To the Editor:
Some may think that the purpose of my letters on the subject of education is to criticize and express negative views toward the Old Rochester Regional School District, but, in fact, the exact opposite is true. My intent is a positive one. I love the Old Rochester Regional School District and am especially proud of the excellent education the high school has been able to offer its students for many decades. I am also certain that the district continues to have the potential to educate students in keeping with high standards of learning, authentic proficiency, creativity and inspiration. To realize that potential, however, change is necessary.
Currently, the district is under the misguided leadership of School Committee members and administrators who look only at data, test scores, and espouse misleading standards of performance. Students are not experiencing what they should, despite the fact that many are themselves motivated, talented and eager. The students are too young and too inexperienced to recognize the difference. The responsibility then lies with us — parents, teachers and community members — to ask the questions and monitor the choices and policies that are detracting from true learning experiences and high standards for our students.
Since I have been sharing my knowledge and experiences in my letters, I have heard from many parents, former students, parents of former students, and interested and concerned community members validating my message and expressing gratitude that I am bringing current educational issues to light. My hope is that this awareness will lead my readers to do some research, read further, and question both the School Committee and district administrators in regard to their data-driven focus. Old Rochester was once in the forefront of education, way ahead of the game. When colleagues and I went to conferences or to professional development opportunities in other districts and at colleges and universities, we found that we were already practicing what was being presented. Why should our fine district and our fine local schools now be led by narrow-thinking, uninspired followers? My primary concerns continue to be the teaching-to-the-test mentality and policies, as well as the lack of standards upheld when students are given “Pathways to Success” that do not require that they reach true proficiency but insure that they pass — often without much effort. As I have emphasized, true learning is often not now the goal and not achieved.
Other areas needing examination are:
1. The thrust toward getting as many students into AP classes and Honors classes as possible, whether or not the students’ abilities suit those levels and whether or not their teachers recommend them;
2. The elimination of B level classes in some grades and some subjects;
3. The paring down of the curriculum to Power Standards intended to increase the test scores, but not the learning;
4. The continuing outsourcing of professional development and assessment through Pearson. Please ask questions.
As I mentioned in Letter #4, so many university professors, psychologists and educational research experts are writing and publishing scholarly articles that can enlighten and educate all of us on the detrimental effects on our children of these practices that lead to more assessment and less instruction and learning. The actions and decisions of our current School Committee members and administrators indicate that they are not educating themselves and not heeding the warnings of those who are expressing the need for a return to authentic curriculum and performance.
In the interest of keeping today’s letter briefer, since the previous letters have been dense and perhaps more than should be absorbed at once, I will cover some aspects of the topics above and save some for later.
All students should be challenged. No one would argue against that. The current thrust, however, is to encourage more and more students into Honors and AP classes at the high school. The Central Office administrators seem to believe that the greater number of students in these courses (again, data) improves the school and what it can offer to students. The effect is clearly the weakening of those programs. This practice does raise the school’s ranking in magazine lists and state and federal measures, but does not enhance the students’ experience or the true learning that should be taking place.
The high school’s enrollment doesn’t change much from year to year — always somewhere around 700 students — but the number of students in AP classes and Honors classes has changed dramatically. Not every student should be in AP. Every student benefits most from being taught at the level in which he or she will learn the most, make the most progress in skills, and feel the most comfortable. Old Rochester once provided just that experience. If too many students, some of whom are not ready for that level and some of whom have not been recommended by previous teachers, are in AP classes, then they will not be truly AP classes. I speak from 28 years of teaching AP classes. AP classes are supposed to be equivalent to college courses. Not all high school students are ready for college courses in junior or senior year. or those students, we had outstanding A Level and College Prep classes, and, as mentioned in a previous letter, the very effective Tech Prep program.
If we are encouraging students into AP classes who are not ready, the experience is not what it should be for those who are. The effect is a lowering of standards and expectations. The writing, the thinking, the discussion, the instruction, the intellectual investment will not be what it should. Some administrators will say that it doesn’t matter whether students take the AP test and score a 1 or a 2 rather than a 4 or 5 (5 being the highest). The College Board says that, because they make more and more money on the greater number of students using AP materials and paying to take the tests. In the October 7 issue of the Boston Globe Magazine, the subject of the overemphasis on AP courses was addressed. In the article, Brad MacGowan, a college counselor at Newton North High School, said, “The numbers are rising, but at some point, there’s got to be an upper limit. If it’s college-level work, how can we expect all school students to do it? If all of a sudden all high school students can do it, then it’s not really college-level work.” (Globe Magazine, October 7, 2012)
That makes sense to me. More next time on the issues, especially the current Pearson-driven privatization.
In regard to the need to become informed, one good website is ERIC, a source for scholarly articles on education; also, check out the writings of Vito Perrone, for many years on the faculty of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, who wrote extensively on the detrimental effects of standardized on true learning. Among his many statements: “[Teachers] feel compelled to spend time preparing children to take tests in spite of the fact that few teachers believe that a given child’s intelligence can be accurately represented by standardized tests. Reasons for caution in the use of tests include the possible loss of children’s self-esteem, the distortion of the curriculum and the lowering of expectations.” (Profiles of Impact, www.harvard.edu)
Administrators of the Old Rochester Regional School District, start reading and studying and educating yourselves on what is wrong with the current approach. Look at our schools and policies with a fresh and independent intellect, eye, mind and heart. Don’t let Pearson advertisements and endorsements run the show. Start giving teachers a voice in decision-making and policy. Why trail along behind others waiting for some other school district to say that the current trends and policies and assessments are not good for students, teachers and schools? Get out in the forefront and feel some pride in leading our schools to authenticity, true proficiency, real assessment and a true commitment to education, rather than letting data, scores, and companies like Pearson, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Exxon Mobil and the AP/College Board dictate our schools’ and children’s future. Have faith that our schools can return to the powerfully intellectually stimulating, high-performing (based on measures other than test scores), nurturing, inspiring, creative and proud places for students they were and can be again.
Once again, I ask parents, teachers, students, community members and taxpayers to become informed and ask questions.
Again, thank you for reading. If you would like to contact me for further information, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Teresa R. Dall