high and dry

Brent Finnegan -- February 21st, 2007

Since the school board’s plight has been in the AP and published all over the country this week (including CNN.com and FOX News.com), I decided to go to the school board meeting at Waterman last night.

Chairman Michael Walsh was clearly frustrated by the lack of state support or guidance in the matter of the NCLB test dispute. He seemed just as distressed about the state’s apparent unwillingness to help any of the school boards dealing with the NCLB tests, as he is with the federal government’s total lack of understanding that if the kids can’t read English, they can’t take a test that is written in English. No one seems to be hearing them out. They feel that state officials have left them “high and dry.”

Equally frustrating to Walsh is the unwillingness of other school districts with a high percentage of ESL students to stand with them in solidarity. Right now, all four of them are from the Commonwealth: Harrisonburg, Fairfax, Arlington, and Prince William. Schools in Washington, New York, North Carolina and Arizona (among many other states) are also dealing with the same issue, but they all seem to be waiting and watching to see if the feds make an example of Virginia by yanking funding (in Harrisonburg’s case, that’s $4.9 million).

If it were just Harrisonburg, it would be risky for officials to stick their necks out for a tiny city in the Shenandoah Valley, but this includes NoVa, an area with a much higher population and number of enrolled ESL students (even though H’burg still has the highest percentage of ESL students in the state). As board member Greg Coffman pointed out, “if Fairfax and Arlington fail, the state of Virginia fails.”

It seems to be in the best interest of state legislators to get involved here, but so far I haven’t heard much (if anything at all) from Lohr or Obenshain on the matter.

Superintendent Ford warned, “there will come a time, and it’s not too far off, where a decision will have to be made about whether we test or do not test, and what test we use. And you can look at your budgets, we’ve got $4.9 million dollars in federal funds in the budget. We’re talking about a locality [Harrisonburg] trying to make up just over $300 thousand here [in reference to an previous agenda item about the budget]… There will come that time where the board will just have to give direction to us administratively about what you want [the school administrators] to do.”

The board resolved to draft a letter, voicing their frustrations and imploring the state for help and support, and will try to get the NoVa school boards to sign it as well. Don’t know how much good that will do, but what’s to be done when you’re back is against the wall?

On the notion of an “alternate test,” Dr Ford added, “Not only is there not a test that’s there for us to consider now, there’s not a test on the drawing boards for us to consider next year.” In other words, no one at the federal or state level is proposing a solution, and this is practically guaranteed to be a lose-lose situation again next year.


45 Responses to “high and dry”

  1. Gxeremio says:

    I want everyone to know that after Sec. Spellings’ humorous rebuke, I have changed my mind. Having a “standards clause” should, of course, mean that everyone is tested the same regardless of how much time or help they’ve had in learning the content. In that vein, I think we should EXPAND the federal law and require all federal employees to take the 8th grade science test, all kindergarten students should take the high school S.A.T., and all plumbers should take the legal bar exams of their states. Also, the PetCo test for dog obedience should be given to fish.
    It’s only fair. Not to do it is a form of soft discrimination of low standards.

  2. JGFitzgerald says:

    “Published all over the country” as you say above. But virtually ignored by the DNR. Is it just me, or is that a little bit odd? The most prominent and most coherent coverage so far has been a front-page AP story. If the AP is going to cover Harrisonburg for them, then we’re reading the DNR for sports and letters to the editors.

  3. David Troyer says:


    I too am a bit confused as to why the DNR has, for the most part, ignored this. We can only hope they are taking the time to write a more humanized version with a profile of families, etc. Part of me thinks such a stand within education is too “leftist” to publish to see the light of day within the DNR.

  4. Del Marvel says:

    “If the AP is going to cover Harrisonburg for them, then we’re reading the DNR for sports and letters to the editors.’

    Don’t forget all the trenchant editorials from the SciFi Faith Golfer.

