ANO file photo
By Lauris Olson
(Nov. 21, 2011 – 11:15 a.m.) Veteran teachers Nancy Peterson and Elise Wright disagree with the Iowa Department of Education’s proposal to only grant teaching certificates to new teachers earning a 3.0 or better grade point average and to hold back elementary students who can’t read at the third grade level.
The proposed rules, they said, don’t reflect the realites of the profession or the classroom.
‘They want to raise the bar from what college students are supposed to obtain as a grade point average, but just because you are smart doesn’t mean you are going to be a good teacher,” said Peterson.
“In fact, if you are smart, you may not make a good teacher. Sometimes you have to have been there.”
A passion for teaching, as well as a strong sense of survival, are better indicators of who will be successful in the classroom, Peterson said.
Peterson, a Gilbert High School social studies teacher with 27 years experience and Wright, a Fellows Elementary School of Ames 5th grade and special education teacher with 32 years experience, spoke Saturday as part of a listening session organized by state representatives Lisa Heddens (Dist. 46, Ames – D) and Beth Wesse3l-Kroeschell (Dist. 45, Ames – D). They were joined by state Sen. Herman Quirmbach (Dist.23, Ames – D).
About a dozen people attended the session to tell the legislators what they thought of Governor Terry Branstad’s “Blueprint for Education, One Unshakable Vision: World-Class Schools For Iowa.” Branstad and Jason Glass, director of the Iowa Department of Education (DOE), released the plan in October. Legislators will be asked to approve it when they convene for the 2012 session.
Peterson said that she herself had been there, as a child who read slowly, often needing to go over lines of text two or three times.
“I tested well in spelling but didn’t do well on those timed reading tests,“ she said. “My learning style was one that fills the prisons. I was a difficult student. Now I reach workshops during the summer to teachers who are coming back for recertification. I teach discipline, motivation, designing lessons plans to meet the needs of all students.
“If you did a study of kids who drop out, I think you would find that their learning style needs were never met and so they leave, because who wants to be constantly failing.”
Wright, who has five children, has been through the experience herself. She thinks it should be left up to the parents, not state law.
“I am somewhat concerned about the punitive aspects when you talk about retaining students in third grade,” said Wright. “You set up the school and the teacher at the same time you set the child up for failure.
“We made the decision to hold back two or our kids in kindergarten. But it was a choice we made as parents, not that the school made or the school and teachers made. The teachers supported us, which I felt was really important to me as a parent. Their message was that I believed it would help my children.”
Wright said that mandatorily holding a student back sends a different message.
“I think it would be different if the message is that you need to meet the standard and you didn’t, so you are going to punished.”
Parent Helen Blituch, who has a child attending Fellows Elementary School, feels the mandatory reading test requirement for third graders doesn’t meet the underlying reasons some children fail.
“What difference is it to make a student repeat a grade if you use the learning styles again?” she said. “I think it needs to be a really strong phonics base and it needs to be systematically approached throughout the grades.”
Blituch’s child has the reading disorder dyslexia, she said. She believes the education reforms should require teachers to be certified in the subjects they teach, especially reading.
While the proposed blueprint for education allows alternative testing models for students with diagnosed learning disabilities, parent Amy Bleyle, feels passage of a third grade reading test before advancing further will still hurt some students.
Bleyle has five children in the Ames School District. She pointed out that only children whose parents have intervened and had them tested would be able to take advantage of the alternatives.
“My concern is for the kids who parents aren’t there to advocate for them,” said Bleyle. “You have to have an official diagnosis. Also, it doesn’t address the kids who aren’t reading at grade level because they don’t have the support at home. I don’t like the arbitrariness of saying ‘You don’t read.’ “
Peterson and Wright want those developing the new “blueprint” to spend time in classrooms before putting their education reform proposal before the legislature.
“I am blessed at Gilbert,” said Peterson. “We have a very low [number of students who qualify for] free and reduced lunch. Kids come to school wanting to learn and the parents are interested. It isn’t that way everywhere.
Wright said the situation was different for some teachers in Ames.
“There are kids coming to school that are living in cars and we are supposed to assist them in finding out what happened in the war of 1812,” said Wright. “They are interested in the peanut butter sandwich they may get at lunchtime. And there are more of these children than most imagine.”