Educators strive to hit the goal in a game with new rulesTory Chappell always had the beat. In first grade, he danced like a hip-hop star. At 18, he drums like a punk rocker.
But school has never been Tory's forte. While his fifth-grade classmates were singing the lyrics, Tory was still sounding them out.
"I was learning, but it was just harder for me," he said. "I couldn't make sense of the words."
Even now, the Knappa senior strums through textbooks for middle school students. He struggles so much, he was exempt from the standard tests for most Oregon sophomores.
But new federal legislation requires schools test every student for the basics. By 2014, the No Child Left Behind Act requires every student pass at grade level.
This year, Oregon set goals for schools - 40 percent of students had to pass in reading and 39 percent had to pass in math. In the past, schools averaged all of the scores together, but no longer. The scores are divided into groups of poor students, minority students, non-native English speakers and students who are by definition below grade level - students like Tory. Every district except for Seaside missed the mark in the disabled students' category.
If they don't meet the standards, some schools face rigid sanctions - like a state take over. (See "Penalties.")
The stakes have schools racking their brains in the ultimate battle of the pedagogues.
Some - like the head of U.S. education Rod Paige - say the law forces educators to consider why low achievers traditionally fall to different standards.
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Chappell is a drummer and singer in his band Last 2 Fall. Some educators argue that tests do not assess many aspects of a student's knowledge.
"We need to stop making excuses," Paige said in a press release issued by Indiana University Bloomington. "There are 8 million kids in special education. Half are there because they didn't learn to read well. We could reduce special education classes by one-third if we'd teach them how to read."
Education policy experts like Jamie McKenzie believe the legislation makes people so obsessed with test scores in reading, math, writing and science, they ignore everything else.
"When they call it 'No Child Left Behind,' that's false advertising," said the former educator, based in Bellingham, Wash. "You get a kind of fast-food approach to learning ... The parents are going to go absolutely ape when they think their children are being hurt."
Meanwhile, the head of Oregon schools, Susan Castillo, who supports the law in theory, stresses money for the mandates.
And legislators like U.S. Rep. David Wu, D-Ore., who voted for the law hoping to funding 100,000 teachers nationwide, grapple for the basic funding. Tax cuts and defense spending leave the law funded at $10 billion less than needed to make it successful.
'The whole kiddo'In the mosh pit of opinions, students like Tory care little about the tests and less about the federal government. Oregon standards tests don't keep him from classes at Clatsop Community College next year. They don't keep him from graduating high school. PenaltiesSchools that fail to meet state goals as they progress toward 100 percent of their students at grade level face a range of sanctions. Only schools receiving federal funds for poor students are eligible for these penalties. In Clatsop County, every elementary school except Gearhart receives these funds, called Title I. Astoria and Broadway middle schools also received the funds.
Penalties for not meeting goals.
For two consecutive years: Schools must notify parents, fund a change to a school or district making adequate yearly progress, implement improvement plan, receive assistance to improve performance.
For three years: Schools must do all of the above and offer services for low-achieving students.
For four years: Schools must continue with the above and may replace staff not meeting AYP, implement new curriculum and staff training, consult an outside expert, extend the school year or day or restructure the school staff.
For five years: Schools must continue with the above and begin planning for restructuring.
For six years: Schools must implement restructuring plans - reopen as a charter school, replace all or most staff, contract with an outside entity to operate a school, undergo state takeover or undertake major restructuring of school governance.
Source: Oregon Department of Education AYP policy manual They don't keep him from his band Last 2 Fall. Tests are just another beat in his education - the one beat he never understood.
"I pretty much guess because I really don't know," he said. "It's just because, like, the questions don't make sense to me."
Standard tests never assess all of a student's knowledge, said John Jacob Astor third-grade teacher Debbie Twombly.
"There is no test that everybody's going to pass. Let's face it," she said.
Students take standard tests in third, fifth, eighth and 10th grades.
Students who don't meet the benchmarks often have vast knowledge in other areas - like culture or music, Twombly said. In special education, the imbalance is often magnified, Astoria's special education director Diane Higgins said. But legislators don't seem to listen to the exceptions, she said.
"We're hoping they'll get real and realize some of this is artificial," she said. "Yes, we've got the tests, but what about the whole kiddo?"
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Reyna Zurita, 19, and Ana Zurita, 18, work on their English in class at Astoria High School.
Seaside is examining how it became the only Clatsop County district to meet the standards in special education.
"It probably was a little bit of the luck of the Irish," special education director Dan Gaffney said. "Next year's going to be a whole new ball game."
Modifications and AccommodationsStudents with special needs have several options when it comes to testing. They can challenge down to a test in a grade level for younger children. While traditional students take the first Oregon standard in third grade, students with special needs can take a test below third grade to assess their score. Students who challenge down automatically fail the Oregon standard, according to No Child Left Behind.
Below are some other modfications that also disqualify student scores:
Verbal coaching through math problem solving.
Translation for reading or writing tests.
Word processors with spell checking used.
Staff rewords or simplifies test items.
Student rewords the reading portion and does not respond to multiple-choice items.
Testing scheduled outside of official window during school year.
Other accommodations do not automatically disqualify a student's score. A sample of these changes to the test are listed below:
Extended test time.
Student takes test alone or in a small group.
Administer test at a time of day most beneficial to the student.
Large print or Braille questions and answers.
