To the Editor:
If you have been reading my previous letters on current educational practices, you may be asking: why does she care so much? Yes, I have retired from a successful and rewarding teaching career. My own children have been out of school for many years. The answer to why I care so much is that I want every school to provide every child with the best and most inspiring learning experience possible; further, that I am deeply concerned about the dismantling of an excellent school system, the Old Rochester Regional District, in order to follow the misguided educational trends that emphasize data collection, standardized test scores, common assessments, school ratings, a narrowed and uninspiring curriculum, and a teach-to-the-test mentality over the good of the students in the classroom. As I have emphasized several times previously, children go through school only once.
My purpose in writing this and the previous seven letters has been to encourage parents, teachers, students, taxpayers and community members to ask questions of the administrators and the School Committee members. An additional purpose has been to ask everyone concerned to educate themselves on the detrimental effects of this emphasis on standardized testing and data collection. Other districts, other states, other parents, other teachers have begun to speak out against and move against these damaging trends, while the Old Rochester Regional District becomes more and more entrenched in these practices, particularly in the hands of the current Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction, who clearly is only interested in data and assessment and puts little focus on instruction, which is what good teaching and learning is all about. One of my former colleagues, an excellent teacher herself, has often said to me, “When are we [the district] going to work on instruction? All we ever talk about is assessment.” The current School Committee members have not involved themselves in educational practices; as long as the Assistant Superintendent tells them the scores will go up, they fully support her and praise her efforts. The School Committees are elected to represent all of us in this very important area of public life — education. School Committee members focus on budget and scores. They cannot appropriately and effectively represent us if they do not educate themselves on the subject of learning and what is good for children.
School Committee members and all of us who care about public education need to read on the subject, do research and question. Many sources are easily accessible and more research appears every day.
Another area of great concern is the district’s overreliance on Pearson as a provider of assessment materials, computerized learning, textbooks, curriculum and professional development. Pearson is not in the business of improving education and inspiring students to learn and grow. Pearson is a corporation that is in the business of making money for its investors, a fact that a little research will reveal. Pearson’s opening page may be titled “Always Learning,” but the first items noted at the top of the page are the current stock values for their investors, both in the U.K. and in the U.S. Pearson, by the way, is a company based in London in the U.K. and also is the publisher of the Financial Times. One of the first topics on the website page is titled Investors. Click on Investors, and you will find an article with the following title and subtitle: “Introducing Pearson Catalyst, the edtech incubator programme for startups: World’s leading learning company to help education startups jumpstart their companies and break through on a global scale.”
The item includes this paragraph: “The Pearson Catalyst incubator program is looking for dynamic, technology-centric, startup teams with a mix of talent, that have been up and running for less than three years and who have viable products that are ready for launch in the market. The ideal startup companies will have a product or products that complement or enhance a Pearson brand. Pearson Catalyst will incubate and accelerate up to ten teams of founders for at least three-months starting in mid-April. Startups will work and be based out of their existing offices, with the potential to meet at Pearson offices as well.”
Let us ask ourselves, “Is this education or business?” Our current Assistant Superintendent appears to be enamored of Pearson and their products.
Please explore Pearson at www.pearson.com. Since you are reading this in print, you will not be able to use this as a link, but you can type in the address or email me at email@example.com, and I can send you the link digitally, as well as attachments of any of my previous letters that you would like to read. This also applies to the other websites that I am including in today’s letter.
I have had many community members, parents and former students approach me with positive comments about my letters and requests to keep at it, because someone needs to speak out. Many emails have complimented my desire to bring these issues to the forefront. What I hope will result from this interest is that everyone will do some research and reading and will contact their School Committees with questions and concerns. The School Committees are not only charged with monitoring the schools’ budgets, but they are more importantly charged with assuring that our students have the best possible learning experience.
I will write more in another letter about other school districts and universities that are questioning the data and testing that is so rampant in education, but here are some significant ones for now. The following two addresses will lead you to information on New Paltz, New York, where the school board has proclaimed its objections in a resolution. This is a brief quote from the resolution:
“WHEREAS, the overreliance on high-stakes standardized testing in state and federal accountability systems is undermining educational quality and equity in U.S. public schools by hampering educators’ efforts to focus on the broad range of learning experiences that promote the innovation, creativity, problem solving, collaboration, communication, critical thinking and deep subject-matter knowledge that will allow students to thrive in a democracy and an increasingly global society and economy;”
Please read the entire resolution. Also, the second of the two articles talks about Pearson as well as the testing.
In addition, please check out the position of the Seattle teachers and their resistance to the overuse of standardized testing, as well as parents opting out of testing and high school students boycotting the tests in support of their teachers. In a recent display of resistance at Garfield High School on a day when the MAP tests were to be given, the statistics show the following:
• 810 tests should have happened (both math and reading with some students taking both but not all)
• 184 tests did happen
• 104 tests were invalid due to students rushing through the test
• 273 students had been opted out
• 170 students refused to test
• 7 students did not test due to absences
One more recommendation for some significant, revealing and thought-provoking reading will suffice for today:
On The Washington Post website is a piece with the headline: “Massachusetts professors protest high-stakes standardized tests.”
The article begins: “A coalition of more than 130 Massachusetts professors and researchers from some 20 schools — including Harvard, Tufts, Boston and Brandeis universities — signed a new public statement that urges officials to stop overusing high-stakes standardized tests to assess students, teachers and schools.
The statement — also signed by academics from the University of Massachusetts, Clark University, Boston College, Lesley College and other schools — is the latest effort in a revolt against high-stakes testing that has spread from coast to coast. Students are opting out of taking standardized tests, teachers are refusing to administer them and some superintendents are criticizing the standardized test-based accountability systems passed in various states with the support of school reformers.”
I include a brief excerpt from the research results: “Negative impact on curriculum and instruction. Surveys of teachers in Massachusetts (Abrams et al., 2003; Clarke et al., 2003) and nationally (McMurrer, 2007; Moon et al., 2003; Hinde, 2003) show a marked increase in teaching to the test and narrowing the curriculum to tested subjects as a result of high-stakes testing. In addition, research compiled by the NRC and others shows this comes with a negative impact on school climate, often creating an environment of intimidation, fear, anxiety and stress for both teachers and their students, including kindergarten children (Hout & Elliott, 2011). Further, investigators of the Atlanta cheating scandal identified high-stakes testing as a cause of the problem (Georgia Bureau of Investigation, 2011). Under such conditions, it becomes difficult for teachers to create a learning environment that promotes creativity, critical thinking, risk-taking, experimentation and a love of learning. Moreover, as with other negative consequences, there is a disparate impact: teaching to the test, curricular narrowing and damaging school climates more frequently affect low income and minority students.”
Why should the Old Rochester Regional District administration be investing time, effort, money in following trends that diminish the quality of the educational experiences for our students, when, in so many places, thinking people are calling a halt to the data-driven, narrowed curriculum approach? Old Rochester had once been in forefront of education. What now?
Thank you for reading. Please take advantage of the information available, and please remember that the School Committee members are representatives and should hear from their constituents. As always, if you would like to contact, email me with comments or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Teresa Dall, Mattapoisett