“No Child Left Behind.” Shame, fear, anger. The seven year old and the seventeen year old struggling with a reading problem know these feelings well even if they cannot read the words. The third grader stumbling over the same words his friends read so easily and the high school student hiding his reading disability behind daily detentions both feel that hopeless devastation and embarrassment. But that is not the issue, is it?
We all agree that reading inadequacy profoundly affects a person’s academic success, self-esteem, and social acceptance. President Bush’s “No Child Left Behind” plans to erase this shame by 2014 is a noble goal with a catch.
By dramatizing the dismal reading results leaking out of many districts throughout the nation, this Administration expects to prove the system is broken and “No Child Left Behind” can fix it. If 95 % of all students, including those with limited ability take all tests with very few, if any accommodations, scores will skew downward, showing greater need for change.
In reality, however, this is how it works. Listen in on the meeting with Curtis, a special education student in eleventh grade with an IQ of 89. “We know that you’re reading level is fourth grade, but divest yourself of any self-denunciation and brazen out the tests because they will challenge all your contemporaries too. No one is expected to exceed. Just do your best. ” Well, not really. The words we use may be simpler. But what difference does it make? The message is the same. You won’t pass. But don’t worry about it. I too have sat at the table while students listen to their fate outlined by the new federal guidelines. When do we stop explaining’ and start caring about the child?
Parents and educators have wrestled in courts and classrooms for years to help special needs students gain modifications they require to be successful. Now, this same student reading below grade level must struggle with a test overloaded with vocabulary and concepts impossible to understand. Let’s hope the Bush Administration can find another way to show it cares about kids.
Ethically wrong? Of course. Educationally unsound? Definitely. Results show playing by both sets of rules-providing accommodations or not offering them- makes very little difference in overall performance.Yes, let’s help every child to read to the best of his or her ability. Let’s do whatever it takes to ensure success for every child. But let’s not break the spirit of those already doing their very best.