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Leaving No Child Behind

Thanks to No Child Left Behind, the last week of my life was spent proctoring the California STAR (Standardized Testing and Reporting) test at my school site. The test is given to assess progress and academic achievement in the areas of math, social studies, science and english language arts. Interestingly enough, at our school, teachers in those areas were given time off from proctoring along with the PE, foreign language and ESL teachers. The only teachers who were left to administer the tests full time were the arts teachers.  We got no time off from supervising a test that does not even apply to our discipline.  

Our high school is in its fourth year of “program improvement”- a status indicating that for four years our students’ test scores have not met the state’s minimum benchmarks.  Shouldn’t the teachers in the academic areas that were being assessed be responsible for administering the test since their instructional areas are in jeopardy?  Instead of being responsible to the students they teach, during testing those teachers were given time off to collaborate within their departments. 

The luxury of collaboration time is not the only resource that we as arts teachers have had to forfeit because of “program improvement”.  All resources are directed towards the classes and disciplines who are most impacted by the low test scores.  Since there are no standardized tests for the arts, we are considered an expendable commodity accommodated only because we are part of the California High School graduation requirement- a fine arts elective.  Our state block grant money that was initiated several years ago and earmarked specifically for visual and performing arts was “swept” by our district for funds needed in other areas.  Our needs were left unmet. 

I am no fan of standardized tests and I am tired of the charade of program improvement- which to me has little to do with student performance and alot to do with a billion dollar testing industry.  There is a fortune to be made from the label of program improvement and the mandates of No Child Left Behind have fueled the fury.  While performance based assessment falls by the wayside, schools, districts and the federal government continue to lavish time, (my time), resources and false hope on a yardstick that not only measures very little, but continues to reinforce the idea that most schools are failing miserably.  Last week we relinquished our time and talents for the sake of state testing.  What will they ask of us next year?  Have they ever asked for our input?  Our best professional practices?  The arts have never left any child behind, how long will it take them before they realize that?

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