First published 4-14-2010
An article titled “The Gifted” ran in the December 16, 2009 Las Vegas “Sun” expressing the concerns of some of the more gifted learners in Clark County Schools. They think they may be collateral damage (my words) due to the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). The focus of the federal law is to test students into oblivion to see whether or not they meet predetermined criteria for their yearly grade placement–a sixth grader needs to be proficient at sixth grade level skills by the end of her sixth grade school year. Fine. However, in any given classroom there may be 10 to 15 percent of the students able to pass the end-of-the-year test on the first day and a bunch more may be able to do so by semester break. All of these students are not necessarily “gifted and talented”, many are just good students who love learning.
Nevada schools were under a ton pressure to get all of their students to grade level proficiency status by March 8, the date state assessments began this year, because funding, administrative autonomy, and staffing issues are often related to how well individual schools achieve. To do this some districts have put their cart before their horse by matching grade level curricula to the skills and knowledge deemed proficient in the test.
While lower achieving students are the focus of these grade level generated curricula, already proficient students may be left out of the equation.
Here is a prime example of what can happen. One of our Mesquite middle school students advanced to the county finals of the Scripps Howard spelling bee this year. This is a national competition ending with 50 state finalists spelling their hearts out in Washington D.C. Lots of good students look forward to the competition. Along the path to this year’s state bee there was a luncheon gala in Las Vegas honoring the 18 middle school students, including our prodigy, advancing to the finals from all of Clark County. A school representative: teacher, administrator, specialist–someone should have been present to help celebrate with their student and his parents. No Mesquite school personnel showed up and no notice was given to the family that there would be no attendee. Our spelling champion was saddened and confused about why no one was there to honor him. When asked, a literacy specialist said she would have attended had she known a principal was not going. The school administration let this honor slip under the radar. My opinion is unbridled by facts, but it is conceivable that so much time and effort are spent on under achieving students that the successful ones are indeed collateral damage as the students in the “Sun” article suggest.
NCLB laws are the culprit and need amending.
Instead of holding educators accountable for meeting grade level criteria for all students, revise the statute to hold teachers accountable for affecting a year’s worth of knowledge/skill growth in every student no matter where she starts on the ladder of achievement.
To judge schools and teachers by whether or not they can bring students to proficiency in one academic year who start out testing two or more levels behind is as unfair as it is unlikely to happen: but they are.
Conversely, it makes no sense to laud teachers for having students achieve grade level expectations when those students possessed those skills when first they came into said teachers’ realms: but they are.
If a student tests one year above grade placement, it is incumbent upon the school to see to it that student is two or more years above level by the end of the instructional season. One year’s growth from one year of instruction–that seems fair.
These gifted and highly motivated students are our future leaders. They must be challenged, taught, and nurtured into meeting their own personal potential. Schools that allow them to slide along on their own wits so lower achieving students can be urged into proficiency with an unequal share of class time, instructor attention, and resources should be the schools held in low regard. Moreover, statutes that encourage this behavior are in need of revision.