"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Thursday, February 08, 2007

The Hard Racism of Impossible Testing Demands

It is clear that educators of conscience can no longer support the implacable racism that exudes from NCLB's impossible testing targets. From Loudoun County and Thursday's Leesburg Today:
The Loudoun School Board is debating whether to fall in line with their elected counterparts from other localities or with the U.S. Department of Education in a battle over testing requirements mandated by the federal No Child Left Behind law.

School boards from around the state-Fairfax, Harrisonburg, Frederick and Prince William, among others-have drafted virtually identical resolutions indicating they plan to defy the Bush administration and Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings concerning testing requirements for students with limited English proficiency.

Loudoun County, if the school board passes a resolution as recommended by its staff, would continue to use a test called the Stanford English Language Proficiency test, in place of grade level tests required by NCLB to measure progress. That test, which has been used in Virginia as a proxy test in recent years, was determined to not meet NCLB requirements in the areas of technical quality and alignment, according to a letter from Spellings to U.S. Sen. John Warner (R-VA), who along with the rest of the state's U.S. congressional delegation wrote to Spellings requesting an extension of the language proficiency test.

"Virginia is the only state still requesting to use an inappropriate and unapproved assessment for LEP students," Spellings wrote.

The topic came up for the first time in public Tuesday night when Sharon Ackerman, the assistant superintendent of Instruction for Loudoun, pitched a resolution that would join Fairfax and others, but defy the U.S. Department of Education. Neither choice, according to school board members, is a good one.

If the school board decides to continue to use the SELP test for lower-level limited English proficient students, then particular schools would be in danger of failing to make Adequate Yearly Progress because 95 percent of the schools' population must take the approved test. But if the school board chooses to test the students on grade-level material, they feel the students would fail, which also would bring down standardized test scores and, in turn, more schools would fail to make the yearly progress standards.

"I've got to say, it's kind of damned if you do and damned if you don't," said Committee Chairman J. Warren Geurin (Sterling). "If we don't test them we are going to fail for lack of participation. I think I would rather know which schools haven't been able to be successful in reaching grade level than I would fly in the face of requirement of participation."

Geurin introduced his own resolution to panel members, but as discussion stretched on, the committee did not vote on any course of action.

In a letter, Spellings stated that Virginia school districts need to meet the "Standards Clause" of the No Child act, essentially requiring those students with limited English skills to take and pass grade level tests. Level 1 and 2 LEP students have in some cases been in this country for just over one year, and Ackerman argued Tuesday those students aren't ready to take, understand or pass grade-level tests. In Loudoun, according to school staff, there are about 4,000 LEP students, and, of those, around 260 are in Level 1 or 2.

Blue Ridge District representative Priscilla Godfrey questioned Geurin's move to consider a resolution that supports the No Child Left Behind Act.

"You'd rather be seen to be in compliance with the law, even though the children can't pass. We let them fail, we let the schools fail," Godfrey said. "We'd have the participation factor taken care of but the success rate would plummet. Is that what you are proposing?"

In an opinion published in The Washington Post, Spellings said the Standards Clause is a key tool to combat "the soft bigotry of low expectations."

Ackerman said the school administration's position is "basic fairness to students."

"We haven't been instructing them at grade-level content," she said. "To give them the ]Standards of Learning] test we are going to see a lot more failures than we would if we used the [SELP test]. This is not as defiance but what is appropriate for students. We don't as a matter of routine ask students to do things for which we haven't prepared them."

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