No Child Left Behind?

An issue of great concern for me is the educational act “No Child Left Behind.” This law may have been well-intentioned in the beginning, but it has done more harm than good for many public schools. In my school district, second-graders are no longer taught cursive writing. Fifth-graders devote reading class to worksheets designed to prepare students for the state-mandated standardized tests.

Math teachers must be careful to meet benchmarks, and every quarter year students are thrown a writing assignment, no matter the subject or quality, so the school will have something to present to the State. We do not have the discussions in English that today’s adults remembering having – we memorize charts from the State and define terms likely to appear on the State Assessments. If the school does not do these things, it will not meet its Annual Yearly Progress and will not be accredited or allowed to remain open. Disturbingly, while the quality of education in public schools is certainly suffering, it doesn’t show on paper. Why? Because the required standards for the State Assessments are not decided until after all the results are in. If everyone does poorly, the Standards are quietly lowered, and look! you passed.

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This is undeniable. Still, I am unnerved more by the methods many schools have to take to motivate students to do well on these tests. In my elementary school, for example, plastic dinosaurs and other party favors are given to students who did well on the “assessment prep” worksheets. In junior high, trips to baseball games and amusement parks are offered to those who meet certain test requirements. In high school, students are awarded “days off” for their scores. By now, however, the divisions have become clear.

Those who got the plastic dinosaurs are the ones who got to go on the field trips, who were recognized in front of their peers for their scores – the ones who make the A’s and B’s and are definitely going to college. The ones who never got to choose a party favor, who stayed at school while the other ate cotton candy at the ball game, who sat in the audience instead of standing on the stage – they make the D’s and F’s, are assigned detention frequently, and claim not to care. Surely this was not the intention of the lawmakers? I was invited to take the toys, to go with my fellow honorees on the field trips, but I refused; I stayed at school with the uninvited kids. I did this on principle, even in elementary school – something none of my peers seemed to understand. I wrote a letter to the Site Council in junior high about what I considered to be a problem.

Unfortunately, no one in power seems to have realized that what may look good on paper in 2002 is nearly unrecognizable six years later, in the eyes of the kids who have now, unarguably, been left behind.