"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Hey, NYTimes: Garfield HS Teachers Made News

From Peter DeWitt's Ed Week Blog:

19 teachers at Garfield High School in Seattle, Washington refused to administer the district required Measure of Academic Progress (MAP) to ninth grade students on January 9th. After many years of out of control high stakes testing in the U.S. it was bound to happen sooner or later. It was another example of some strong teachers who are putting the needs of their students first.
English teacher Kit McCormick said she "has no problem with state testing, or testing in general. But they say this particular test has a number of problems, everything from what it covers to how well it measures achievement." However, many teachers and administrators across the country do have an issue with state testing...especially how it is tied to their evaluation (N.Y. Principal Letter). The mistakes that have been made on the actual tests are just another part of the problem.
Our present high stakes testing era has gotten out of control. Not only are the tests longer in many states, inappropriate as a large measure of teacher effectiveness but they have been plagued with issues as well (New York State High-Stakes Exams: More Errors Found In Questions On Standardized Tests). There are simply other ways we assess learning which can be beneficial to the whole child (i.e. Formative assessment, portfolios, etc.) and high stakes testing is really geared to one type of learner. 

Linda Shaw from the Seattle Times wrote that, "Nearly the entire faculty and staff at Garfield have signed a letter listing those concerns and others. Even teachers who don't give the exam, because they don't teach the tested subjects, signed the letter."
Like the N.Y. State exam, McCormick said "she was particularly dismayed when a district staff member told her that the test's margin of error is greater than the gains her students are expected to make." If tests are going to have such high stakes, shouldn't they be full proof first? Educators have no confidence with high stakes testing.
The reality is that the hype of the tests have ruined any benefit they may have ever had in the first place. Some parents put stress on their children to do well because they know it could make the difference of labeling a child a 2 or a 3. Many teachers and administrators put stress on themselves and their students because they fear the numbers as well. Children understand that these tests are important to someone and feel the pressure from home and school. There are times when students worry about beginning a grade level because those grade levels have high stakes testing. This is not a way to educate students. Students should be engaged in learning and not worried about testing.
Teacher Input? 
In Teacher Cabinets: Bringing Teacher Voice to the Education Reform Conversation
which appeared on the Official Blog of the United States Education Department, classroom ambassador Mike Humphreys wrote about a recent initiative coming out of the USDOE called the RESPECT Project. The RESPECT project "aims to transform the teaching profession so that teachers are as well prepared, developed, compensated and respected as other professionals." I think it is fair to say that most teachers want to be well-prepared, developed, compensated and respected as they enter the classroom and they felt that way before NCLB and Race to the Top, both of which were USDOE initiatives.
Humphreys went on to say, "the good news is that recently more and more states have begun to realize the importance of listening to teachers and have made plans to bring the wisdom and experience of teachers into the education reform movement by creating teacher cabinets." Although I'm sure this is happening, I'm just wondering where?
One of the largest issues facing the teaching profession right now is the role of high stakes testing in education. The issue is two-fold; what it does to students and the role it plays in teacher and principal evaluation. Yet there has been no flexibility there at all. Even when the tests are proven to be flawed and the length of the tests are not age appropriate, state education departments have not budged on these exams.
If the U.S. Department of Education is listening to teachers...who exactly are those teachers? Are there teachers who believe in high stakes testing? Are there teachers who agree that they should be tied to teacher and principal evaluation? If so, I think it would be important to hear from them. If we are going to find some common ground we need to hear from those educators in the classroom who believe this is all a good idea.
What does listening mean?
Listening means many things to many people. As a school principal, if I listen to a teacher's concerns it means that we try to meet in the middle to work it all out. Both of us may not get what we want but we should always go for a win-win. We call it collaboration.
If teachers come to me and I never do anything about their concern, they will lose faith in me. If I say I listen but never do anything about it, then I am merely only paying them lip service, and our teachers and students deserve more than that. How are the USDOE and state education departments really listening to educators? As of right now it seems that educators in the trenches are not being listened to but there are definitely at least 19 teachers in Seattle who are being heard right now.

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