Here in Lewiston, Maine, a small group of experienced elementary school teachers put their thoughts together in an eloquent letter, which they presented to the local school committee on Monday night. Their thoughts will ring true with teachers and parents everywhere.
To the School Committee Members,
Fidelity is defined as “faithfulness to a person, cause, or belief, demonstrated by continuing loyalty and support.” We are asked to teach with fidelity, by following specific scripted lessons and assessing their learning using time consuming, cumbersome tools that interfere with what feels best for our students.
We stand here now with fidelity to no one else but our kids.
We are speaking from the heart, from our expertise and from experience.None of us wish to ever be administrators. We have reached our professional goal of being classroom teachers, and we are completely fulfilled in our roles. When we share these thoughts, keep in mind that our only motivation is to do what is best for our students. In fact, we worry that in raising our concerns we may be seen as being negative or non-compliant- yet we only wish to do what we feel is right.
We have been openly sharing our concerns for three years. In the fall of 2013, we rejected the merit pay associated with students test scores and delineated why we felt paying teachers for high test scores was detrimental to students. We hoped our voices would promote change and give us more time with our students.
This has not been the case. New initiatives have been added, decreasing the time needed to plan quality lessons. This is detrimental to the motivation and growth of our students. Equally upsetting are the number of teachers who are leaving the district or resigning early due to the unreasonable demands put upon teachers.
We are concerned for our profession and the result of losing quality teachers. If this trend continues in Lewiston, what will the future hold for our students?
The art of teaching feels lost. We do not feel that we are allowed to use our talent as teachers. We feel that the current practices in education are attempting to turn us into facilitators.
The beginning of the year is a time to connect with our students. The goal of every teacher should be to know our students within the first few weeks. This is done through opening activities, interest surveys, and our observations/interactions. There is no time for this, nor is there time to use information we would have gathered about what moves our kids, what they care about and what they could be motivated to participate in. Rather the beginning of the year finds us bogged down with formal assessments, which leaves our students feeling overwhelmed and anxious, rather than feeling comfortable in their new surroundings. Please remember we are talking about students who are six, seven, eight, nine and ten years old.
Moreover, managing students behavior in our our classrooms has become more challenging than ever. We strongly believe that our students’ struggles are fed by the increased amount of testing and rigid curriculum we are forced to use. No longer do we work to help our students meet grade level standards through methods and materials that we know will motivate our students to succeed.
We deal with anger, aggression, defiance, disrespect and non-compliance in our students daily. We struggle with chronic absenteeism and wonder specifically when this became a problem for so many students. Certainly, with the data we have collected in the past ten years we could investigate if there is a direct connection between increased testing pressures, rigid curriculum and these struggles. We have no doubt that there will be.
Another concern we have about assessment is being asked to quantify everything students do. But there are so many things that we teach that are not quantifiable.
These are the most meaningful learnings for children and include things such as perseverance, work ethic, understanding the qualities of a friend, healthy risk taking, and developing personal strategies for academic and civil success.
Regarding the quantitative data we do collect, we often find the various results conflicting. The inconsistent data is not surprising to teachers, since there are so many variables at play for each child. In every classroom, there are children who come to school with many distractions and more pressing matters. Even children who come to school with all their needs met, express resentment about the over-testing. We do our best to impress the importance of performing well, but what is important to district leaders, is not always important to 9 year olds.
These are children who, by our calculations, are assessed for a minimum of eleven full school days, and this figure does not include our common assessments or teacher-created unit assessments.
We are not sharing these concerns because we don’t want to work outside of the contract hours. We are expressing our concern because, due to the district’s expectations, we are not able to adequately plan for our students and create meaningful lessons that are differentiated, nor can we consistently engage in authentic, ongoing formative assessment in a way that informs our instruction. This is incredibly discouraging and must be addressed if we want to keep quality, experienced teachers, and more importantly, encourage students to love learning.
We know that standardized testing serves a specific purpose, but we also believe that we are going beyond what is required by the state and federal laws. As teachers, we are assessing our students all throughout our day. We do this naturally all day long.
We wonder how much data is enough?
At what point are we over-assessing? We want to know where our students are, however, we feel that the number of assessments and the time they require actually takes away from from us knowing our students, since we spend so much time sifting through data. Data that is often conflicting. Frequently, we find discrepancies between what we know about our students and what test results show. Some tests that even measure the same things result in scores that contradict each other. When we reflect on why these discrepancies exist, we see a multitude of variables completely out of our control, including individual student development, family life, social situations between peers, physical and mental health, student motivation, amount of sleep, technological challenges and the list could go on.
We are qualified, we are experienced, and we are caring.
We once felt confident in our knowledge of students and how to best understand and meet their educational needs. Now we feel like we fail our students daily, and we are constantly trying to navigate feeling conflicted between doing what our expertise and experience tells us we should do, and what unreliable test results and the district demand we do for children.
Finally, we are concerned about our colleagues who are new to this profession. Without the opportunity to gain wisdom and confidence about their own ability to assess and let their findings inform their instruction, we wonder how will they ever grow into professionals who are independently capable and confident in their skills?
We feel that this culture of over assessment communicates a lack of trust in your teachers. We have invested in our own development as professionals, and LPS has as well. We have increased our expertise by acquiring advanced degrees, many of which Lewiston Public Schools paid for. We care very deeply about our students and how they are learning and growing. Trust that we care, and trust that we are fully capable. You have invested in us as professionals.
Please allow us to do the jobs you have hired us to do, and trust that we know how to do it best.
In closing, we are standing before you with 70 combined years of teaching experience. We have Bachelor’s degrees in Education and Masters Degrees in Curriculum and Instruction, Elementary Education and Literacy Education. We are licensed and credentialed professionals. We ask that you please not buy into the rhetoric that you are constantly fed about assessment. Please understand the reality we have presented this evening.
Listen to the parents who have expressed their concern and frustration. Examine the amount of parents who opt out and consider their reasons for doing so. Listen to your teachers.
We are fighting for our students, our schools and our profession, and we are hopeful that our leaders will consider making changes.
Yours in Education,