Saturday, August 21, 2010

Letter from a teacher at Seattle Public Schools

Dear Students and Parents,

There is a new system that is steamrolling into our school district,
into our classrooms, and into the relationships that I have with each
of my students.  This system, driven by standardized tests, will
change the classroom environment dramatically.  I am asking for you to
make your voices heard on this issue.

As you may already know, Seattle Public Schools is prioritizing its
focus and funding on ways to make teachers “more accountable” by
linking student test scores to teacher evaluation and compensation.
But the elephant in the room is: Are these high quality tests?  Do we
want teachers to give them highest priority?  Tests such as the
Measurement of Academic Progress (MAP) test finite skills, which can
be useful for a teacher in designing instruction, but let’s not be
misled: it does not test how an individual child is developing skills
of critical thinking, creativity and problem solving, or independent
and teamwork skills—cornerstone qualities of the most successful
members of our society.

As a successful lifelong learner myself, I naturally need feedback in
many forms to evaluate my teaching so I can continuously improve.
However, this move to emphasize test results to evaluate and
compensate teachers is setting students up to be shortchanged.
Teachers will be forced to teach a narrower set of skills, focusing on
test-measured forms of “success”. Class time for music, arts, social
studies, science, research, and physical education will continue to
dwindle as long as the focus on testing is largely in reading and
math.  I have already seen this happen throughout the district at the
elementary level, especially in schools with higher poverty rates
where students tend to test poorly and the pressure to raise test
scores is intense.

Even testing logistics have a negative impact on learning. In
buildings throughout the
district, the entire school is denied access to precious library
resources for 9 weeks out of
the 36 weeks of the year to allow for MAP testing three times a year:
that’s 25% of the
year! On top of that, often teachers and principals decide that kids
need more practice with standardized test taking on the computers in
order to succeed on these high-stakes tests. Children will see
libraries as testing centers rather than as places to expand their
learning through research and be inspired by great books.

What about teacher evaluation?

All students deserve talented, effective, inspiring teachers. We need
an evaluation system that encourages teachers to engage children in
critical thinking and in creative problem solving, as opposed to a
system focused on multiple choice test taking.  A new evaluation
system was developed collaboratively over the last few years by the
Seattle Education Association and Seattle Public Schools and piloted
in several Seattle schools, and was shown to be a useful and effective
evaluation system to judge the effectiveness of teachers. It also gave
principals the power to put those teachers who demonstrated
ineffective teaching skills on probation. This system is an exciting
new development for our teachers and administrators, something that
many saw as a very promising step forward to building successful

But then Superintendent Goodloe-Johnson acted unilaterally in adding
the test based evaluation system to this new collaboratively-developed

After 15 meetings of the contract negotiation teams, Seattle Public
Schools introduced a new addition to the collaboratively developed
evaluation system, reducing the new system to 50% of a teacher’s
evaluation, and announcing 35-45% of the teacher’s evaluation would be
tied to student performance on standardized tests, most significantly
the new MAP test. This 11th hour addition to the contract negotiations
is called SERVE.  These are just a few of my concerns:

   * The MAP test was brought to the district in a no-bid contract.
Not having an alternate bid for many contracts is an embarrassing
critique outlined in the federal audit of SPS, recently published.
   * Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson sits on the board of the
company that makes the MAP test, and did not disclose that before the
contract was approved.
   * Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA), the company that makes
the MAP test, states the test was never designed as a tool to evaluate
   * $4 million price tag to roll out this system includes money for
the test and for more administrators to oversee the program--- money
that won’t go to our children’s classrooms.
   * Honest and thoughtful evaluations can’t be that easy! The SERVE
plan hands teacher evaluation over to a computer.

Do we want computerized tests at the core of what our teachers teach
and what our children learn?

What Can You Do?
Members of the public who wish to address the board
may do so by e-mailing ( the School
Board Office or calling (206) 252-0040

Talk and write to everyone you know about your feelings.  Write to The
Seattle Times and neighborhood papers.  Email or call Superintendent
Goodloe-Johnson at or 206-252-0167

Contact the School Board members and tell them your concerns with the
SERVE proposal and the direction it would take our schools.  Seattle
School Board email addresses:

Thank you for participating in public education; it is the foundation
of our democratic society.

No comments: