I have had the privilege of teaching kindergarten at Hawthorne Elementary, in Everett, Wash., since completing the Whitworth Master in Teaching Program in 2000. This year has been extra challenging because I have more non-English-speaking students than I've had in any other year. After my students had spent a whole week painting the letter "S," writing it on whiteboards, making an "S" out of play-doh and singing "S" songs, I couldn't wait to see what they had learned. I excitedly pointed to the letter "S," looked at their cute five-year-old faces, and asked them what that letter was called. They replied, "Two!" We have a long year ahead of us.
In a school where 84 percent of the students receive free and reduced-price lunches and where teachers can't communicate with most parents unless they have an interpreter, you'd think the government would try to help. In fact, it is just the opposite. This year we were placed on the "Needs Improvement" list under the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). Although our math scores went up this year, they did not go up enough to meet the requirement in the periodically escalating scale, which requires all students to be on standard by 2014. There are some serious flaws in the act that most people don't know about.
Does it make sense to expect a child who has been in our country only one year to pass the Washington Assessment of Student Learning (WASL)? Imagine if you had to move to Japan, learn to read and write the language, and then pass a standardized test in just one year. That's what we are asking of some of our 10-year-old students.
The WASL does not measure the quality of teaching. Despite English being the second language of most of my students, nearly all of my kindergarten students were reading at first- or second-grade level at year's end. Yet our school won't be acknowledged for this or for the achievements of hundreds of other students our teachers have taught. Our school has a very transient population, so many students we teach will move by the time they are tested in fourth grade. Many of the families who work hard to help their children succeed are the same families motivated to move out of government housing and the Hawthorne school area. NCLB has only added to our challenge by allowing our higher-achieving students to leave our school with ease.
Instead of providing extra money for schools like ours, NCLB indirectly takes money away. It is our district, not the federal government, that pays the estimated $72,973 to bus Hawthorne students to nearby schools. That could pay for another teacher!
Test scores don't show the devotion and dedication of our educators. With their advanced degrees, extensive training, accolades and big hearts, the Hawthorne staff could teach anywhere, but they want to be where their skills can benefit children the most. It's too bad the federal government is leaving them and their students behind.