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

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.

Sincerely,

Mary N. Fouraker

English Teacher/Dept. Chair

Charlton County High School

 

 

 

Reader Comments 0

104 comments
Kirby Malone
Kirby Malone

Common sense is no  longer common.  I agree that we need to stop teaching for a test.  We need to teach our kids in order for them to learn and develop into productive members of society.  For several years it seemed that the requirements that were put upon teachers was to teach our children in order to do well on the standardized test.  Once test are completed there seemed to be no reason to attend school.  In my opinion, the governor and our representatives have lost touch with common sense approach to teaching.  Here are my three steps that would solve our education issues: 1.  Get rid of the standardized test, trouble makers, and bad teachers.  2.  Stop taking the money the educators need and expecting them to do more with less resources.  3.. Hire the best teacher, such as Mrs. Fouraker, and let them do what God blessed them to do, TEACH. 


Parents have a part to do with education as well. Parents need to hold people accountable.  Such as: politicians, administration, teachers and staff.  There is no way to hold folks accountable if you are not aware of what is going on at the schools or what legislation is being passed that will affect their children.  But most of all, Parents need to take responsibility and hold their children accountable.  They need to make sure they are behaving, learning the material and striving to improve.  It is our responsibility to make sure our children have all the tools needed to succeed in life.  The schools are designed to educate our children not baby sit them.  It is not the responsibility of the school to raise them that responsibility falls upon us parents.


Finally, I like to express that I had Mrs. Fouraker as a teacher 25 years ago in advance composition and not only was she a great teacher but a great person.  She really cared for the children she taught and she did her part in making sure they had the tools to succeed.  Keep fighting the good fight and one day common sense might become common once again.


Kirby Malone

aintnosheeple
aintnosheeple

I would like to see a requirement that schools post exactly how much of their budget is spent on testing.  I would also like to be able to opt my children out of testing without withdrawing them from school on those testing weeks.  



ScienceTeacher671
ScienceTeacher671

Although I can tell you that my students have historically done quite well on the EOCTs (high growth, high achievement since we've had growth models), it's the internet and I know some of you won't believe me.


That said, if I had access to the Student Longitudinal Data System (SLDS) at the beginning of the term, I could look at my students' 8th grade CRCT scores and tell you with pretty fair accuracy which students will definitely pass and which will struggle due to not having the math and reading skills needed for high school level work, on the first day of the term.


Most of my students who fail the EOCT also fail the class. But it's not fair that they take the EOCT 3 weeks before the class ends, when essentially the EOCT is a "final exam."  It's not right that I am supposed to teach intellectually disabled children to pass the same test that college prep students are expected to pass.  It's not fair that I'm supposed to teach them all in the same overcrowded classroom. 


The benchmark assessments I'm required to give don't give me any information I don't already know about my students from their regular classroom assessments, but I have to give them anyway.


It's not fair that I'm evaluated on EOCs that I'm not allowed to look at, while the teacher next door is evaluated on SLOs that s/he created.


And my current pet peeve:  We are told to decide what the students need to know, how we'll know that they know it, and design assessments and instruction accordingly.  One would think that the state designed their new Milestones and EOCs accordingly -- but apparently not, because we won't know our students scores until sometime in fall, even for those who took the new tests in December, because the GaDOE wants to see how everyone performed before setting the scores for those tests.  


If everyone passed, so be it.  If everyone failed, so be it as well.  But waiting until fall to release the scores makes me think that there's a political component to whatever the final results will be.  Otherwise, why not release the fall scores now?







Don't Tread
Don't Tread

"...they often admit they discourage their children from becoming teachers."


In today's liberalism-run-amok climate, I would discourage my child from a number of career choices - teacher and police officer heading that list.

honested
honested

@DontTread 

Where is this liberal utopia of which you speak?

I would consider moving there.

BCW1
BCW1

AMEN...preach on sister!!!!

class80olddog
class80olddog

So let's fire all the teachers who have unacceptable student scores in their classroom - now who is going to teach?  Who would ever apply for such a job?  You would have to bring in foreign teachers and keep replacing them every year as the new ones get fired.  And the students would not improve, because IT AIN'T THE TEACHERS, STUPID.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

Those who have political savvy understand that the libertarian Republicans of the past 40 years who have wanted to privatize most "government" public service agencies and institutions (by cutting government, including cutting government employees, to the bare minimum), have followed the goals of the powerful and wealthy political ideologues of power in America.  


