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No Absurdity Left Behind

Tuesday, February 8, 2005; Page A22

Education Secretary Margaret Spellings [letters, Feb. 3] said, "By extending the promise of No Child Left Behind into our high schools, we can make sure that all students graduate so that they can choose to go on to higher education with the skills they need to succeed or directly enter the 21st-century workforce, prepared for all its challenges."

As an eighth-grade English teacher in Lincoln, Neb., I cringe at the idea of doing to high school what the legislation has done to education in kindergarten through eighth grade.

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No one can disagree with the idea of "leaving no child behind." But how does testing children all year long at grade level help those who struggle to arrive at grade level? At my inner-city school, I teach two classes of students who, despite being in eighth grade, read at levels anywhere from kindergarten to fifth grade. Yet I am forced to prepare these students using a high-end eighth-grade textbook. They must attempt to write five-paragraph descriptive essays when they cannot write an intelligible sentence, and to analyze fiction and non-fiction that they cannot read.

The question of how they arrived in my classroom unable to read or write is a valid one. The answer has many variables, including learning English as a second language, IQs lower than 85, homelessness, frequent moves from school to school and chronic absences.

Before the No Child Left Behind law was enacted, my focus with these students was to increase their reading level by as much as a grade or even two. While that may not sound like much of an achievement, imagine the increase in literacy gained between second and fourth grade.


Lincoln, Neb.

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