  5. doubletree dan says:

    alright, so you want special tests for immigrants? why must our local, state and/or federal governments continue to provide tests, among other atricle of paper, in ANY language other than English?
    Do they print things in German, Chinese, Cantonese, Hungarian, French or ANY of the other language?
    NO !
    Live in the United States of America and go to government schools, lear to speak english. They have no problem knowing what a STOP sign is, well maybe they do, but if they refuse to speak English then they can go back to a country that speaks their language.

  6. Gxeremio says:

    Dan, it has nothing to do with giving the test in other languages or refusing to take it in English. The issue is expecting someone who arrived last month (or last year) to be able to read and write English at the same level as someone who has gone to school here their whole life. Really, no one is even saying you shouldn’t give a test to any person who has any chance of passing it – just don’t waste time giving the English reading test to someone who has 0% chance to pass. If you want to measure their progress, great! But holding them to a standard that they cannot possibly meet makes no sense. It doesn’t challenge them to success, it frustrates them with inevitable failure.

  7. finnegan says:

    dan, one thing to keep in mind is that the public schools have absolutely no control over who their students are, or what English comprehension level they come in at. If someone who speaks Spanish only (and some of those kids cannot even read and write in Spanish) enters the school halfway through the 5th grade year, how can the school be held responsible for that?

    Chairman Walsh said, “We want the state to step in and protect us. We’re not dealing with the feds. We feel that we should not be penalized because we feel that in regards to what the feds did, the state wasn’t prepared with an alternative short of a test in English for somebody that can’t read English.”

    On the idea of an “alternate test,” Dr Ford added, “Not only is there not a test that’s there for us to consider now, there’s not a test on the drawing boards for us to consider next year.”

    In other words, no one at the federal or state level is proposing a solution, and this is practically guaranteed to be a lose-lose situation again next year.

  8. finnegan says:

    I have no idea why this story disappeared today. Thanks to Gxeremio for letting me know.

  9. Adam Sharp says:

    It seems to be in the best interest of state legislators to get involved here, but so far I haven’t heard much (if anything at all) from Lohr or Obenshain on the matter.

    What, and be seen as pro-immigrant? That would really ruin either’s hopes for higher office, or possibly even re-election. This isn’t Bush’s Republican Party … it’s Tancredo’s.

  10. ktr001 says:

    It really doesn’t matter if you can speak English well or not. The major fault in standardized testing is that not everyone learns the same. I am currently in a teaching writing course at Bridgewater College and one of the first things my teacher and the authors of our three different texts addressed was how standards sincerely inhibit the teaching process. Writing a good paper might be easier for one person to do in Style A and another person in Style B, but standardized writing assessments make only Style C acceptable. Not only is it maddening, but it really prohibits creativity and demonstrates the learning process to be one giant, arduous method.

    I wonder why more teachers aren’t expressing their thoughts. It seems to me that the opinions of teachers would be critical in determining the extent of the problem as well as formulating solutions. Then again, if I made 30 grand a year to put up with the crap they do, I don’t know how much extra time and effort I’d be willing to put in either.

  11. finnegan says:

    Funny how Lohr always talks about being pro-educator (he said it the whole time he was trying to pass the club bill) but now that the board actually needs him to do something useful… The silence is deafening.

  12. doubletreedan says:

    see, this is what i am talking about…you defend these illegal, non-legal immigrants…

    the bull**** rant about language is the same…read, write and understand ENGLISH…or go back to where you grandparents speak that …….

  13. finnegan says:

    No need for that stuff here, dan.

    I’m trying to decide whether that even warrants a response…

  14. JGFitzgerald says:

    Ah, let me, Finnegan.

    Ditto, Dan. Let’s send everybody back where they came from, and have them speak the language of their ancestors. Finnegan and I will learn Gaelic, everybody who stays in Virginia will speak Algonquin, and the Latinos will, unfortunately, have to go back to Texas and speak Apache.

    Not knowing your heritage, I can’t tell you where to go, but I’m sure someone will have a suggestion.

  15. ktr001 says:

    Hey, Dan, I don’t think anyone was either defending or not defending immigrants at all. You seem to have gotten off on a bit of a side tangent that’s not addressing the issue what-so-ever. We’re all immigrants, if you want to get technical, and ranting and raving about immigrants and their effects on the educational system leaves us exactly where we started. Even if we took all the non-english speaking immigrants (legal or illegal) out of the equation, we’d still have a group of sub-par educated Americans who are resentful of learning because they didn’t fit into the one-size-fits all categorization of educational standards.

    Also, you seem to write and speak English just fine, so, why — in our language’s vastness — can you not come up with some more articulate ways of expressing yourself than to curse?

  16. ktr made, by far, the most intelligent statement on the subject when he/she said “The major fault in standardized testing is that not everyone learns the same.”

    That’s it and that’s that…

    If dan had a clue, and I’m really sorry that he doesn’t, he would recognize that, as stated earlier, schools have no control over who their students are or whether they speak English or not. Yet, nclb still holds the SCHOOL accountable.

    If the student were being held accountable then dan could scream from the mountain tops “send em back” if they don’t like it. However, under our current circumstances dan’s kids, if he has any, are paying a price because if the school system fails nclb then they take money away from his kids. Of course, from the sounds of it, dan would blame the non English speaking kid for that as well.

    In case anyone doesn’t realize it, Spellings is an idiot. Then again support for this legislation, created by a woman that had one year of teaching back in 1963 or so, who then became a librarian, is done be people who clearly have never spent one day in a classroom as a teacher in their life.

    Why is that important, dan may ask? If you have no understanding of how to teach you most likely have little, if any, understanding of young childhood through adolescent development. Most likely, you have even less understanding of mental, emotional, and sociological development, the stages of each, and how teaching must be able to change to confront the differing communication skills that occur during each given stage…….and that’s if you speak English!

    Teaching is a science. Teaching is also an art. Neither of which can be articulated, described, or otherwise expressed on a standardized test.

    More efficient approaches to assessment would include the ability for a teacher to be flexible in their approach to testing. For example, students who struggle expressing themselves through writing effectively should still have an opportunity to show what they have learned by giving an oral report, or by completing a project that exemplifies learned lessons. While this is a simplistic example of a solution for the sake of blog space, it is nonetheless an example of the type of ingenuity that should be utilized in the classroom.

    Should we lower standards for non English speaking students? Of course not. We should, however, remove our proverbial heads out of our posterior long enough to breath so that we can approach this challenge rationally. Schools, and especially teachers shouldn’t be held responsible for the influx of non English speaking students any more then they should be held accountable for trade deficits, nuclear proliferation, genocide in the Sudan, coal mining in Russia, the GDP, or my aunt’s emphysema….

  17. finnegan says:

    From the DNR today:

    Little, if anything can be expected from the state this year, said Del. Matt Lohr, R-Broadway, and Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Harrisonburg.

  18. ktr001 says:

    Thanks, Stephen. I enjoyed how you describe teaching as “…a science. Teaching is also an art. Neither of which can be articulated, described, or otherwise expressed on a standardized test.” Tests are not only ruining the teaching process and causing dramatic budget cuts for some school districts, but they are destroying the careers of teachers as well. Could you imagine being a teacher at a Public School in Baltimore, ten miles away from the ritzy section of town? Your kids are going to fail because they can’t afford the tutors or spend time after school getting extra help, while the kids 10 min. away pass with flying colors. Not the teachers fault, but since tests are federally mandated, that black mark of not getting your kids prepared for standardized testing will stay with you for a long time. That scenario is just sad to me, since all teachers work their butts off to get a B.A. or B.S., sometimes a Masters, have done practicum AND student teaching and had to take a few standardized tests themselves. No wonder more people aren’t flocking to become a teacher.

    You made another good point, Stephen, about the NCLB holding schools accountable for circumstances beyond their control. It would sort of be like an alcoholic holding AA accountable for not keeping him sober.

    It must be frustrating, though. There are so many students out there, in this P.C., exceedingly litigious society of ours and having standards which are not the same for everyone might cause legal problems for everyone instead. You see, Dan, it’s not about English speaker or non-English speaker so much as its about The little girl who learns visually and the little boy who learns best using auditory methods and how we can assure they both get a good education.

    And it wouldn’t hurt if we, the voters, quit putting the Lohr’s and the Obenshain’s in office. What could they possibly have on their plate of greater importance than helping our schools become more conducive to learning??!

  19. I want to comment on the second option that was mentioned in the DNR…portfolios.

    I love portfolios as an assessment tool. My concentration within my Masters Degree in Education was on classroom management and assessment. I concentrated on many diverse approaches to assessment because I believe we should address assessment in a diverse way because our students have very diverse learning styles.

    I maintain that our goal in education is to first teach, and second, determine what students have learned. To suggest there is only one way to accomplish that is ridiculous and contradictory to everything we know about the human mind, its development, and how we communicate with one another.

    Portfolios was one of my favorite and I dedicated an entire section of my thesis to the idea. I am a little confused by the suggestion that teachers need special training to use portfolios. I would like to know more about that comment. The teacher does need to set measurable benchmarks and must be very organized to be able to use portfolios because they must be able to realize what the goal was for each section that was taught. I suppose that would require professional development workshops or classes and that is a problem.

    We do not invest in professional development for teachers and we do little to encourage them to invest in that development on their own. It is costly and teachers simply do not make enough to take classes beyond what they must take to maintain certification.

    I do agree with the column, however, when it discussed the time it takes to use portfolios. They are time consuming, but that is why I advocate a diverse approach to assessment. Not every student has to be assessed the same way. Some will use portfolios but many will use scan-tron sheets with standard tests. Those take no time. Still, others my use a project assessment plan which is based on individual projects for each benchmark, and so on…

    This is a complex problem demanding leaders willing to role up their sleeves and get in the mud to find the answers. There is no quick fix to these challenges and that is where we struggle. We are a microwave society that wants the answers fast even if it means making poor decisions to get the problem off their plate.

  20. doubletree dan says:

    This is where we will agree to disagree. I was trying to give you a look into the future of your city but you choose not to open your eyes and you might as well become a card carrying member of the ACLU…you are on their side now.

  21. JGFitzgerald says:


    Good point about the ACLU. I Joined just after I read your post. Thanks for reminding me.

    “The trouble with fighting for human freedom is that one spends most of one’s time defending scoundrels. For it is against scoundrels that oppressive laws are first aimed, and oppression must be stopped at the beginning if it is to be stopped at all.”
    H.L. Mencken

  22. Barnabas says:

    I just think it’s great that despite the adversities these students still go to school.

    Dans way of not thinking is reminds of growing up in the holler. The problem with holler folk is that when their fueds died because of the integration of their shallow gene pools they needed someone new to hate. But what they don’t realize is that this new blood should be embaced by dan and his type.
    By welcoming them with open arms and starting families together they might just be able to undo the damage done by centuries of wading in their own pool.


  23. finnegan says:

    I see what you’re trying to say, but just as a friendly reminder: let’s not throw insults at each other. Flame-throwing is a slippery slope, and usually ends up turning readers off.

    Surprisingly, so far the only comments on this blog I’ve had to remove were spam. I like that.

  24. Barnabas says:

    Sorry Dan, Sorry Brent, Sorry everyone, I couldn’t help myself. I tend to be critical and harsh, I will try and change my ways.

  25. finnegan says:

    That wasn’t necessarily aimed at you, Barnabas. That was for everyone.

    But I understand all that pent-up aggression from so many years spent living in the holler’ ;)

  26. ktr001 says:

    First of all…PORTFOLIOS ARE GREAT! As a student, compiling all of your work together in one large volume allows you to easily compare your strengths and weaknesses, your likes and your dislikes and provides a visual measure for what works and what doesnt. This is why I love being a writing major…at the end of the semester while everyone else is studying for exams, I’m writing and editing stories and essays for my portfolio. Its definetly a different style of assessment, but it’s do-able, especially for self motivated types who get to control both content and length of the material they choose to submit.

    Ahh, cannot say enough wonderful things about Portfolios.

    Second, Dan, I really don’t understand how you’ve been trying to show us the “future of our city.” No matter the topic, you revert to a discussion on immigration and I just don’t get that. Look at the larger picture, a picture that will effect us all. Right now, making education accessible and effective far surpasses whatever bigotries you may have, so either make a point or move on!

  27. Me, a card carrying member of the ACLU?

    hahahahahahahaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahahahahahahahaha… that’s a good one dan. I needed a good laugh today.

  28. with the tech savy student of today, power point presentations are another effective assessment tool.

  29. doubletreedan says:

    To quote ktr001 “No matter the topic, you revert to a discussion on immigration and I just don’t get that.”

    Seeing that this is the FIRST topic to which I replied…please feel free to refrain from insulting your intelligence.

    Nice try, but you need to move about the country before you can understand the full impact of what is going on.

    on a similar note:


    But I guess the editor grew up in the “holler” next door to me.

  30. dan, I have no problem with the editorial what so ever. I agree with much of it, but what does this have to do with education requirements that hold schools accountable for issues out of their control?

    You write as though it’s the schools fault that illegal immigration continues and a test is the key to turning the tide of illegals in your community. Your argument, I’m afraid, is baseless because you seem to be directing your passions toward the wrong arena.

    I don’t get the connection. Schools are not allowed to tell a student “you can’t go to school here because you don’t speak English, and you aren’t from here.”

    Your ACLU buddies would sue the school, the state, and God himself if they could over a statement like that.

    What is your solution? Since you attacked the intelligence of others I’m sure you must have more going for you then “shipem back”. If that is your position, what do you recommend schools do about the situation? Do you feel they should pull out of nclb? Should the school systems sue the federal government for involving themselves in education? After all, that would allow schools to make more decisions regarding who they teach, and perhaps that would allow them to send these non-english speaking school wreckers home.

    I’m willing to listen if you have something tangible to offer in the form of a solution. Otherwise, unfortunately, you just don’t make much sense.

  31. doubletree dan says:

    This will be my last comment on this subject…promise.

    Take the little town of Hazleton, PA. The industrial magnet CAN-DO creates a Keystone Oppurtunity Zone (KOZ) to allow large companies such as Cargill, Purdue, Pillsbury..ect to move to this former coaltown and gives them and THEIR workers 10 years of tax free status. The company and their employers do not have to pay taxes on the monies they make while working within the KOZ. Now, without the resources to hire 1000’s of employers to fill these spots, they start to advertise in NY papers looking for workers “wanting to escape the crime and filth” of NYC and the surrounding areas.

    Now, guess what happens…crime from inner cities move along with the majority of illegal or what ever you ACLU members like to call them. They bring the same problems to the Hazleton area. Guess what they also bring…without paying taxes to the local municipalities, the new members of our community bring children that need health care, education, and government assistance…just to name a few.

    Where is the money going to come from to provide the services you expect us tax paying citizens of the USA to fork over just because you don’t like to say someone is illegal.

    Cities cannot afford to “donate” services and why is it up to the taxpaying public to educate theses children when they should have known how to speak English, especially when these children apparently live here in the USA for more than just yesterday?
    You people here say things like we are all immigrants (a person who comes to a country where they were not born in order to settle there)…how so. I, my parents, and their parents are legal citizens (A person owing loyalty to and entitled by birth or naturalization to the protection of a state or nation.).
    We have been born here to LEGAL immigrants to the USA and that awards us and our chidren from here on out certain rights.
    Owing “LOYALTY”… not showing hatred, ignorance for our culture and language and honoring the flag of teh country they NOW live in…does that sound like the majority of illegal immigrants YOU know…doubt it.
    Those of you that hide behind the ACLU, take into account what the acronym stands for. A ~ AMERICAN CIVIL LIBERTIES UNION…not illegal immigrant or better yet law breaker. how is it that they can dare stand behind someone who is clearly breaking the law of the USA? Below is a QUOTE from when I asked the question to Mr. Ferguson who is a lawyer for the ACLU.
    “We aim to protect the people already iin the borders of the USA”
    Laughable at best. I replied to wit:”If that is what you truly beleive and you can say that while looking directly in your own eyes in front of a mirror, the I feel extremely sorry for you and your union.”

    Sorry you and may here disagree with me but that is what is great about the world. Have a good day and carry on.

  32. non illegal says:

    las letras tienen gusto de esto que intentan y la demostración que somos la ÚNICA razón allí es crimen es incorrecta. seguros, algunos de nuestros frinds traen las drogas al aea pero lo hacemos para sobrevivir. las drogas de la venta igualan el dinero grande así que podemos enviarlo de nuevo a ayuda conseguimos a más gente venir a América. no hablamos inglés apenas para hacer a gente enojada. podemos leer esas pruebas pero porqué debemos, nosotros podemos conseguir más atención justa siendo ignorantes. si no podríamos leer inglés, después cómo podríamos ir a las compras wal del centro comercial o conducir alrededor si no sabemos lo que dicen las muestras. pueblas eres demasiado fuuny

  33. finnegan says:

    Yeah, take THAT, dan!


    It’s funny to think of an ACLU lawyer standing in front of a mirror, trying to look himself in the eye, and say “We aim to protect the people already iin the borders of the USA”

  34. Gxeremio says:

    Looks to me like someone used an automatic translator (like Google Translate). The “tell” is that some of the misspelled English words that didn’t get translated – “frinds” and “fuuny” among them. The grammar and words choices are not correct and don’t sound like spoken Spanish either. Sorry, whoever posted it, you need to try harder!

  35. David Troyer says:


    First, thank you for investing some time and thought into this newsblog. I hope we don’t make you feel too ostracized. Personally, I think a dissenting opinion here is refreshing, as it can often become somewhat exclusive in opinion.

    That said, I’m having an extremely hard time making the leap that all ESL students are somehow by default children of non taxpaying persons? Chances seem very likely that they are in fact paying for these services. And, believe it or not, there are a lot of teachers and local community members (probably even non-ACLU members) excited about helping them learn English and continue to contribute to the community. Some are even excited enough to consider a dual-language school.

  36. dan, you are in the wrong blog topic. You need to look for the immigration blog. You have made absolutely ZERO connection between your concerns over illegal immigration and a school’s being held accountable for non-english speaking students taking an sol test.

    I’m glad you are moving on.

    I’m also very glad to read today that portfolios may be added as an option for assessment under nclb!

  37. T R says:

    Theodore Roosevelt’s ideas on Immigrants and being an AMERICAN in 1907.

    “In the first place, we should insist that if the immigrant who comes here in good faith becomes an American and assimilates himself to us, he shall be treated on an exact equality with everyone else, for it is an outrage to discriminate against any such man because of creed, or birthplace, or origin. But this is predicated upon the person’s becoming in every facet an American, and nothing but an American…There can be no divided allegiance here. Any man who says he is an American, but something else also, isn’t an American at all. We have room for but one flag, the American flag… We have room for but one language here, and that is the English language… and we have room for but one sole loyalty and that is a loyalty to the American people.”

    Theodore Roosevelt 1907

    Every American citizen needs to read this

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