About 12 to 15 years ago, these powerful conservative ideologues targeted public "government" education as THE public institution next to dismantle and make private (for profit, in large part, using education tax dollars).  The game plan was to "expose" the "failure" of the public schools by testing every student often as a part of No Child Left Behind (President George W. Bush's creation).  The goal set for public education by these conservative politicians was to have 100% of students on grade level in 10 years.  Those ten years have come and gone and that unrealistic education goal has not been achieved (as I knew it would not be when it was set by politicians, instead of educators, who know little about the individual academic development of children).


The cynical political idea was to use those poor test scores to disparage public "government" education and public school teachers.  Well, they have achieved that goal, but they have only destroyed not built education because they do not understand that the educating of young minds should not be following a business model of statistics and test scores for the purpose of dismissing teachers and changing the very nature of the educational "leading out" process. Maybe many of these politicians have meant well, but they have not had any sophisticated instructional knowledge and they have been wreaking havoc on our public schools in trying to turn them into a business model for profit.


True story:  Last evening, I noticed that a link (as a comment) had been placed on my blog's entry about how to achieve instructional delivery for students who are functioning on different grade levels in the same grade.  I decided to preview the link before I decided whether to authorize its publication on my blog.  It started out very well done with visually showing teachers how to set up differing groups in their classes.  Then, it gave curriculum objectives and lessons for teaching those objectives through activities.  The video was produced in state-of-the-art visual and vocal expertise.  However, I was wondering how this program aligned itself with vetted state Boards of Education curriculum requirement, so I dug deeper. That private educational production company had held an outdoor outing to promote its "educational" product, just as business does in marketing.  One of the sentences from a person of authority said to the owners of this business, I hope the outing will make you a good PROFIT.  I trashed the link so that readers to my blog would not be exposed to such blatant profiteering at the expense of public education. 

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@bu2 


You are correct. PROFIT is not a 4 letter word, and I have never stated or implied that it is.  However, PROFIT is a 4 letter word in the realm of public education.

Astropig
Astropig

@MaryElizabethSings @bu2


"However, PROFIT is a 4 letter word in the realm of public education."


Oh,please. If there was no profit in PE,The school lunch vendors,the bus drivers,Southern Company ,the textbook companies,the internet providers and a host of other entities would not perform their necessary functions. And yes, that includes teachers. The only ones that do that job for free are the homeschool teachers.I'm pretty sure that you didn't accept hugs and rainbows on payday during your career,so please don't jive us.

honested
honested

@Astropig @MaryElizabethSings @bu2 

You confuse 'profit' with 'compensation' (how many physicians work for free?).

The function of EDUCATION is not to generate PROFIT for any external entities.

What part of that concept is impossible for the wrong-wing to absorb?

bu2
bu2

@honested @Astropig @MaryElizabethSings @bu2 


I guess they can't build any more school buildings.  Contractors make a profit.


They can't buy any more buses.  Manufacturers make a profit.


They can't do any more school lunches.  Farmers and processors make a profit.


They can't buy textbooks.  Textbook makers make a profit.


They can't use school supplies.  Office Depot tries to make a profit, as do the people who make paper, pens, pencils, rulers, etc.


The Stanford and ITBS people make a profit too.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@bu2 @honested


As I wrote below, "There are many layers of truth in reality."  The PRIMARY purpose of public education is not profit, but the education of our young.  The PRIMARY purpose of business IS profit.  Not only are there many layers of truth in reality, but most understanding of depth will recognize that most concepts involve relativity of understanding.   English teachers can help our population to understand these truths.  

SGAMOD
SGAMOD

the symbiotic relationship between for-profit testing companies and legislative campaign contributions"


This is what it is really all about.  

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

"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 totally agree with Mrs. Fouraker's statement, above. Not enough value is placed on cultural literacy in education in today's world, but society will swing back to understanding that literacy is probably more important than understanding science and math for human beings to create a peaceful, educated world.


I agree with Mrs. Fouraker's thoughts expressed in her letter to legislators.  I was a high school English teacher before I earned at M.Ed. as a Reading Specialist. As a Reading Specialist, I learned how to be a reading diagnostician to insure better the individual success of every student than I had understood as an English teacher.  Reading skills affect every curriculum area, including mathematics.  I agree with those who praised the Iowa Test of Basic Skills because that test gave a grade-level reading score for every student regardless of the actual grade level that student was assigned.  One diagnostic test, such as the ITBS, should be enough testing in schools (for the year) to chart the academic growth of every student from year to year in basic reading and math skills. However, educators must be trained in how to utilize those test results to know how to instruct with precision to each student's ability to comprehend what they are reading in every course. Reading-in-the content-area should be a part of every teacher's curriculum course requirement.


