Teachers & Tests

"Most people spend more time and energy going around problems than in trying to solve them."

-Henry Ford

This article was originally posted on my blog on April 25th, 2014

I met with the Alpine Education Association (AEA) last week.  I have appreciated their support and their collaboration with our district through some very difficult decisions.  I have been pleased to work with these very good people who serve in the AEA.


The biggest concern of the AEA was that teachers feel frustrated by my vocal, but honest, opposition to Common Core.  As a teacher, you have to implement Common Core.  The district has to implement Common Core.  (I did support funding for new textbooks for Common Core.) The AEA stated it has to put out fires when teachers and parents have concerns.  They wished I wouldn't say anything about my opposition to the Common Core Reform Package.  It increases their workload to have to address the questions of parents and fellow teachers who hear my concerns, I think.  It would be better for the district leadership (including those of us on the board) to not voice our concerns about Common Core when it just has to be done. Additionally, they added that if one of you (teachers) were to be vocal about your opposition to Common Core, it wouldn't bode well for you, professionally, and those in the family of Alpine District would view you differently.


This is precisely my point.  As an employee, perhaps you can't speak out, if you find things amiss.  It's your job; you have to do it.  It's the same with my job.  Sometimes, you have to just put a smile on your face and do what needs to be done, whether you agree with it or not.  I completely understand that.  Do I wish it weren't the case? Yes.  But I acknowledge the reality of it.  Elected officials, however, are elected for a reason.  We can't be fired or lose our job for speaking out, except at the hands of the voters.  If anyone is going to stand up for teachers against a program that isn't good, it must be the elected officials.  And every new change, program, or implementation that comes along really should be debated, discussed, and vetted all the way along the line, especially at the local level.


Let's take something we probably agree on: teacher evaluations being tied to SAGE testing.  This is wrong.  I've said so.  I will continue to say so.  It, too, is state law.  We have to do it.  But it's horribly wrong.  Placing so much of a teacher's evaluation and thus, his/her livelihood, on a single (pilot) test is absolutely the worst use of a standardized test.   Like Common Core, should we just go along with it and be supportive?  I know you all will do the best you can, trying to not focus overly much on the test and still teach as professionals, but it's got to weigh you down.  The direction we are going is that once all education and all educators are evaluated on a single test, funding will follow.  It's nice and simple, but still wrong.  I can't sit by and be supportive.  I have to find a way to scream from the rooftops that this can't work, and that it gives way too much authority to the test makers over teachers, over local boards, over HOW standards are taught in the classroom.


Let me give you an example.  Several years ago, my son had a phenomenal teacher.  He LOVED class, loved her lessons, enjoyed nearly every moment.  He learned a lot and enjoyed it.  She even expressed appreciation that he had shushed the rest of the class one time because he wanted to learn what she had to teach.  Do you think I cared what he got on the CRT's that year?  Nope.  I don't think I even looked at them.  He had a wonderful year with a wonderful teacher.  That was worth more to me (and to him) than any standardized test score.  And I am afraid that, despite her best efforts, that love and that thrill of teaching will be reduced to making sure she can keep her job by getting higher test scores.  (Note: She was/is his favorite.  But he's had many, many others who were just as wonderful, just as dedicated, and just as appreciated.)  I don't choose and evaluate my kids' teachers by their test scores.


So, back to Common Core.  It is top-down, which violates the principle of local control.  A little bit of local control isn't local control.  And just to be clear, my opposition isn't just with the standards. The Common Core standards come in a nice little package along with tying test scores to teacher evaluations, courtesy of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Waiver.  The other two parts of that package are 1) a longitudinal database on students and teachers and 2) "improving" low-performing schools (determined by the test scores and "improved" by shutting them down and bringing in private enterprises, and redistributing successful teachers to these "failing" schools).  The entire package is flawed, and it's flawed on principle.  You, as a teacher, need to be able to have the freedom to connect with your students--the freedom to do what you know is best, regardless of where the student falls on the 'testing' rubric.  The Common Core Standards are just one tree in that forest of standardizing everything: tests, schools, teachers, curriculum.  Already, there are calls to use the copyright of the Common Core standards to 'certify' curriculum.  And, in the end, if your wonderful lesson plan doesn't deliver the results on the test (even if it delivers the results you, your students, and your students' parents want), it won't be around for very much longer.


You got into teaching because you love kids, and you wanted to be able to affect their lives for the better through education. You have natural talents and professional training on how to make that human-to-human connection that makes teachers irreplaceable. We need more of the individual attention you provide. Common Core, with its associated numbers-driven, top-down, accountability to the state, not parents, can only take education in the wrong direction. The Common Core standards, and the rest of the NCLB Waiver package, will reduce teachers to standards-implementers, test-preppers, and data points. I realize this is your job, and you have to make the best of whatever is presented to you.  But that is why we have school boards and a political process.  It is my job to fight against policies that interfere with the parent-child-teacher partnership. I am happy to do this job. I hope you will understand that my opposition to Common Core and its "package" is to support you as the professional you are. Our community must stand strong and eliminate all obstacles that stand in the way of you doing your job and realizing the highest aspirations that originally brought you into education. You may not be able to do it, but I should.


Citizens committed to ensure public education
is a reflection of the local community which creates, funds, and supports its existence. We see the best outcomes of public education coming from the partnership of parent, child, and teacher. The goal is bottom up, locally controlled education supporting the

parent-child-teacher relationship.


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