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Group decries No Child Left Behind Act: Television Ads Criticize Emphasis on Tests

But can you picture the atrocity of a 12-year-old in 3rd grade? How can a school do this? Ask Governor Bush.

Denying it is out to hurt President Bush in a battleground state but refusing to disclose its campaign finances, a newly formed group Wednesday began an advertising campaign attacking the school-grading methods of Bush's No Child Left Behind Act.

Communities for Quality Education, a coalition of teachers and parents opposed to "one size fits all" assessment tests, previewed a pair of television advertisements it said will run in Tampa, Orlando and Tallahassee for about three weeks. The spots feature teachers Sabrina Mack of Sabal Palm Elementary School and Michelle Bright of DeLaura Middle School in Satellite Beach, calling on Bush and Congress to "fix" the federal law that annually measures student progress.

"President Bush promised to leave no child behind, but his education law forces teachers to drill students for standardized tests instead of providing the smaller classes, teacher training and updated materials we know work," both teachers say in the ads. "That hurts kids today and limits them in the future."

Strategist Damien Filer, who worked in the successful 2002 Florida campaign for a constitutional amendment mandating reductions in average class sizes, declined to say who is financing the campaign but admitted that teachers unions put up "seed money" for the advertisements. He said the coalition, formed four weeks ago, was not affiliated with the Democratic Party.

"It seems like we're in perpetual campaigns now," Filer said. "We will continue to work after this election cycle is over on these issues."

Bright, the lone Republican at a news conference, said she intends to vote for Bush, "but I want him to fix his education act."

Florida Republican Party spokesman Joseph Agostini said the new organization is acting as a front for Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass.

Filer said hundreds of Florida schools that received a top rating under Gov. Jeb Bush's "A-plus education plan" were given failing marks under the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

Mack said some students are making progress, but not fast enough for the federal mandate of "adequate yearly progress." She said she had one 12-year-old in the third grade.

"I teach at an A school, but my school is in a position that they may not make the grade because they're not meeting the standard, the population that I teach," Mack said. "We need to work as a community to see that all children are working to the best of their ability."

Bright said teachers are concentrating on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test and federal measurement mandates, at the expense of individualized teaching and classroom projects that can help children learn.

"There are many different ways that kids learn," she said. "The testing is becoming so important that it affects the way I teach."

Gloria Pipkin of Lynn Haven, president of the Florida Coalition for Assessment Reform, said "one-size-fits-all, high-stakes testing is taking the joy out of learning." She said no school with large numbers of poor children will "clear the arbitrary hurdles" of standardized testing.

"As if FCAT hadn't done enough harm by cannibalizing the curriculum, penalizing poor test-takers, diverting scarce resources and shaming and stigmatizing children, schools and neighborhoods, along comes NCLB to compound the damage," Pipkin said.

She said that "NCLB was a bipartisan mistake" and that the coalition wanted "to get rid of laws that harm children."

Agostini said that Florida fourth-graders lead the nation in reading improvement and that the number of black students reading at grade level has jumped substantially since Bush was elected in 1998 and began using the FCAT and grading schools. He said it was significant that the television spots were running in the Interstate 4 corridor, where Florida elections are decided.

The race for Florida's 27 electoral votes is expected to be extremely close on Nov. 2.

"What we're seeing here today are the last gasps of the teachers unions' stranglehold on our schools," Agostini said. "Accountability doesn't benefit them."

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Contact political editor Bill Cotterell at (850) 671-6545 or bcotterell@tallahassee.com.

— Bill Cotterell, Political Editor
Tallahassee Democrat


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