More, next, on the political aspect of WHY so much testing has been initiated in the United States in education in the past dozen years.

class80olddog
class80olddog

@MaryElizabethSings  "WHY so much testing has been initiated in the United States in education in the past dozen years"


Do you deny that there has been significant grade inflation and that teachers' grades are not always indicative of mastery of the subject?  Whether they were TOLD to pass kids that were obviously failing is not what I am asking. 

bu2
bu2

@MaryElizabethSings 


So much testing is because a lot of children were being left behind.  Administations and teachers were shirking their duty and just passing kids through.


The much criticized NCLB has achieved its primary purpose.  Special needs, poor students, and minority students can't be ignored.


Now as with many good things, we have gotten too much of testing.  But its not due to some conspiracy.  Its because schools need accountability, just like people in private business.  Poliicians have gotten carried away seeking an easy fix.  There's not one.

honested
honested

What a shame.....Mrs. Fouraker doesn't seem to understand the symbiotic relationship between for-profit testing companies and legislative campaign contributions.

Without the contributions, the legislators would have to waste their time learning what is important and what really works, rather than suck up the nonsense spouted by those with a product to sell.


Meanwhile, the ideological nuts have nothing to do but blame the Teachers and the Schools.



GeorgeStein
GeorgeStein

There has to be some sort of objective metric to determine whether or not kids are getting the schooling they need.   If it's not testing, then I'm certainly open to other ideas.   However, it's critical that kids learn early that their performance is going to be measured.


I remain largely unconvinced by teachers' anecdotal evidence.

bu2
bu2

@GeorgeStein 

She's right that there is too much testing.  In elementary school, our child spent 3 weeks testing and then, as with this teacher, had 2 weeks of dead time at the end of the year.


I support testing as an objective metric.  However, we do way too much of it.

MD3
MD3

@GeorgeStein Everyone wants a nice, neat little number. But the process of education is incredibly complex, with a continuously changing dynamic within every classroom. We can't standardize kids or their families, and we can't standardize schools and classrooms either due to inequitable funding. But yet we think that a standardized test is wonderful, simply because it spits out that nice, neat little number. That test score is simply a one-time snapshot taken on one day out of an entire year. I'll trust my son's teachers, who have spent every day of the year with him, and I'll put far more stock in their anecdotal evidence than I ever will in a standardized test whose primary purpose is to enrich its creator.

MiltonMan
MiltonMan

Teacher of the year arrested for having sex with underage student, teacher of the year arrested for stabbing death, the APS cheating scandal, DeKalb schools losing accreditation, etc., etc.


Yep those lovely teachers are innocent, blameless victims.

honested
honested

@MiltonMan 

Despite the massive improvements in Dekalb County Schools and Atlanta Public Schools over the last several years, without those two strawmen, I guess you would have nothing to parrot.

 

Quidocetdiscit
Quidocetdiscit

@MiltonMan


Oh good grief!  So the next time a banker shoots his wife, we can vilify all bankers. And the next time a taxi driver beats his dog, we can rightfully vilify all taxi drivers.  And the next time a ballet dancer steals from a store, we can vilify all ballet dancers...right?  


Recently there has been a lot of news about police officers misusing their power. Are you prepared to vilify all police officers as well?



Sheesh.

MiltonMan
MiltonMan

"@MiltonMan  Why is the teacher always to blame?  Are there other parties that may hold some responsibility?  Weak schools and students may be the result of poor administration, decimated budgets thank to Governor "Let's Make a" Deal, and lack of parent involvement.  Teachers can't do it all.  Most teachers do all they can but people who do not visit classrooms don't know this."


Teachers just love to take credit when they are fortunate to have great students - saw it all the time with my son, who is now in dental school.  They should be willing to take blame for bad performing students also.

honested
honested

@MiltonMan 

Despite the validity of her points on financing (and the oversized classes that result) you hold tightly to your failed ideology and see how many children it will educate.

Quidocetdiscit
Quidocetdiscit

@MiltonMan


I wonder exactly how you "saw it all the time".  I certainly do not approach my students' parents with a list of personal glowing accolades, nor do any of the teachers I work with.  Just how and when did you "see" your son's teachers taking credit for great students?

