Tuesday, February 10, 2015

From Maureen Downey: One teachers plea to stop the madness of overtesting

A teacher’s plea to Georgia lawmakers: Lessen testing so we can return to teaching

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I love hearing from educators in the field because they are living most of the issues we discuss on this blog. Their front-line reports and their insights are critical to any discussions.
Mary N. Fouraker is a 26-year teaching veteran in Georgia. She spent her career in public schools, 23 of them at Charlton County High in Folkston, a small, rural school in southeastern Georgia.
For most of her career, she has taught high school English.
“My degree is actually in public relations from the University of Georgia, but I went back to get my teaching certification, and I have never looked back,” says Fouraker. “I love what I do, and my husband and I are proud parents of successful children, both graduates of CCHS and public universities of our fine state (UGA, GA Tech, and Georgia Southern).”
A teacher says too much time is lost preparing for tests and taking tests. (AJC File )
A teacher says too much classroom time is lost preparing for tests and taking tests. (AJC File )
She shared a letter she wrote to legislators, explaining: “In December of this past year, I was involved in yet another round of testing, and I just felt. . .sad. . .disillusioned. . .and frustrated. I am considered a successful teacher — my students do well, and I am a department chair and sit on several committees. But after so many years of going through so many testing cycles, I just felt sad. This is the letter I composed that evening, and after several months of reflection, I decided to send it on my state senators and representatives. It was also suggested that I send it to you, because of your interest in and support of Georgia public education. Please take the time to read it — I feel I speak for many. Thank you so much.”
Here is Fouraker’s letter to lawmakers:
To Whom It May Concern:
I was pondering the state of education this morning. I had a great deal of time to do so, since I was proctoring the second day of a three-part test. I was wondering if we truly think about what we do.
As an example, I was thinking about the studies I have read and that have been quoted to me that indicate one of the best predictors of student success is the protection of instructional time. I also realize that no one can teach students better than the teacher regularly assigned to them; in other words, no substitute is better than the teacher, and no one can teach my students better than I can.
And yet, here I was, on the second day of a five-day End of Course Test schedule that was taking my whole class out of my instructional sphere for two days. Members of that same class were going to be missing some of our future class meetings during the rest of the five-day schedule because they had EOCTs in other classes that would be testing during my class block.
But that isn’t all – I missed another class entirely the day before, not because they were testing, but because I was – I was proctoring during class time, so they were being “covered” by another teacher. Theoretically, I would have missed today with them, too – I was scheduled to do so – but the test ended sooner than expected. But, keep in mind I was scheduled to miss them.
Now, when the EOCTs are over, we will start a five-day SLO testing schedule for all those courses not covered by EOCTs. That will be two days out of my SLO classes, because English is a two-part test.
What this means is that our students have a two-week testing schedule. They are coming to school for two weeks basically to test. I will not be teaching for two days per class being tested, and at least one day in a non-tested class because I’m proctoring. There will be students who will miss my classes because they will be testing in another class.
Then, there is review time – not so much for me because of the nature of my subject (literature and composition), but for other, more information-based subjects (science, history, etc). The students will be reviewing for these high-stakes tests as much for their confidence and sense of security as anything else. But they will not be learning anything new.
Adding to my puzzlement and consternation is the fact these are End of Course Tests and Student Learning Objective tests, but they are not given at the end of the course; they are given at least two weeks, and sometimes three weeks, before the semester ends.
On a block schedule, that’s 15 to 22.5 hours of instruction not conducted before the end of the course. That’s a great deal of information/instruction either not introduced or taught very quickly. That’s three weeks of an 18-week class – gone.
I assure you, I will be teaching (when I’m in class and my students are in class and not involved in testing), as will my colleagues, but my students, who are quite aware of such things, will not be nearly as focused on the material; it would be nice to think they would be interested in the class for the sake of learning, but they’re probably just interested in the end result of a grade.
Since the EOCT and SLO count 20 percent of their grade and that 20 percent is done, they’re not going to be too impressed with anything else I introduce.
And, it’s one-sixth of my instructional time gone. That translates to the very distinct possibility of one-sixth of objectives not being met – objectives that have already been tested, nevertheless. They are objectives that are important, but are given short shrift because of our need for testing. Add to this the week of pre-testing for SLOs at the beginning of each semester, and our schedule really does begin to boggle the mind.
I love what I do, I love my kids, I love my subject, and I love learning in order to stay up-to-date in both my subject and in my profession. But I just don’t understand how this testing procedure is helping me or my students.
I believe in public education; but, like Milton said long ago, I believe education should help our students to “perform justly, skillfully, and magnanimously all the duties, public and private, of peace and war.” I believe in cultural literacy, the fact there are certain things every citizen of the United States should at least be exposed to, in order to truly understand our culture and succeed in our society.
I have yet to see how this testing schedule and these tests help to achieve any of this. I don’t understand why some of my students have an incredible amount of accommodations in my classroom in order to succeed, yet they don’t have the same accommodations on these high-stake tests that can determine their future – and possibly my own.
My daughter has a degree in psychology, but she is now taking classes for teacher certification; she wants to teach high school social studies. I am so excited! She has the gift, a true love of learning and a way about her that encourages those she’s instructing/coaching to achieve. But when I tell my colleagues about her plans, the majority of them express a certain amount of dismay. They want to know why I am so pleased, and they often admit they discourage their children from becoming teachers. How sad!
However, I understand how they feel. It is discouraging, disheartening, and demoralizing to be disrespected and even disenfranchised from making decisions that affect my efforts to develop good, honest, life-long learners by the very public and its leaders that I strive to serve.
And I worry – I truly believe that teaching is her God-given calling, but will she be allowed to develop it? Or will her spirit be crushed under the weight of laws, demands, and requirements that she doesn’t understand and no one can really explain?
Please understand, I’m writing this letter as a plea – please, look at what we require of our students and their teachers. See if the means really get us to the ends that we say we want, or are we just checking off boxes on somebody’s master list. Help us love what we do – help our young people become what they are meant to be.
Mary N. Fouraker
English Teacher/Dept. Chair
Charlton County High School