Sunday, November 06, 2005

Part One: Average

Sometimes I wonder what the average person reading the newspaper daily thinks about No Child Left Behind. Personally, I think it sounds great in theory, and it should absolutely be what every teacher and administrator is shooting for. But what I rarely see explored in a mainstream publication is the simple fact that NCLB overlooks the very real existence of a Bell Curve. The majority of the population really is of average intelligence. That's why it's called average: typical, common, regular, normal. That's how that works.

[begin rant]

Tests were designed by many states to assess understanding of grade level material to determine whether a student should be promoted to the next grade. The average student who has understood the material should be able to pass this test. In my state, Texas, 3rd grade and 5th grade are designated "benchmark years" in which promotion to the next grade is dependent upon passing the reading test in 3rd grade or the reading and the math tests in 5th grade. I teach fourth grade. Today we're going to talk a little bit about what that's like under these criteria.

I can't speak for other states, but in Texas I feel that the new tests - TAKS - are challenging when compared to their predecessors - TAAS - which were laughably simple. I am glad that the tests aren't no brainers because that's establishing that we want our kids to really push and be successful. But! We have to be realistic here and I don't believe that we are.

Let's clicky back on that Bell Curve again. 68.26% of the population is of average IQ. Those kids? They're going to do just fine on this test. You might tutor a few of them, but those kids are going to pass regardless of how you teach them. Now look at the 115+ IQ category. That's about 15.86% of the population. Those kids? Bored silly in your stupid boring TAKS class. We will dumb them down over the course of the year. I will elaborate later. The folks I really want to talk about are your 15.86% of kids below an 85 IQ.

Now, this is assuming that there is actually a school out there with these figures. Sadly, at least in Texas, I don't see how you could ever find that. I teach in a very middle class suburban school, and I can honestly say that our percentage of kids below an 85 IQ is not relative to that of the general population. This, however, is precisely my point. Many schools out there, and I've taught in two of them, have a disproportionate number of these kids who will generally not qualify for special education services and who will struggle to be successful in the regular classroom. As I describe what it's like at my school, please keep in mind the population I am teaching and multiply my problems by about a thousand for a more typical At Risk school.

Here are the layman's basics which I don't believe are presented to the general readership of America's newspapers:

1. In order to qualify for special education services, a student must have a sizeable discrepancy between their IQ and their performance. For reasons I don't understand this number varies from state to state. In Texas, it's 16 points.

2. If a child has an IQ that is lower than 85, odds are good that there is no way on God's green earth they are going to qualify for special eduation because that means that they are performing below a 70 in one or more areas. Occasionally this happens, but it is pretty rare.

3. Generally, though these kids are struggling severely when compared to their peers, they are actually performing at or above their ability. They are then the teacher's job to "fix" and make them pass the test. Here's where it gets interesting.

Meet my friend Bobby. Bobby has a 78 IQ. Bobby can usually spell his name right and knows how to add single column numbers. Bobby can't spell and is reading on a low second grade reading level. Bobby is confused by capital letters and periods, but will be writing a composition on the TAKS writing test come February, leaving me three more months to "fix" him. When I fail to "fix" him and he fails his writing test, this will be attributed to my inability to teach.

Bobby is very frustrated much of the time and often cries when he gets work back and learns that he has failed again. Bobby is tutored 3 days a week outside school hours and is pulled one-on-one or in small groups by his two teachers for a good part of every school day. Bobby does not qualify for special eduation services because he is working well above his ability level. There is no extra class that Bobby can go to for help because our school is not a Title 1 school and apparently has no extra funding. It was suggested to us that Bobby receive a mentor who will make him feel better about himself and then he will pass TAKS. We got Bobby a mentor, but there are still no signs of improvement in his test scores.

It is here that I will end Part One of this rant. I want you to think about Bobby and what you would do with him. Many, many teachers have 6 or 8 Bobby's in one class. I need to organize my thoughts before continuing. This tirade may turn into a brief series regarding what Pigs thinks of the dumbing down of America's schools.

[end rant]

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