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Reality Check

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It’s now several post-Bennett years later and I am not laughing anymore. If you are a superintendent, a principal or a teacher, I am guessing you aren’t laughing either. Your jobs are on the line. And for those of you who have chosen to work with low-income, special education and English as a second language students, not only do you have the day-to-day concerns and stress that come with your classroom hours. Now state and federal politicians have decided to mandate the goals those students must reach. Don’t you wish, for just one day, a lawmaker who voted for the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 could teach your class?

Virginia has adopted a statewide testing program called Standards of Learning (SOL) to implement this. You would have to be living in a cave not to have heard about them. Third-, fifth- and eighth-graders are given evaluations. High school students are also evaluated and 70 percent of the students must pass them. In 2014, 100 percent must pass. To receive a diploma, high school pupils must take SOLs in all major subjects and pass six, in addition to passing at least 22 courses. And all public school students are now required to pass two years of algebra and one year of geometry to receive a diploma.

The SOL tests are cloaked in mystery. No teacher knows exactly what material will be on the tests, and the people making up the evaluations are not teachers in the Virginia public schools. I have recently read that if large numbers of pupils answer certain items correctly, those items are dropped from future tests.

What kind of nonsense is this? If American students who graduate from high school should have specific subject knowledge, and I do believe they should, then the teachers who are in Virginia’s classrooms should decide not only what material is important for the students to know, but also what items to put on the tests.

Good teachers know there are prerequisites to taking higher math like algebra and geometry. Some people are abstract thinkers; some are not. This doesn’t mean that the person who has mechanical ability and can fix a car or install plumbing is not just as gifted as the one who loves to solve challenging algebraic expressions. Personally, I think the mechanic and the plumber will have a much easier time finding work after high school. To me, the definition of education is finding the gift inside each one of my students and helping him or her develop it.

We see promise in young athletes at an early age also. A child who is never still can stay focused when a basketball is in his hands and the net is his goal. Running and playing team sports are activities open to all kids, but only a few are truly talented.

We don’t expect every person to play a musical instrument, to go out for football or to paint a mural. Yet we expect everyone to pass higher math and to excel in science, history and English.

What do you think will happen to youngsters who feel frustrated and angry and who drop out of school with no skills and no diplomas? How will these young adults affect your life and the economic life of our country?

I am a teacher in the trenches, and my advice to politicians is to give us adequate buildings and supplies — and enough money to attract the most intelligent and creative college grads to our profession. But please, before you try to implement learning by our students, come into our classrooms and witness how different each student is. I believe each one should show progress in academics, but the rate of acceleration cannot be mandated. Studies show that the child who is read to every night and comes well-fed with all the materials he or she need to study and to learn, will probably make excellent progress. But what about the children who stayed up late watching television, did not do their homework because no one could help them with it, and who came to school hungry? Can we just write them off?

One curriculum does not fit everyone. We all need to know this. Increasing the number of American high school graduates, not the number of failures and dropouts, must be the unified goal of everyone. It is our responsibility to see that all our citizens are educated and are able to be employed when they are adults. In Virginia, the implementation of the No Child Life Behind law is a politically motivated disaster. Let’s replace that phrase with one of Teddy Roosevelt’s: “Do what you can where you are with what you have.”

Then, truly, no child will be left behind. S



Luann Stull Bell has been teaching and writing since her graduation from the University of Virginia in 1959.

Opinions expressed on the Back Page are those of the writer and not necessarily those of Style Weekly.


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