Point
Point

The term "accountability" was sold to the public by testing companies.  They are the only winners, follow the money.

class80olddog
class80olddog

@Point  Accountability for whom?  The ones you are testing are the STUDENTS - so the accountability should be for them.

class80olddog
class80olddog

By the way, in response to the "well it is required by Federal regulations" - we accepted these regulations along with their money.  Read the 10th amendment to the U. S. constitution.  The Feds can only get involved with their carrots and sticks - like with IDEA.  If you don't take their money, you don't have to abide by their rules.

class80olddog
class80olddog

The REALLY bad part is that they give these tests - and then don't do anything with the results!  Are HS students refused a diploma because they failed an EOCT - NO.  Are students retained when they fail their testing - NO!  So what good is having a test when you don't use the results.

MaureenDowney
MaureenDowney moderator

@To all, Overlooked in this discussion is whether the tests make sense. Do the tests tell us anything useful? Can they be used to improve instruction? Are they worth all the instructional time lost?

We have a pattern that ought to concern us -- the state rolls out a new test, administers it for years and then announces the test really wasn't very good and we are dumping it. (See my blog on the Georgia High School Graduation Test.)

The SLOs are clearly problematic – no one feels good about them and the crazy timeline under which they were developed and put into action. Expect news stories in the next few years about how that went wrong.

As a parent of two high schoolers, I remain dismayed at the litany of things that cut into instructional time. 

Astropig
Astropig

@MaureenDowney



"Do the tests tell us anything useful? "


Useful? To who? "Useful" is like a linguists play-doh. We can make it mean anything.What's "useful" to you may be worthless to me.



"Can they be used to improve instruction? " Maybe. But they are designed to see if the instruction was effective,if the message sent was the message received. I'm sure some educators feel that they have great value,but we never see their opinions discussed here.Hard to say what good or bad they do when all we get is one side of the story.


"Are they worth all the instructional time lost? " Get back to me when the designers of "Common Core Aligned" tests eliminate them.Then we'll know that a new era has really arrived.

honested
honested

@MaureenDowney 

What they tell us is that cutting funds, increasing class sizes and wasting time on endless testing may pander to the 'religion of low taxes' but does not Educate Our Children.

class80olddog
class80olddog

@honested @MaureenDowney  What they tell us is that INCREASING the school funding per student by 300% over 1960 levels , reducing class sizes have NOT increased scores (and in some cases, decreased them).


That is because they have not addressed the key problems in failing schools: discipline, attendance, and social promotion.  They dealt with these things in the 50's and 60's and were able to educate the ones who COULD be educated much cheaper than today.  The ones who could not be educated STILL can't be educated - because they don't WANT to be educated.

bu2
bu2

@Astropig @MaureenDowney 

ITBS and Stanford measure where the student is at.  They absolutely can be used to improve instruction.  That doesn't mean they are used that way, but they point out various strengths and weaknesses.  They also measure progress since the last test.


Now if you change the tests every 3 years and don't do significant testing of the tests, then the usefulness is significantly limited.

honested
honested

@class80olddog @honested @MaureenDowney 

Does holding tightly to that bogus notion give you solace?

What have happened to class sizes over the last dozen years?

What else has happened to Educational Product while testing has been the focus?

Of course you are right on one count, the much higher overall tax rates in the '50s and '60s did allow for much more effective development of Civilization. 

We should probably return to those tax rates and see what happens!

EdumacateThat
EdumacateThat

@MaureenDowney I agree with you on the worthlessness of many of the tests given.  However, I believe that EOCTs are relevant as they cover the material from the class.  What I have a problem with is that kids can fail an EOCT and still pass the class.  That's a red flag for me.  I also think that Block Scheduling is not helpful, both on how it impacts the testing schedules and the ability of HS kids to remain focused or retain material.  Maybe that is worth another look.

As for MS and ES, I'm with BetsyRoss1776 in that ITBS will tell you all you need to know regarding your kids progress to their peers, both locally and nationally.  The shame is that ITBS does not do a good job in promoting themselves as the proven evaluator, letting snake-oil test salesman get the better of our dim-bulbs in the legislature.  Just MHO.

As for Ms. Fouraker's letter, I think her feelings of frustration, etc., are valid, regardless of what school she teaches at and how they compare.  Thx for posting her letter.