Thursday, July 24, 2008

Letter from a teacher to Governor Patrick

When Governor Patrick comes to town, perhaps he'll hear from people like this, a teacher who came to the meeting in Milton, reprinted here with her permission:

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Good Morning, Governor Patrick,

Thank you for putting so much time and effort into the Town Meetings. It was really informative and enjoyable to listen to you and the other speakers. I was grateful for the opportunity to address the crucial high-stakes testing issue in response to the Readiness Report.

You mentioned Monday evening those teachers who really get involved in the lives of their students. Sadly, one of the losses of MCAS is the mindset that students should be seen as unique. Much as we would hope never to see neglect in our schools, it is neglectful when teachers are expected to get those scores up and let everything else be secondary. Many teachers are still valiantly trying to keep education as a child-centered endeavor, both here in Massachusetts and nationally.

The effects of MCAS testing began concerning me as the numbers of tests increased, up to nine for fifth graders, the media attention became frenzied, real estate values were advertised on the basis of test scores, the tests came earlier and earlier in the school year (now beginning in March), and the MCAS requirement for graduation came into effect.

An unsettling "new reality" came into most Massachusetts schools. I realized I needed to know much more about NCLB, high stakes testing and the "realities" of "reform."

Since then I have read over twenty books on school testing, educational history - including various "reform" movements and vast amounts of research, attended lectures and followed schooling in America as newly-defined in the media and on the internet, and spoken with dozens of teachers. So when I speak of issues, it is from the perspective of a student of high stakes testing, as well as professional educator. My concerns are the issues of high stakes testing as general phenomena here and in America's schools.

If you could just sit in a room with ten or twenty teachers - those of us who actually have to participate in the MCAS process, you would be very shocked to hear what the testing actually means "on the ground." Speak with those of us who have no "horse in the race" - no agenda of self-advancement - and listen to the reality of what is happening in the schools, in general. I'm speaking of a conversation with those of us who have been giving these tests for the ten years since they began.

There is so much more to the high-stakes testing saga. The narrowing of the curriculum is a reality in many schools and it is most intense in those communities which are struggling with education and poverty and discrimination. The effects of the pressures on teachers to produce scores are palpable, at times crushing. There is often injustice for students with special needs, challenging home or health situations, or from racial or ethnic groups which have not had open access to educational opportunity.

To maintain focus on real learning in the classroom when schools must basically "shut down" for so many days of testing during the months of March, April, May and June, is a challenge in itself. By "shut down" I would cite as examples, libraries, offices and other spaces closed for service so that students with special needs can receive proper accommodations such as one-on-one testing, extended time for testing, etc. Specialists such as special needs teachers, speech/language, occupational therapy, literacy staff must be utilized to provide those special accommodations. Since they can't be two places at one time, other special education services may be compromised.

Perhaps the very worst effect is portraying to children that learning is not about seeking knowledge for understanding. It is not about curiosity and problem solving. It is not learning to change the world. Rather the false image of learning as successful scores on tests has taken over many schools.

Again, a heartfelt thank you for your respect and time at the meeting in Milton. I have attached a copy of my statement.
Ann B. O'Halloran

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