Last mission to repair the Hubble telescope Hubble space telescope discoveries have enriched our understanding of the cosmos. In this special report, you will see facts about the Hubble space telescope, discoveries it has made and what the last mission's goals are.
For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
Fill out this form to email this article to a friend
The children left behind
By LINDA PERLSTEIN, Special to the Washington Post
Published October 13, 2007
While at an elementary school doing research for a book about the impact of standards and testing on American education, I spent a lot of time watching a girl I called Whitney. Among other disabilities, Whitney had mild mental retardation. Although she was in fourth grade, she could sound out words only on the level of a first-grader, and her ability to comprehend what she read and heard seemed no more advanced.
I once saw a teacher spend 15 minutes, as the rest of the class worked independently, trying to explain to Whitney that when you sell something you get money for it, a concept crucial to understanding the story at hand.When a special education teacher told Whitney that synonyms have the same meaning, she asked, "Like a science experiment? Like a dinosaur?"
As Congress considers revisions to the No Child Left Behind Act, I hope lawmakers think about children such as Whitney. While many elements of the landmark education law are up in the air, one provision almost certain to be included is the "growth model": assessing the "adequate yearly progress" of schools not by calculating how many fourth-graders passed a test compared with the previous year but by measuring the progress made by each child. This is a welcome change and if executed properly may yield far more useful information.
But a large problem remains: Under the versions of the law under discussion, Whitney will still be given the fifth-grade test in fifth grade, the sixth-grade test in sixth grade and so on. She will probably fail these tests - no surprise to her teachers - and whatever progress she makes, unless it is so miraculous as to wipe away her deficiencies altogether, will go uncredited. Worse, her time and her teachers' time will be badly misused.
Under the law, a small minority of disabled students are allowed to take a test of more basic skills. Whitney's problems aren't severe enough for her to qualify. Like other special education students, she is entitled to "accommodations" during testing. For many students, these services - extra time, a quiet room, a teacher who reads the exam aloud - level the playing field enough for them to succeed. For others, accommodations can't come close to making the difference between passing and failing.
It's not just that Whitney's progress can't be properly measured by a test that's way above her head. It's that by taking to heart the law's mandate of every student in a grade working toward the same target, administrators are making bad instructional decisions that permeate classrooms nationwide. Teachers follow pacing guides that tell them what to teach each day, no matter where their students are. Watching a new immigrant I called Mateo struggle with a quiz that asked whether colonization meant an armed invasion, peaceful revolution, settling of new land or control of goods - English terms he had never heard before - simply because that was the quiz fifth-graders were taking that day, I felt like I was witness to nothing more than a waste of precious time.
That students such as Whitney and Mateo are getting more individual attention is easily the best outcome of the law so far; that this attention is directed toward the wrong goals is negligence. As long as students are judged only on grade-level tests, no matter their needs, and as long as the education they get the rest of the year hews to that goal, they will lose out.
Politicians say that anything less than holding fourth-graders accountable for fourth-grade work amounts to leaving children behind, and challenging that notion has become taboo. "For the vast majority of students, grade-level learning is not too much to ask," Education Secretary Margaret Spellings said last month. The only time I saw Whitney make progress was the hour she spent each day with a specialist who guided her in blending letters to make sounds. Is it too much to ask that children such as Whitney be taught what they need to learn in order to make their own adequate yearly progress?
Linda Perlstein, who covered education for the Washington Post, is the author of Tested: One American School Struggles to Make the Grade.