Conversation was often passionate and emotional during a forum on No Child Left Behind hosted Tuesday evening by the Lake Oswego School District and Rep. Darlene Hooley, D-Oregon.
The NCLB Act, a federal law signed in 2002, reauthorizes a number of federal programs that aim to improve the performance of U.S. primary and secondary schools by increasing the standards of accountability for school districts.
The much-debated law is up for reauthorization this year, and Hooley is working on potential fixes for the original legislation, including growth modeling and testing standards.
Hooley, who represents Oregon's fifth congressional district, which includes Lake Oswego, organized the forum to get parent and teacher input that she could take back to Washington, D.C.
'What leaders pay attention to makes a difference, and we're certainly paying attention,' Hooley said.
Parents and teachers from across the Portland area attended the talk, held Tuesday at Lakeridge High School. Many voiced strong opinions, including why they believe the NCLB Act is inherently flawed and why its requirements hurt - not help - public school students.
Melodie Sherer, an instructional assistant with the Tigard-Tualatin School District, said she once held back tears as she helped students complete an NCLB-required test that was beyond their capability.
'They said, 'I don't understand this; I am so stupid,'' Sherer recalled. 'I was spending my time testing, not teaching … It taught them to hate school and think their teachers don't care about them, and you know that's not true.'
NCLB requires states to create an accountability system of assessments, graduation rates and other indicators.
Schools have to make 'Adequate Yearly Progress' as determined by the state, by raising the achievement levels of subgroups of students - such as low-income, special education and minorities - to a state-determined level of proficiency. All students must be proficient by the 2013-2014 school year.
The act also requires that all teachers be 'highly qualified' as defined in the law. A 'highly qualified' teacher is one who has fulfilled the state's certification and licensing requirements.
For example, secondary level teachers must pass a state test in each academic subject area they teach, plus have either an undergraduate major, a graduate degree, coursework equivalent to an undergraduate major or an advanced certification.
That's a problem for Tony Crawford, a seasoned Canby Middle School geography teacher.
Even though Crawford is admired by his students and colleagues, nominated for 'Oregon Teacher for the Year' and writes national geography curriculum, he is not considered 'highly qualified' because he does not have a degree in geography.
Crawford believes this is another aspect of NCLB that does not make sense.
His comments resonated with Mike Park, who left his 20-plus years teaching in Molalla to get an $18,000 raise as a city manager.
'This is how frustrated I am with it,' Park said. 'You're not considered 'highly qualified' even if you work your butt off in your community and state. It still doesn't count.'
NCLB puts too much focus on outcome rather than input, said Pat Burk, chief policy adviser for the Oregon Department of Education.
Hooley's bill to change NCLB, he said, would add 'growth measures' to the act and give the public a better idea of how a majority of students are getting better academically. The current NCLB only looks at a portion of students and requires that only 50 percent of students meet standards.
'If I'm a parent, I want to know more than that,' he said.
Many of the public's opinions echoed that of LOSD Superintendent Bill Korach, who has long criticized NCLB for what he says are illogical assumptions about what kids should achieve.
'It's bordering on insane. It makes no sense in the ways it plays out,' Korach said.
For example, district schools are annually labeled on a five-point scale, and a school can be deemed below exceptional if one sub-group chooses to opt out of testing. The school is then penalized.
NCLB also raises performance expectations over a period of years with the assumption that all kids will always be achieving high standards.
'You will never be able to get all kids reaching high standards,' Korach said. '(NCLB) ignores what we know about human ability and intelligence … It is doomed to fail.'