Let’s face it: districts and schools are living (and dying) by these terms. Here’s what they mean (or at least, here is what I think they mean).
AYP = Adequate yearly progress. This means that a school must show evidence of improving every year, a certain percentage of improvement each year till–ta da!–in 2012 we will all be at 100%. (Ask any real teacher if this would ever happen.) If your math department improved by great leaps and bounds last year, you will have to perform at even better next year. This doesn’t take into account any variations in student populations, including special ed.
Alignment = Adapting your curriculum so the things you teach will produce test scores. All right: let’s say it aloud: “teaching to the test.” A horrific movement in that direction would be “Race to the Top” funding which would require the same national tests for all schools and the use of similar textbooks everywhere. George Orwell, glance our way.
Assessment = Test. Want a wake-up call? Go online and Google “standardized math test” and “standardized language arts test” for the grade levels you’re interested in. Take the test as an adult. Imagine taking the test as a child. You will see that the tests are designed for a monoculture of children (who probably don’t exist), using vocabulary and sentence structures that will indeed leave many children behind. You will also notice that the tests are designed for everyone to fail, at some point, as the questions get harder. Frustrating for you? Think about the kids!
Highly Qualified = Teachers who have taken a certain set of courses. The term has nothing at all to do with teaching ability. There are various levels of qualification for teaching. As an example, I have a MA in English and a state teaching license for English. I qualified with a secondary “endorsement” in visual arts, but to be Highly Qualified, I would have to take more courses and the Praxis exam. It doesn’t matter at all that my students win local and state art contests and that I think almost everyone leaves my course able to draw and paint adequately. I’m not Highly Qualified, though I am going to become so, because the Praxis is not that hard (I’ve seen some sample tests), and I’ve arranged with my state office to meet standards. Still, the term Highly Qualified is obfuscation. It implies teaching skill, but what it means is courses taken.
Research-based programs = teaching strategies that someone has run studies on and reported on. One year, our district bought a stack of books with research-based teaching strategies and handed one to every teacher. There was nothing inherently wrong with the strategies, but there was nothing to distinguish them either. Running a study on a program and publishing it makes it research-based.
School Improvement Plan = a written document including data on how students are achieving and how the school proposes to improve achievement. My experience with the school improvement plan is that it creates a great deal of work with little light shed on what to do. Perhaps the data will uncover a struggling student, but in reality, most good teachers (and that means most of the teachers I know) already know who’s struggling. Producing the School Improvement Plan means more meetings and more time writing up a document required by law.
There are many more terms; you can Google them. The important thing–to me–is that NCLB purports to help children. It is a puffed-up, self-important, hugely-complicated, very powerful piece of legislation that creates work and stress in schools, for teachers, for children. The pressure is so powerful that daily education becomes teaching to the test, and essential subjects like PE and the arts are often minimized or pushed to the side.
There’s something that the NCLB proponents forget: we are teaching real children who are having real childhoods. This is the way they are growing up: with testing pressure so strong that they may miss the humanizing aspects of growing up into whole human beings.