NSEA Legislative Update: December 4, 2014
In This Update:
- Strategic Plan
- Burgeoning Class Size in Schools
- Amount of Standardized Testing Required
- Lack of Mental Health Services for Students
Strategic Planning for Education
LB1103, adopted in the 2014 Legislative Session, requires the Education Committee of the Legislature to conduct a strategic planning process to create a statewide vision for education in Nebraska. The committee is required to submit a report regarding the visioning process on or before Dec. 31, 2014. In preparation, the Committee held public meetings across the state. Following is a summary of issues that NSEA testifiers presented at those meetings.
NSEA’s vision for education in Nebraska is straightforward: Provide a great public education for every student. At NSEA, we are focused on improving the quality of teaching, increasing student achievement, and making schools better, safer places to learn. An important part of this work is ensuring that every student – regardless of socio-economic status, race, gender, or other factors – is taught by a motivated, well-trained, highly qualified teacher.
Burgeoning Class Size in Schools
Educators know firsthand that class size affects everything a teacher and their students do. In most school districts in Nebraska, we’ve seen an increase in the student/teacher ratio and that increase is negatively affecting student learning. The problem is exacerbated when the student affected is an English Language Learner. Our students are not getting the individualized attention they need to succeed.
Today’s typical classrooms are more diverse than in years past. Some students have mental or emotional disabilities or behavior problems. Some students speak little or no English. One in five students live in poverty. Students have a range of backgrounds and achievement levels. Students who need individual attention are unlikely to receive it in a large classroom of 30-40 students. Smaller classes help to develop the non-cognitive skills that are important to success in work, college, and later in life – skills such as persistence, motivation and self-esteem.
As society asks more and more of public schools, Nebraska’s Legislature needs to provide smaller class sizes so teachers can provide the individual attention all students need to learn and achieve at high levels. A reduction in class size will lead to improved student achievement and fewer behavioral issues in the classroom.
Amount of Standardized Testing Required
We believe it is important to protect the time needed for direct instruction of our kids. Standardized testing continues to eat away at instructional time and, in many cases, is neither productive nor helpful in providing the teacher with timely information that could be used to improve student learning. Excessive use of these tests promotes a drill-like "teaching to the test" approach, and undermines our State’s ability to produce innovators and critical thinkers.
Standardized tests have been a part of American education since the mid-1800s. Their use skyrocketed after 2002's No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) mandated testing in all 50 states. But research has shown that the use of standardized testing has not improved student achievement and is not a reliable measure of student performance. Since NCLB’s introduction, American students have slipped from 18th in the world in math in 2000 to 31st place in 2009, with a similar decline in science.
Increasingly, instructional time is being consumed by standardized test preparation in Nebraska. The Nebraska State reading test, known as NeSA-R, is given statewide to third through eighth grades, and high school. Students in third grade through eighth grade, as well as high school students, take the NeSA-M Math test. Students in fourth or fifth grade, eighth grade, and 11th grade take the NeSA-S Science test. Fourth, eighth, and eleventh grade students take the NeSa-W Writing Test. Each test takes between two and three hours to complete.
Excessive testing may teach children to be good at taking tests, but does not prepare them for productive adult lives. Also, these tests have been shown to cause severe stress in younger students. Third grade is when the NeSa math and reading tests begin for children between the ages of eight and nine years old.
Lack of Mental Health Services for Students
Teachers report that they see a growing number of students who need mental health services, yet our public schools are not equipped to provide such services for all of students. We do not have enough guidance counselors, school psychologists, social workers, and teachers who are trained to work with students on issues such as suicide, sexual harassment and abuse, bullying, harassment of gender, race, religion, or national origin, drug abuse, and many other mental health issues facing our students.
Tackling the issue of mental health services for our students will require us to work with Health and Human Services, medical professionals, psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, juvenile justice, and educator preparation institutions. The support system to create positive, safe and successful learning environments as espoused by the Education Committee will take a partnership.