences within reality are not an issue in NYC public schools. Jennings and Corcoran write, “What does it mean, for example, when 77 % of the elemetary and middle schools that received an F in 2007 jump to an A or a B in 2008? Mayor Michael Bloomberg had a resolute answer to this question: “Not a single school failed again…The fact of the matter is it’s working.” I don’t know about you, but if my scale for measuring my weight reads 20 lbs lighter than the previous month, it’s at least going to cross my mind that said scale could be broken.

When you create these insignificant assessments of success, both teacher and student are de-moralized.

The system does an interesting thing to the teacher’s power. Each teacher is given the power to grade a student’s progress. However, each teacher must base their grade on whether a student has passed the state’s academic standards. From my own personal experience those standards are highly interpretable and in my school it is highly encouraged to differentiate one’s grading to the point where you can justifiably pass a student in this system if they showed up to class and participated. Here is the most significant aspect of grading within the ‘No Child Left Behind’ dicate. When a teacher grades one student, s/he should be looking at that child alone. However, after pressure from the administration, that student is now a part of a percentage. So the question is does that student need to pass in order to fulfill a percentage of passing or can that student fail because I have met my percent of passing students’ goal set by my Vice Principal at the beginning of my term. Here is when you can argue the moral imperative a teacher should hold to accurately present a student’s learning. However, such a system does not encourage a moral imperative nor is a moral imperative often strong enough to stand up against the fear of being removed from your school.

The teacher is directly given the power to ‘grade,’ but indirectly that power is taken away. Under NCLB, if a school does not demonstrate progress in terms of ‘percent of passing students,’ ‘graduation rate,’ and ‘regent’s exams,’ then said school can close down showering disapproval on the administration, teachers, and students of said school. NCLB states, “The Secretary of Education will be authorized to reduce federal funds available to a state for administrative expenses if a state fails to meet their performance objectives and demonstrate results in academic achievement.” It’s in every one’s best interest, regardless of actual ‘progress’, that the students pass. No one within the system will call out this corruption or rather ridiculous beaureucratic nonsense because every adult within the system benefits when a child passes on paper. Everyone looks good from the teacher to the Mayor to the President.

No Child Left Behind, from the Executive Summary of No Child Left Behind (January 8, 2002)

Corcoran, S. P., Jennings, J.L (2009). Beware of Geeks Bearing Formulas. Phi Delta Kappan, 635-639.

Friere, Paulo. Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Continuum International Publishing Group, Inc.

Medina, J., Gootman, E. “Schools Brace to be Scored, A to F.” New York Times, November 4, 2007.

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