NCLB: One Teacher’s Dealings

1 Feb

Reading the AFT NCLBlog has been somewhat enlightening if not entertaining. John and Michele are doing a great service in covering this and I appreciate a tone of reasoned thoughtfulness. I guess I expected something more shrill since I have not met many educators thrilled with anything about NCLB. I think it was Michele who noted that the more people learn about NCLB, the less they like it. While NCLB is federal legislation, it manifests itself on a state and local level in different ways. So I’ll share my personal interactions with NCLB as a special education teacher of high school students with severe and profound disabilities.

The first impact of NCLB was not a direct hit on me. It first came crashing down upon my paras, who had to either have 2 years of college or pass the Para Pro Praxis test. There are precious few 2 year college paras in our system and I had none (out of 5 paras) in my room when this came barreling down the pike. They were all very anxious about this test. Coach was one of the first to take and pass it the first time. Queen also passed it the first try, which sort of surprised me. Princess and Ruth were still trying to pass coming into this year. I worked hard with Princess, reviewing with her and drilling her and generally trying to sweat off her test anxiety. I gave her a timed practice test in the middle of our room with our kids moaning, yelling, screeching, laughing and generally being themselves all around her. I put enough pressure on her, that standard conditions were gravy. And she finally passed. Ruth, however, did not. It’s almost the end of the road for her. Patience came in this year with 2 years of college, so she never had to sweat the test.

My kids are under what is called “Alternate Assessment.” Meaning that they don’t participate in standard statewide tests. My kids would literally eat the tests. And the pencils. And possibly the proctor. Most can not recognize their name let alone write it or bubble anything in. But they all like bubbles. Just not the kind on paper. So high stakes testing really hasn’t hit my classroom. Yet.

What makes a “Highly Qualified”(HQ) special education teacher? Sp. Ed. teachers had to wait for the reauthorization of IDEA in 2004 to answer that question. When it came, we were all stunned. We had already taken a Special Education Praxis for our area, whether it was MR, LD or EBD or some other area of special education. When I taught EBD self-contained, I taught math, social studies, science, literature and English. Many times across many different grade levels. According to NCLB and IDEA, we were no longer HQ.  None of us. You read that correctly. I, who am teaching kids how to use the potty, eat with a spoon, button a shirt, and read and write their name…I was not highly qualified. I, who had a Master’s degree in special Ed…I, who was in his final year of a Specialist degree in special education for applied behavior analysis…I who had a clear and renewal certificate for 10 years, was not highly qualified. Unless I became HQ before June 2006, a letter would be sent to parents of my students telling them that I was not HQ. And then my students were supposed to be assigned to regular ed. teachers who were HQ. I almost decided to deliberately not take the test to be entertained by that prospect. I jibed several of my regular ed. colleagues, “Better pick out which one you want now, or you might get STUCK with one!” They were less than amused at the prospect. My kids scare them more than any gang member/thug. The gang bangers don’t even mess with my kids.

NONE of the special ed. teachers in the county were HQ. If any had enough college courses to teach science or math, that’s what they would be doing! The solution was to take another Praxis test. Elementary teachers took elementary ed. praxis and middle and high school teachers took a general knowledge test for teaching students with intellectual abilities up to middle school level. If our students had high school cognitive abilities, they could be served by regular English teachers, right? So, a month ago, on a Saturday most of the Sp. Ed. teachers in Georgia took that Praxis. Oh Five Eleven. 0511. In order to become HQ. I’m still waiting for my results.

The next NCLB insult came just a week later. NCLB requires all students to be working on grade level. ALL students. 100%. And that means us. The kids who can not walk, talk or pee without assistance must be working on grade level. Not cognitive level. Not effort level. Grade Level. Meaning that my 11th grade student who is profoundly intellectually impaired must be working on 11th grade level work. I’ll restate just to be redundant: My student who is in his junior year of high school, but has the adaptive and cognitive abilities of a 17 month old, must be working on the same stuff as his 17 year-old regular ed. peers. IEP or no IEP. Goals will have to be aligned to the state curriculum standards for the grade that they are in. The week after trying to get HQ, I attended a workshop for us teachers of the severe and profound on how to do this. Basically, it was a workshop on how to cheat walk us through aligning our IEP goals with state standards..

Since NCLB allows states to set the standards, Georgia set up a new curriculum that is more flexible and adaptable than the old skill-based one. And since we are on alternate assessment, we don’t have to meet all of the curriculum standards. Just some of them. And we don’t have to meet all of the elements of a standard. And we, as teachers, more or less get to pick and choose which elements of which standard we can align with our goals. All of our goals do not have to align with the curriculum standards, therefore we can still work on daily living skills. It really is a nifty trick. I originally attended this workshop with my pockets stuffed with rotting vegetables to hurl at the lunatics who were proposing that we align our goals with the state curriculum. But once I saw what they were doing, I caught the wink and learned a thing or two.

This, so far, is the impact NCLB has had on me and my program. I feel somewhat fortunate to be sheltered from the biggest storm of testing and AYP but special ed. teachers have had their own unique headaches with NCLB as well as the stuff still tinkling down from IDEA 2004. One more word to my hopeful brothers and sisters in education: Full funding of NCLB will NEVER happen. Special educators know this, because IDEA has never been fully funded over the last 33 years. Ever. I think we in sp. ed. should get our money first, because we’ve been waiting longer! You regular ed. folks are Johnny-Come-Latelies when it comes to strict, intrusive and under funded federal mandates.


One Response to “NCLB: One Teacher’s Dealings”

  1. Michele February 9, 2006 at 4:03 pm #

    Hi Dick,

    I wanted to try and understand better what you were saying about thes testing. It sounds like the students in your class have pretty severe disabilities. Are they still required to take an alternate assessment on grade level?

    Michele at AFT

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