Archive | March, 2015

Does No Child Left Behind Leave Many Behind?

Legislation to Leave Children BehindNo Child Left Behind mandates that all school districts are accountable for all students to reach academic proficiency and thus make adequate yearly progress (AYP). Schools are given a limited number of alternate assessments based on modified or altered standards of achievement. When a school does not meet AYP, leadership must have a plan to initiate improvement and parents are permitted to transfer to a performing school. NCLB puts pressures on schools and their leadership to achieve and the game of strategies has developed. Schools then created lower standards of proficiency and weakened rigor on tests to boost achievement. The positive mark of making all schools accountable has unfortunately led some action plans astray (Byrnes, 2013). Did we not leave children behind, or did we meet the children back where they were making progress?

Byrne presents an article by Booher-Jennings, Rationing Education in an Era of Accountability (2006) which agrees that some students are left behind, citing school over focused on students passing than the individual. With the requirements of data driven decision making, these schools have begun targeting students instead of skills and weaknesses within the entire population. As in the article, we at my Virginia middle school call these students “bubble kids.” These students are on the cusp of passing and administrators have decided that pushing interventions and targeted assistance will have the highest return on Annual Yearly Progress (AYP). A well warranted strategy when you want to win the game of showing AYP. However, NCLB was proposed and popular because of its intimation all students would win, not schools and targeted students (2013). Personally, in my classroom this strategy is a huge failure. I teach 6th and 8th grade exceptional education students math in a self-contained classroom. As we are now in intervention season the bubble list was presented last week, and I scanned it. Unfortunately my job was made easy, none of my students made the list. They were on the low side, outside the bubble. They will not receive school interventions outside of what I provide before or after school or during class time–precisely because of this great NCLB push to achieve.

In Virginia we take the Standards of Learning (SOLs) annually for math and reading, with subject tests every few years. Sadly, my students often read far below grade level, do not know their multiplication facts, and many cannot do simple arithmetic. However, they are in 6th or 8th grade and are not left behind so to speak. We pass them forward to the next grade, rewriting annual IEP goals and hoping they will bridge the gap as they move ahead. However, I don’t believe that any IEP placement, setting, service, or accommodation is going to make the difference. The difference for these students is essentially one thing they will never get, time. Great quantities of time to learn at their pace. Instead they are required to stay on pace and are taught the Standards of Learning. Moving so fast, they get a lot of information with zero depth. Comprehension is never achieved. As professionals we know best practices in a classroom are to monitor for student comprehension with formative assessments and make adjustments accordingly before moving on. Sadly, our state is putting district pacing, the curriculum guide, and high-stakes testing scores before best practices; all so we can say we haven’t left any child behind?

Our Virginia SOLs predate the national standards Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and are very similar in intention and foundation. Thurlow (2014) remarks that students with disabilities may bRun your own racee short changed by the lack of attention to policies that hold them accountable to the standards of learning across all states. Standards-based IEP gals may go by the wayside with the lack of legislation. Agreed, policies and high expectations are necessary. However, if the standards state a student will “a. investigate and solve practical problems involving volume and surface area of prisms, cylinders, cones, and pyramids; and b. describe how changing one measured attribute of the figure affects the volume and surface area” and yet that student cannot make 10, tell time, count by 5’s, or multiply past the 2’s than the standard based goals are not suiting the individual needs of a child as required by IDEA. The conflict of exceptional education teachers to offer standard based IEP goals and keep expectations and standards high versus offering real life practical skills that can build the foundation if given enough time is a daily struggle. Daily. Thurlow focuses solely on how to keep students with disabilities achieving at the standards and graduating with the same skills, yet seems to disregard the individual needs of pacing. Standards are a blanket of coverage that doesn’t necessarily fit with a plan based around an individual, so why do we keep legislating and arguing they are the fix?


Booher-Jennings, J. (2006). Rationing Education in an Era of Accountability. Phi Delta Kappan, June 2006, 756-761.

Byrnes, M. (2013). Taking sides: Clashing views in special education (6th ed.). New York, NY: Contemporary Books, Inc. ISBN: 9780078050480.

Thurlow, M. L. (2014). Common Core for All — Reaching the Potential for Students with Disabilities. Social Policy Report, 28(2), 18-20.


Here Comes Testing Season

testing season, oh myWe are all feeling the heat, despite the snow days. Now the pressure is on to wrap up our curriculum and prepare our students to take their standardized tests. We may not agree with the reasoning. We may not agree with how they are used, or created, or how the results are applied. However we are public employees and sadly in this day and age of teaching, we also get zero say.

So, what can we do to help our students do the very best they can? Here’s my top 9 (cause it is my favorite number, after all Ferris Bueller was absent “Nine times”

  1. Prepare students on the exact testing computer program. Practice how to use the tools, understand where directions are given, and how to navigate between questions and sections.
  2. Practice test taking strategies and routines. It may seem common sense to us to get a good night sleep, eat a hearty breakfast, and to take our time during testing. However, kids are coming from all different environments and may not have that built into their regular routine. I know for some of my students, a basic regimen is missing along with a regular place to sleep.  So discuss this with them the importance of these ideals so that the week leading up to testing they are rested.
  3. Encourage students. Sounds simple, but they need it. The students are dreading the tests just as much as we the teachers. Encourage them to stay positive and do their very best. Let them know why the tests are important, and then let them know how they are exactly not important. Let the students know that these test simply test what’s been taught and how successful they are in retaining this knowledge (i.e taking tests). The tests say nothing else about their aptitude and abilities. Remind each student they are still smart, interesting, clever, and creative students.
  4. Start reviewing early. I use warm-ups throughout the year. Keeping questions on prior taught units on the warm ups through out the year. That way the students are seeing these questions all through the year.
  5. Stations. I set up stations with various review activities for each. We have 90 minutes blocks so I keep the students moving and the activities short. One station may have a practice test on the computer, a module on a computer program on a specific skill deficit, a hands on activity or game, followed by one station for remediation with the teacher. At this station, I work with students reviewing their warm-ups and particularly difficult tasks or filling gaps on missing skills.
  6. Centers. In Virginia, we teach the Standards of Learning (SOLs) comprised of 15-25 strands required to teach. I created a center for each strand. In the center are 2-5 must do activities. Followed by 2-3 fun activities they can do after completing the “I Musts.” In my multi-age math enrichment classroom, each grade has 3 centers they work through independently. As they complete their task, they move on at their own pace. Grades are given per center for all the assignments collected. This allows me to add and chose particularly tough strands we know from data is typically weak.
  7. Use your data. Whether its testing data from previous years or student data…let it be your friend (I know, right). We look at the state’s data and determine typically difficult areas. I also use student data from benchmarks to find their individual gaps and remediate accordingly.
  8. Get help. See if your school has funds for teacher help, elicit parent tutors, and use spare teachers during their planning. Remember, it’s not forever it’s only a season.  And as they do for you, you return the favor with your own time.
  9. Make it fun. Give the testing review season a name, incorporate games, collaborate with other classrooms, use technology, and get up and move around!

At the end of it all, don’t be too hard on yourself. Your district or state may be using these scores to evaluate your teaching, but you know your effectiveness and it goes far beyond a test score. Take it with a grain of salt and play their game as best you can without losing your sanity or perspective. I know it’s my only option (right now), but its not my priority when I wake up in the morning. My priority:  allowing my students to have their best day possible and leave my classroom feeling confident and worthy.  I want to be their bright spot in an often miserable world…or a world of testing.


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