Although it’s rated by California as a “distinguished school,” Napa High School is in its second year of program improvement because it missed No Child Left Behind targets for bringing English Learners to grade level. The target was 22.3 percent; the category includes students who’ve been reclassified as fluent in English but haven’t tested as proficient for three years in a row. The San Francisco Chronicle opens:
The case of Napa High illustrates the central dilemma Congress is wrestling with: Are kids helped or harmed by requiring them to score at grade level in math and English?
Call on me! Call on me!
Despite its distinguished rating, Napa High has a large gap between white and Hispanic students (nearly all students are one or the other) and an even larger gap between poor and non-poor students.
Before it fell afoul of NCLB, Napa High offered extra help “to the lowest of the low performers,” the Chron reports. Now every ninth- and 10th-grader scoring below grade level gets help.
Principal Barbara Franco complains the law is draconian, but admits that getting all students to grade level is a worthy goal. Some teachers disagree.
At Napa this year, Program Improvement forced many students to postpone — though not eliminate — electives so they could double up on math and English. And most teachers had to take a class to learn to use a new anthology text from Holt Publishers that has worksheets, benchmark tests and an essay-grading program. The anthology, with its plot summaries and helpful prompts, replaced literature this year for more than 360 ninth- and 10th-graders.
After teaching English for 18 years, Hilary Zunin quit after learning that most freshmen and sophomores would be reading the Holt anthology. (Some 45 percent of ninth graders and 57 percent of 10th graders test below grade level in reading.)
“There are a lot of people living good lives in this country who aren’t able to write a cohesive paragraph and don’t know grammar,” Zunin said. “I’m more concerned about them being able to put themselves in someone else’s shoes — which is the essence of To Kill a Mockingbird. I’m more concerned with them being able to feel compassion and to question authority in a constructive way, which is the essence of Night. I’m more concerned with them looking at the nature of friendship, which is at the heart of Of Mice and Men. “
Was she teaching “love of literature” to students who can’t read? She must have been quite a teacher. Or perhaps she thought it’s enough to turn out compassionate young people who can prune a vine, drive a tractor and pour wine for tourists.
Low-scoring students are using a computer program to learn basic reading skills. They like it.
“It helps you learn how to spell the words better, and you get to understand what they’re reading,” said Araceli (Hernandez), who was born in Jalisco, Mexico. “It was difficult last year because I couldn’t understand how to do paragraphs and everything. But now that I got into this program, it’s better.”
If students like Araceli can learn the basics of reading and writing in ninth grade, they can move on to literature in 10th or 11th grade. They can take electives when they’ve mastered essentials. And they’re more likely to love learning once they’ve got a foundation for learning.
NCLB is working exactly as advertised when it forces schools with good overall scores to look closely at the performance of subgroups, such as English Learners.