‘Whatsoever you do to the least of these….’

Martin Luther told his followers: ‘Do all the good you can. Do no harm.’ As the debate over the reauthorization of NCLB continues, we all need to pay more attention to how the provisions and implementations are harming children and teachers.

Some of my TLN colleagues have been sharing some of these harmful, and to a great degree hidden, affects in our listserv conversations. Marsha wrote this recently:

“I was just looking at my grade level’s scores.  On our list of students who are on academic warning or approaching standards we several students’ names that I didn’t recognize.  So I looked into it…because, believe you me, I know our kids’ data inside and out.  

No one at our school knew the names and I couldn’t figure it out. So I kept on tracking them down. Finally I found somebody over at our central office who was able to tell me who these students were. They are students in our center based programs. Students who are so severely impaired with autism or severely disabled that they have to attend school where there are intensive medical support services. I was stunned with the inhumanity of testing these students for NCLB.

These young boys and girls are tested under NCLB… it’s called alternative assessment. Their teachers have to design appropriate assessments around the curriculum goals (yes the general ed curriculum goals) and tailor them to each student. Their teachers told me that it typically takes about 30 hours (yes, I said 30 hours) to test them. That’s because the skills are so incremental and they must collect so much data… that it takes 30 hours to complete each content area test. Are you falling off your chairs in astonishment? I did.

How could this possible benefit anyone? The teachers with whom I spoke don’t mind the accountability at all in helping show their students’ progress. But they can’t understand why it shouldn’t be measured by something that is realistic in their kids’ lives.

I can tell you that I am humbled as I watch these kids struggle to walk, to stand up in their walkers, or to punch a “hello” on their conversation board. Their teachers have case files miles thick and so much to manage during the day that I’m amazed they even get to eat lunch. It’s hard painstaking work….like one of the nurses in that program told me during lunch the other day…you may work with someone for an entire school year, learning their movements and sounds, before you have any idea if you’re making progress. She said when her students can show some kind of response, no matter how small it would seem to an outsider like me, it is like summiting a Mt. Everest.”

Is this what the Secretary of Education means when she says NCLB is working?