I’ve talked up this article for a while, but made no real moves to write it. I have had a pre-write done for weeks, but still, no real effort had been put into its production. Well, I have finally hopped to it. I’ve spent a large portion of a day (in addition to the weeks of prewriting both on paper and in my head) writing this article, a practice inspired in part by Glen.
This article will explore the frustrations of students and teachers alike with “No Child Left Behind” and its effect on the classroom. It will discuss the growing irrelevance of American curriculum to the average high school student. It will give my opinion on what a high school diploma should symbolize.
Every day, in at least one of my classes, someone complains about school. It’s pretty typical. I complain about school all the time. No matter what the specific complaint may be, anywhere from “I hate this assignment!” to “When am I ever going to use math?” All the complaints boil down to the same basic thing: A majority of high schoolers feel that the education they are receiving is not relevant to them and what they want to do with their lives at that point.
In a lot of ways, their concerns and protests are not unfounded.
With the advent of “No Child Left Behind” schools across the nation are being forced to teach their classes towards a test. It is in this that our schools are failing its students. When the only reason you go to school is so that you can pass one test one year and another the next and on and on until you graduate, the material becomes irrelevant, pointless and discouraging.
Take, for example, my district and school experience. “No Child Left Behind” passed when I was in middle school and was fully implemented for my sister’s grade. In my case, I only had to take the WASL (Washington Assessment of Student Learning) in 4th, 7th and 10th grades. My sister will take the WASL every year until she graduates.
That being said, in high school now, while the only WASL experience is in 10th grade, if you are in an underclassman non-honors class, your entire curriculum will be centered on the WASL. Luckily, I have been in the honors English class and dodged that bullet there. But my friends who were not in that track often complained about the chronic practice tests, the obnoxious exercises they had to complete that had little to do with English class except that it was on the WASL. Math class was much the same up until Geometry. You learned things that would be on the WASL. Science classes will have to change around their curriculum now that there is a science assessment to deal with.
This year, post-WASL, my classmates are noticing a difference in classroom behavior. A great example is the Physics class and my Honors US History class. There is not a set-in-stone-need-to-get-this-done-by-this-date curriculum. There is an outline of subjects and areas that need to be covered, but there isn’t a timeline. If the class gets distracted about another topic during the class period that encourages the students to think for themselves, it is allowed to continue. The experiences in these classes that do not teach towards a test are much more positive for the students and quickly become their favorite classes, the ones they get excited to go to every day. And when these students are excited about their classes, they do better and they learn more.
I can empathize with this a little more now that I am in a Pre-AP English class that is preparing me for an AP test next year. It sucks. We do these ridiculous things that I will probably never really do again all for the sake of a test. When I compare this year with sophomore year English I haven’t gotten anything out of this year that will last and be memorable.
Making Education Relevant
“No Child Left Behind” has screwed with American education in more ways than one. But to me, sucking the vitality out of the American classroom has been one of the most grievous wrongs it has committed. Tests are not a valid way to keep up with students and make sure they are doing okay. You want to have no child left behind? Then the solution is simple: A bigger education budget so that schools can afford to hire more teachers so class sizes can be smaller.
In order to have no child be left behind, the student cannot be able to fall through the cracks. Unfortunately, in American schools today where class-sizes are literally bursting at the seams with upwards of forty students, it is all too easy to disappear from school and have not one teacher notice. Tests won’t hold American teenagers in the classrooms, personalized attention will. With smaller class sizes and more involvement by each student in a classroom, each student has a larger stake in their education. It becomes a personal choice encouraged by the teacher.
The focus on education has been shifted to content, content, content. Suddenly, knowing what years the Spanish American War took place in and the main players makes you educated. I disagree with the concept that the details of education are the important parts. We have taken the complete wrong perspective.
When I look back on the classes I’ve taken thus far, the ones that stand out the most are not the classes where I learned a lot of facts, but the classes where I learned how to think. I think that it is too easy to say that the point in English class is to read these authors, write this much and learn these words, that the point in Social Studies/History is to learn about these wars, these cultural movements, these dates and these people, that the point in Science is to learn about the periodic table, these biological mechanisms and these laws of physics and that the point in Math is to learn these theories, how to write proofs and how to solve for x. That’s ridiculous. Those are not the things I will remember years down the road and I guarantee they are not the things adults remember about school now.
I will remember how English class taught me to organize and articulate my thoughts well. I will remember how Social Studies class taught me to evaluate and analyze historical and present day situations honestly to see what really happened and whether it was positive, negative, or both. I will remember how Science class taught me to appreciate and understand the world around me. I will remember how Math class helped me to further understand the world around me and to think logically. Those are the things that matter. Who cares if American students aren’t learning specific details? The question we should be asking is: Are they learning how to think responsibly, creatively and effectively? I’d have to say that the majority of high schoolers are not. And it’s not their fault. It’s the system that’s in place.
It is the unfortunate truth that a high school education is not relevant to a lot of students today. Classrooms in America today teach details, specifics; not skill sets, methods of analysis or presentation of ideas. This is not the teachers’ faults. They are being forced to teach to a test that is incapable of testing these invaluable student assets. So what else can be expected?
Teachers are growing continually more frustrated with this every day. I am privileged enough to hear several of my educator’s moanings. They wish that the “damn WASL” wasn’t such a huge part of their lives. They are restricted in class now in ways they never were before. These state tests are putting strain on our teachers making it more difficult for them to reach out and be the inspirational teachers we all (will) remember from our high school experience. When “your students have to pass this test or we’re all at risk for our jobs” is continually pounded into your head, you begin to lose the drive, the desire to say “screw the WASL” and emphasize the things that really matter.
It’s a shame.
I’ll tell you what can be expected. Parents, adults, people who can vote and who care about the future of America: Stand up and say something for those of us who cannot. We deserve more.
For teens who are experiencing this in public schools and are growing steadily more frustrated, I encourage you to write intelligently about this issue. How has this act affected your life? In the next few days I’ll be posting something about “No Child Left Behind.” It will explain what the act puts in place, how it was advertised and how it works. If you feel inclined to speak up, do so and tag your article: teens on No Child Left Behind [http://technorati.com/tag/teens+on+No+Child+Left+Behind]. Let’s see how many we can get on the subject.
Elyse is a 17 year old junior in high school. Her blog, Reaching Maturity [http: