Letter to the Editor 5-23-14

Dear Editor,
               Beware of Local Tech College
 I recently attended a hearing to advocate for a young woman who was being expelled from a local LPN program based solely on an ATI test score. The school has a policy of expulsion if ATI scores are below a suggested benchmark. It can be noted that most LPN schools use the ATIs as a practice or study tool, not as a means to eliminate students from a program. It can also be noted that this student's ATI score was less than 2 points below the required number.
 The young woman was twenty-eight days from graduating and had done well, even exemplary in some areas of the program. She had a 3.35 GPA after the first semester and was on the Dean's List for Academics. She received an A in clinicals which is ironic because that is where the true application of her skills and compassion as a nurse would have been most obvious. Her paperwork and quiz scores were average or above. Her scores in all areas of the mental health portion of the program were very high. Her transcript for second semester looked just as good as first semester until the ill-fated ATI test score took her down.
 She worked tirelessly for seven months. Her instructors stated “she worked harder than anyone and did everything we asked her to do.” She did struggle with test anxiety when taking the ATI tests.
The pressure to pass them or be “kicked out” of the program took its toll. It seemed the more she studied , the worse she performed, even scoring lower on some re-takes. Clearly, these tests were not working as an instructional tool for her but rather as a block to her success with the program. She maintained a friendly, trusting relationship with her instructors however, and was reassured that “she could get through the program and that she would make a fine nurse.”
 When she was notified that she was being dismissed from the program due to her latest ATI score, she requested a hearing and I represented her as an educational/instructional advocate. I have a BS in Education and an MA in Reading Instruction and have taught in public schools for 35 years. I was happy to accompany her to assist with and support a dialogue that would, hopefully, result in her being reinstated in the program.
 I have attended hundreds of meetings that deal with students who are having difficulty in school and the focus is generally on these areas–what is the problem; what are the student's strengths; what are the current learning issues; how does this student learn; what is this student's learning style; what instructional strategies have been tried to assist this student; and, most importantly, how can we as educators and the institution as a whole help this student be successful? I am always positive and reassure those in attendance that the welfare of the student/family is what matters most. These meetings include negotiation, compromise, empathy, concern, communication, suggestions and solutions which is tantamount to a positive outcome. Never in our wildest dreams could we have imagined what was going to ensue at this hearing!
 Those in attendance were on the defense from the beginning and there was no forum for debate or discussion. One of the instructors had a “pile” of evidence against the student which was mostly distorted truths and when the student attempted to question the evidence or defend herself, the instructor responded with a false or senseless statement in retort.  The student later reported to me that she “didn't even recognize that woman” who a day earlier had been her trusted friend and instructor.
   The administrators in attendance were bumbling; one stating “our policies are good” and the other indirectly referring to the student as a “flunky.” I was appalled at the unprofessionalism and when I queried what was a “good” policy–good for the student, good for the institution, good for nothing–the question remained unanswered. It can be noted here that I wrote a personal letter to those in attendance at the hearing as well as to the president of the college and none of these individuals has responded to my attempts at communication.
 Our nation is currently debating one of the hottest educational issues of all times–testing. As educators, do we teach to the test or should we test so we know what to teach? Are test scores any real indicator of personal or professional success? Could the time spent testing be better spent on teaching critical thinking, analysis, impulse control, creativity, character and leadership skills?  As educators, are we bonding with our students and parents to develop a trusting, caring relationship and responding to the student's needs and learning style or are we mindlessly administering tests to make the institution's numbers look good and not really caring about or even knowing what the student is learning? Sadly, if we destroy the desire and love for learning and the confidence needed to learn, we have squashed and silenced the untapped potential of what might have been for thousands of students.
 This entire debacle has been a “lose-lose” situation, but the world needs to know that this young woman did not fail; the institution “failed” her. This young woman is not lacking in competencies; the instructors are lacking in competence. If she did not learn what she needed to know, that is a direct reflection on the school and its instructors. A school is only as good as its teachers. And any school that is unable to tap into the abilities and talents of a learner and misuses that learner's time and money with no positive result violates every code of academic stewardship and needs to be publicly called out.
 You are going to have the honor of hearing this “flunky's” story and then you can decide if the tech school and its expulsion policy truly addressed the needs and abilities of the learner.  In my professional opinion, this institution snuffed out a beautiful light; an energetic young woman who had a lot to offer the medical profession, over a policy they could not defend. They squandered her time and money, but most grievously they destroyed her confidence and spirit as a learner. Her hopes and dreams were dashed because of a test score!
. . . Once upon a time (1990) a healthy baby girl was born in a large hospital in Lincoln, Neb. to loving, Christian parents. The attending pediatrician remarked that he had never seen such a strong baby and the mother never forgot that rather unusual comment. The baby flourished and showed signs of high intelligence–talked early, loved to read, was dramatic and had a sense of humor. In first grade, she was placed in a gifted program and set records in standing long jump. She was by then taking piano lessons and had been dancing in a studio for three years.
 She had an idyllic childhood–loved playing with others; took art, piano, vocal, trumpet and dance lessons; played soccer, softball, basketball, volleyball and track; loved swimming and swim team. Elementary school went well for her and she scored above average to high on achievement tests. She was selected to honor bands and choirs starting in the 5th grade. And, of course, continued to amaze with her strength–impressive vertical jump and rebounding skills; excelled in shot put and triple jump; amazing dancer and swimmer; volleyball serving and hitting specialist.
 By junior high it was becoming clear that she was quite the performer and entertained with her singing, dancing and trumpet playing at school, church, nursing homes, groups. She was on the Junior High Honor Roll and received the prestigious “Breakfast for Champions” award given by the University of Nebraska to outstanding 8th graders. And by now, she was teaching piano and swim lessons, and singing solos, including the national anthem at sporting events. She always had a heart for children and the less fortunate and was becoming an effective instructor and nurturer through these activities as well as learning responsibility and earning money.
 High school was more of the same–Honor Roll, National Honor Society, honor bands & choirs, outstanding athlete and dancer. She played volleyball in the state semi-finals her sophomore year and had success with the basketball, track, and softball teams as well throughout high school. Her passion was the dance team and her dance studio recitals, however, and those performances were amazing. She was also by now a lifeguard and still teaching piano and swim lessons to earn money.
 She went to Hastings College in Nebraska on a volleyball and music scholarship, but ended up dancing for the Hastings College Dance team for three years. While at Hastings, she took applied voice and piano lessons, joined a sorority and in addition to her studies took courses needed to become certified to train lifeguards, teach CPR,  and acquired certification for pool management.
 College years were fun but went fast and in four short years she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in psychology. She decided to manage the swimming pool for one more summer while she planned her wedding.
 Sadly, the wedding didn't work out and after much reflection and soul searching she decided to get a CNA license. Then, her positive nursing home experiences led her to want to pursue an LPN license. She had decided that her psychology degree plus an LPN license would open many doors and help her secure a job where she could work with and help children or adults. And why not get that RN degree too?
 But then something went terribly awry–she realized she had enrolled in the wrong LPN program! The computerized ATI tests that this program used to eliminate students had defeated her. If only she had stayed in Nebraska for LPN training or if only she had been satisfied with her Bachelor's degree and gone to work or if only . . .  the “if onlys” could go on forever. But the end result is that this young woman will never be the same and will always wonder what really happened to her at a Kansas tech school in the middle of nowhere.
 That strength the pediatrician referred to at her birth has less to do with bones and muscles than with her resilience and her ability to step out in faith and open a new door while still hurting from the last one that hit her squarely in the back.
 If you are an educator, look deep into the soul of your teaching and pray that you are doing what is right for all learners. And, if you are a student, hold fast to your confidence as a learner and trust what you know and what you need to know. You can do many things but anything is possible, so DO NOT enroll in a tech school that will eliminate you because of a test score unless you are a master at test taking or you have time and money to throw away!
                                                                Barbara E. Bedlan
                                                                 Fairbury, Neb.


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