Gloria Matthews, Antioch's placement specialist says it's increasingly difficult to place student teachers because of schools' concerns about test scores. Many schools now will not take student teachers at all for fear that it will compromise their test scores. At least four or five schools we've previously worked with have said that they can no longer "afford" to take student teachers because of the pressures of NCLB. They are not willing to risk having an inexperienced student teacher spend weeks working with their students because the students might score lower on the standardized test. I've talked with colleagues at other universities who have experienced similar reactions from the public schools they work with.
And schools that will still take on student teachers are very reluctant to take them at the fourth-, seventh-, or 10th-grade levels since those are the grades in which the Washington Assessment of Student Learning (WASL) tests are given. We are not sure what will happen when students are tested in grades three through eight, as mandated by NCLB.
Kathy Purcell, an administrator at Heritage College, a small program dealing primarily with underserved populations, said, "Principals are now middle managers totally focused on raising test scores. It takes a courageous principal to risk having a student teacher in place, because it could threaten test scores."
She also says, "Principals are focused on whatever their own political realities are in their buildings. This business of bringing along new professionals is not very high on their lists right now." They can't afford to cooperate with schools of education as they once did.
Matthews says many Antioch students are reluctant to student teach in schools in neighborhoods that are predominantly low income or of color because those schools tend to have the lowest test scores. Schools failing to make Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) are adopting scripted test-preparation curricula in hopes that they can raise scores and avoid the increasing penalties. Gloria says that our student teachers come back disturbed by what they are seeing: 6- and 7-year-olds sitting absolutely still for hours on end, only responding to scripted prompts in prescribed ways, silently walking down the hallways hugging themselves tightly (a self-administered strait jacket) so that they won't touch other students. They say this is not what they went into education to do.