Monday, January 17, 2005

Denying the Bell Curve: No Child Left Behind

Love the sentiment. Love Dubyah. Love children. But No Child Left Behind is denying basic principles of the human population. Survival of the fittest. The Bell Curve. The American Spirit. The Land of Opportunity. Yada yada.
I wholeheartedly agree that all efforts should be made to give every child the chance to succeed and not fall through the cracks. And this is my job as a teacher and it's what most teachers strive to do everyday. HOWEVER. People need to be aware of this fact that No Child Left Behind doesn't ever mention:

There are people in this world with a 70 IQ who do not qualify for special education services and are unable to work above a 4th grade level. Period.

That's just life. That's the bell curve. We can't have people who are super-gifted if we don't have their counterparts to balance out the scale. I started thinking about this after I read a blog about schools trying to close the achievement gap and it got me all wound up. The state of Texas expects children who have a 70 IQ (one point above MR) to work on the same level as their average peers (IQ 100). They are expected to pass the same rigorous reading/reasoning tests. These kids sit at my table with me ALL. DAY. LONG. and get retaught and retaught and tutored and remediated until they are so frustrated they want to give up. They are hard workers, but simply unable to meet the standard for their age group.
Should these kids be punished with retention? I don't think so. Nothing is going to change in their ability level next year. A lot of these kids enter my fourth grade reading on a first grade reading level. If they are reading at a second or third grade reading level when they leave my class, I consider that to be a tremendous achievement. Will they pass the fourth grade reading test? No! They can't read that high! So those kids receive a mixed message. I am so proud of their hard work and growth and boy do we celebrate. But then the last day of school they get their state test scores back and realized they have failed and feel like failures.
I fear that this system is going to look effective on paper in a few years because the kids who would have been "left behind" are just going to drop out from sheer frustration.
There is nothing in place for kids who are simply low IQ, but not learning disabled. In order to be considered learning disabled, you must have a 15-16 point gap between your IQ and your performance in a subject area. Therefore, most truly learning disabled kids are actually of average or above average intellect. The No Child Left Behind pumpkins get tested and usually have results such as, "Well, he has an IQ of 72 and he's performing at a 75 in math, so he's actually working above his level!" [what-a-little-trooper smile!]. Sigh.
Like I said before, the sentiment is great. I wish we could make it happen for everyone, but for some kids it's never going to happen. At least not at the level that the state expects. All NCLB does is make it look like teachers aren't trying hard enough and believe me, that is NOT the case. With modifications and a program based on yearly growth instead of one set expectation for every child with an IQ between 70 and 180, those kids could at least receive a diploma that would help them get a job someday. So, harumph. That's my vent for the day.


katielady said...

I forwarded this to my mom, who has spoken about this to me numerous times. And, I blogged about it myself, check it out. And thanks for sharing. You are very insightful, as always.

Pigs said...

MWAH! I heart Katie.

Eddie said...

I waffle on this issue, because while I totally agree with you, I also don't think it's fair for a 70 IQ to earn the same diploma as a 100 IQ, when the 70 IQ never mastered certain skills. Perhaps some sort of indication on the diploma that they were graded differently? But then you get into the pigeonhole thing again. I don't know. See? I'm waffling again!

Pigs said...

I've been told that if special education students do not take regular ed. classes in high school, they will only receive a certificate of attendance. Dunno.

Anonymous said...

Where I teach, special ed students (ESS) receive a regular credit for courses which they have passed on their own merit with accommodations (extra testing time, seat near the front, oral assessments, etc.) when necessary. If they pass the class but receive modifications (shortened assignments, two-choice multiple choice questions, fewer requirements, etc.), they receive an ESS credit. If they fail, which they do sometimes, they fail, and they'll do the course over again like anyone else.

Students who are ESS or have learning disabilities must receive a certain percentage of regular credits to earn a normal diploma. Otherwise, they will earn an ESS diploma, which I understand still gives them access to many community colleges and technical schools. The only time I see students earning certificates of attendance is when they are not ESS but cannot pass the graduation tests. I think some of these students should have been ESS all along but parents were unwilling to accept ESS services for their children.

When I was in high school, which was not all that long ago, we could opt for a college-prep diploma, a regular high school diploma or a vocational/technical diploma. I don't know when or why that practice changed, but it seems like there might be some middle ground.

Sorry, for randomly going on--


Cattiva said...

I totally agree with you. The "no child left behind" is a standard that cannot possibly be met. Kids are diverse and a sweeping government proclamation is not going to change that.

Don't get me started on my state's standards of learning tests.

Anonymous said...

I am the aforementioned mom of katielady....5th gr. teacher, also in Texas. Am pushing 20 years of trying to make things like this make sense. Any day now, maybe that will happen for me....the making sense part. I am on my 4th generation of acronyms for tests. And I have certainly traveled this frustrating road you are on of the child too low for Resource but still having to pass the tests, etc.etc.etc. Add to that the poor ESL student (translate Hispanic for my part of Texas)who still speaks VERY limited English but must take the tests because he's been in Texas more than 12 months. This is the year that catches 5th graders, in that they must pass both the math and reading tests or they won't promote to 6th grade. I will most assuredly have that poor little guy again next year....and several others as well. You have truly pinpointed a huge problem in our schools in assuming that all students can meet all the same goals. To me, the saddest thing in all this quagmire that we've created is that we have lost site of the child in all this. So my hat is off to you for embarking on a career in teaching in this day and age. You sound like a terrific teacher. My "katielady" assures me of that fact, also. You are the ones we need so badly. I look forward to reading more.

GuusjeM said...

Most excellent comments on NCLB. I teach in Texas too and it's so absurb to watch the not so bright but try so hard kids try and "get it" when they just can't. They are tutored and tutored and tutored but if the brains aren't there, the brains aren't there. It's so unfair. I am glad my own 2 children are A. Bight and B. graduated!

Melissa said...

I've been reading your blog for a few days now - IT IS FANTASTIC! I noticed that a few days ago you wanted a census. Here goes nothing:

Name: Melissa
Rank: soon-to-be high school biology teacher (heaven help me)

Great post on NCLB, by the way!

mike said...

This system flies in the face of a fundamental distribution of intellect. Not all human beings can perform at the same level or meet the same standard. Further, the only thing potentially worse than losing kids totally in this system is the thought that all teachers' resources are being spent trying to get the low students up to a "standard" they are not intellectually CAPABLE of reaching instead of trying to challenge and develop the students that are CAPABLE of performing to a much higher level. This may be a bigger travesty. In effect, we get dumbing down. It's much easier to pull down than push up. Gravity. It's why we use pullies and levers. Simple machines. Learned in 4th grade science by the way (I think). Oh, I digress. Well, not exactly, but the concept applies here.

Michael_the_Archangel said...

Here is the thing, and I think you know it. NCLB was the feds finally doing things that too many school districts wouldn't do for themselves. Too much 'social promotion' going on, tons of money wasted on school districts that didn't do squat. The high mucky mucks installing stupid programs like 'whole word' reading, new math and even (as noted on my blog) the new (and not teaching math) non-bias math.

After years of districts claiming that they are doing better but still graduating folks who can't read and can barely spell their own name. The feds step in and when the feds come in, the rules are as broad as a football field, with few exceptions. They are like a bull in a china shop, they have soooooo many cases that they have to deal with that they make broad rules and exceptions are hard to come by.

Overall, NCLB is a good thing - but I agree, it does need fine tuning. However, fewer and fewer functional illiterates are being turned out and THAT is a good thing.

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