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Today's word on journalism

Friday, September 1, 2006

"[F]ew things are as much a part of our lives as the news. With the advent of sophisticated mass communication, the news has become a sort
of instant historical record of the pace, progress, problems, and the hopes of society. On the other hand--and here's the puzzle -- the news provides, at best, a superficial and distorted image of society. . . . The puzzle, simply put, is this: How can anything so superficial be so central to our lives?"

--W. Lance Bennett, political science professor, 1988

Hyrum school works with realities of 'No Child Left Behind' act

By M. Cory Broussard

May 1, 2006 | HYRUM -- "We have never really left any child behind," Teri Peery, a third-grade teacher at Lincoln Elementary school, said.

Lincoln Elementary is proud to say that they have small reading groups and extra teaching assistants to help disadvantaged students catch up. Those two programs alone, provided by funding through the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), are the single greatest factor to helping disadvantaged students get ahead, according to the faculty.

The penalty if the students don't meet the standards set by NCLB, ironically enough, is to have those programs cut.

"The problem is that [the NCLB] is a political mandate," Peery said. "There is not a lot of reality in it."

Whether the act is based in reality or not, the penalties and requirements are a fact of life in today's schools. Every year students are required to take a multiple choice, end of the year assessment test. Every school must show adequate yearly progress in order to receive a passing grade, and that is where the problem lies according to Curt Hanks, principal of Lincoln Elementary.

"Every year we are holding our breath to make sure that we reach adequate yearly progress so that we can continue on," Hanks said. He has asked how much they are expected to increase their scores from year to year, but says he has never gotten an adequate response.

Besides being cryptic, Hanks says the yearly progress standards aren't realistic.

"It's only a matter of time before every school in the nation will be considered a failing school," Hanks said. "You're just not going to get every single kid in every single class... to meet that prescribed level."

NCLB takes every sub-group, (Latinos, Polynesians, and even special education students) and measures their improvement. If one group doesn't meet the changing progress standards, the whole school fails. Five years ago Lincoln Elementary was put on academic probation for not meeting the standards. They were taken off only after they showed improvement for two consecutive years.

While administrators are left to worry about improvement, teachers strive to find ways to help students pass the state exams.

"Teaching test taking skills to 6 year olds is a challenge," Dana White, a first grade teacher, said. Both White and Peery said they have begun teaching multiple choice test taking skills in order to help their students pass.

"I don't consider it teaching to the test," White said. "Why would you give a child a test if you haven't taught them how to succeed in that test?"

Teaching to the test was one of the main concerns teachers across the country had when NCLB was first introduced. It was feared that in order to keep their jobs, teachers would only teach what was on the test and leave out subjects like art and hands-on learning. While White said she doesn't teach to the test, she acknowledge that some things have changed.

"There is definitely more paper-pencil type testing, more direct instruction and more drill and practice," White said. As a result there is less time for exploration and hands-on learning.

Peery, however, hasn't changed anything besides teaching test taking skills.

"I haven't let that affect me as much as other people. cause I don't believe it should," Perry said. Peery asserts that she pays more attention to what kids need to learn in reality rather than what is on the test. "I think kids need to be good critical thinkers and not good test takers," Peery said. "I believe that teaching to the test will not be best, my principal knows that."

Hanks acknowledged however, that Peery's style of teaching might be a way of the past.

"The days of being able to teach when you want and what you want are over," Hanks said. "There are more constraints now and you do have to teach more to that direction."

The end of the year test will begin within the next few weeks at Lincoln Elementary, and with funding for the programs that teachers find most important at stake close attention will be paid to the results.

That is one of the good things about NCLB according to Hanks. He has paid more attention to the tests in the past years, and is looking more closely at ways to increase academic improvement, especially in the subgroups.

"We are striving to boost each and every kid more than we have in the past," Hanks said.

It still may be to soon to tell if NCLB is working. Like many government mandated programs on education, time is required to measure effectiveness. One thing is for sure. Once the end of the year tests are over, teachers and principals at Lincoln Elementary will know if their favorite programs will be cut due to a law made two time zones away.


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