Clark County School District has made some changes. Many include the austere cuts required by an awful economy and a cut-happy governor. There are fewer new teachers in the district this year than any in memory.
But, all is not doom and gloom for the fifth largest school district in America.
President Barack Obama wisely chose to allow waivers granted to individual states rather than fight a balky Congress to actually change the No Child Left Behind law that was flawed at its base from its onset in 2001. Through Obama’s shrewd action, the law should wither and die on the vine.
Now states can create an assessment system that fosters student learning as well as accountability.
The best news coming from CCSD is that they will add the Nevada Growth Model to their arsenal of assessments and hopefully, start basing school, teacher, and individual student success on something other than a test that only measures failure.
Under NCLB, students are tested and the state rates the assessments by grouping all students into cadres including grade level, ethnicity, language, and free lunch placements to see if the subgroups in each school and district meet a predetermined standard. Those that do not meet the standard, fail. There is no educational value rendered to teachers about individual students from any aspect of the NCLB law.
Adhering to NCLB rules is time away from instruction.
Due to the pressure of needing all students to show proficiency at a predetermined level, the modus operandi of teaching often becomes one of shuffling kids from one pile to another. As an individual student shows he can pass the test, educators put him in a “done” pile leaving him to steep while concentrating on the kids who are still in the “not yet” pile.
No wonder the state of education is in bad shape. This simplistic and negative view of success has been going on nationwide for 10 years.
Districts around the country are using the president’s waiver and opting out of NCLB and installing benchmark testing of students so teachers and parents will have information that is relatable to individuals rather than to useless contrived groups.
CCSD has announced that they are opting to supplement the NCLB standards and will be piloting the growth model method of regular, individual assessments to glean information on how well a student is progressing–first based on benchmarks indicating his own growth as a student plus an accountability percentile measure based on students who receive similar scores on baseline tests. Students will be judged within a peer group that is proven to have like academic abilities.
These tests will inform teachers and parents about a student’s learning whether she is two years behind her grade placement or two years ahead–not simply whether they have made the grade level standard. Students will be expected to learn and teachers will be expected to teach so that individual pupil profiles look like, at least, one year’s growth from data gathered from year to year.
Students cannot be expected to learn from material too difficult and one cannot be expected to grow if given a steady diet of pap. Teachers will teach and kids will learn from a base that is appropriate for them. The low kids will be remediated and coaxed toward grade level proficiency (catch up), the “normal” kids will work through a grade level course of study (keep up), and the brighter kids will be pushed on toward bigger and better achievements (move up).
NCLB has never addressed the issue of individual student growth.
My caveat to teachers with their new and improved growth model is this: Don’t let the system become the process. That is the stone around the ankle of NCLB. You (teachers and administrators) have a new opportunity to show your expertise and apply your art by working with every student in your care and custody as an individual. This is a great opportunity to show off the creativity of schools as a unit and talents of teachers as individuals.
I hope educators haven’t been beaten down so far that they are leery of accepting new freedoms and once again spreading their own wings so their students can do the same.
Terry Donnelly is a retired teacher and the author of “First You Hear Thunder” a novel retelling events and history of the civil rights movement. For more on the book go to www.firstyouhearthunder.com and for more of Terry’s writings, both opinion and fiction, go to www.firstyouhearthunder.blogspot.com.