Math problems read aloud or translated to the student.
Student dictates math problems to a scribe.
Once special education students perform at grade level, they no longer qualify for special education, he said. That leaves a greater concentration of students with serious disabilities and hinders schools' efforts to meet goals in subsequent years.
"I agree that we need to set goals, but I'm not so sure it's very realistic," he said.
'Like a rocket'Knappa mother Karen Duvall knew her son Brock could read in third grade. He read books, street signs and newspaper articles to her during the summer.
"But you couldn't get him to do it on a test," she said.
Brock, who is autistic, did not meet the Oregon standards that year.
Duvall co-chairs Northwest Abilities Group which educates parents of children with disabilities.
She sets goals with Brock's educators, doctors and specialists to improve his behavior, social interaction, physical well-being and speech development. In high school, Brock may participate in this team. This year, Brock is in the fifth grade, but will take an assessment for younger students.
"I never really thought it was worth anything," she said. "It could look on the statistics like he's not progressing at all."
Duvall has watched her son improve with several goals at Hilda Lahti Elementary. Goals often change daily because of Brock's autism.
Brock struggles with more than academics. He periodically outgrows his medication for seizures and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, leading to months of erratic behavior. One year, Brock was tutored at home. Another year, he missed 51 days of school. Duvall is on constant alert.
"For some reason at 3 o'clock, he's off like a rocket," Duvall said. "I had him trying to get on a roof the other day."
Why not?In the 1950s, few options were available for children like Brock. They were often refused schooling or became amiable teachers aides like Reed Martin's sister.
"She didn't get a damn thing out of school because she wasn't identified," said the West Virginia attorney, who now ON THE NETSeveral Web sites include information about No Child Left Behind.
U.S. Department of
of the States
Special Education site
Criticism of the act
(www.nochildleft.com)specializes in special education cases.
In 1975, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act required those who perform below grade level be identified and educated. Congress is considering revisions to IDEA to align it with No Child Left Behind. The 2001 law re-authorized the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, which created a federal role in public education.
No Child Left Behind provides accountability by forcing educators to ask: "Why shouldn't this kid be at grade level?" Martin said.
He believes, with the right curriculum, almost every child can read.
Oregon educators are reviewing about 250 reading programs, Knappa special education director Paula Mills said. They have not reached a consensus. Meanwhile Mills, who is also Hilda Lahti's principal, is strapped with teaching students to pass the tests or facing penalties.
"So many of my kids just get stressed out by these things," she said. "I've had kids melt down - just totally melt down."
Examining examsIn Oregon, parents can request children be exempt from the test. Tory's team decided he would fare better in other assessments, but not for long. Some 95 percent of students must participate or the schools' scores aren't valid. Some modifications to the test automatically disqualify students from meeting the standards. (See "Modifications.") If enough students chose these modifications, schools can face penalties.
"Sometimes, it can put a lot of pressure on kids and teachers," said Warrenton special education teacher Nancy Kruger. "You spend a lot of time on testing that could be better spent on other things."
While some children agonize over tests, others speed through the questions answering information they only understand superficially.
Lewis and Clark Elementary fifth grader Henry Sause has been known to zip through a test. Henry has high-functioning autism. As a third grader, Henry passed the reading test but not math. The boy is now in the most advanced reading and math groups in his class.
His mother, Kelly Sause, believes he would have passed both if his aide could have kept him on task during the test. That would have disqualified Henry's scores.
"You have to keep the directions very simple," Sause said.
Luck and baseballOregon Department of Education's Nancy Latini urges districts to study at each student's performance.
"What we're going to find out is: Who are those children," said the interim assistant superintendent for special education. "Are they getting different instructions?"
Astoria special education teachers spent a day examining each student and how to get them to perform on a test.
Henry's performance varies, his aide Kerith Basel said.
"(One day,) he gets distracted if he's hungry or he has a scratch," she said. "The next day, he'll take the same test and ace it."
Barbara Chappell's son Tory was so easily distracted as a child, doctors insisted he had attention-deficit disorder. Eventually he was diagnosed with a short-term memory disorder.
"At times when he was younger, he was under a lot of stress," Chappell said.
Tory, the youngest of five children, struggled throughout school. In fourth grade, Chappell wrote the first draft to a story, and Tory copied the draft. When the teacher confronted the family, Chappell told the teacher she was trying to help him.
"You have to understand, he couldn't read the paper," she said.
Eventually, Tory hit fifth grade and the family decided to take action. For more than a year they drove him twice a week to Longview, Wash. The specialists helped bring Tory's grades up to nearly a fourth-grade level.
That's when they started to notice the drum set at Thiel's Music Center. Each time the soft-spoken boy would salivate over it.
"With learning problems, sometimes you have to go with the one positive thing that they do," Chappell said.
So she bought him the set.
"That was it for Tory," she said. "Kids started coming over and playing with guitars."
Now as a senior, Tory looks like a punk rocker - his hair is dyed in orange polka-dots and his clothes are trendy. Chappell encourages Tory to think about community college.
"I'm not saying he's going to be a genius - heavens knows he's not," she said. "But all you do is to teach them to be kind."
And Tory returns the favor. He still lets his mom in on his life - she's Last 2 Fall's roadie. She carts his drum set around - Tory doesn't have a driver's license - and sticks around for the shows. The music's not too bad, she said.
"In fact, I kind of like it."