Teacher’s plea to new school chief: Good teachers are leaving as testing crowds out teaching

Here is a knockout letter from a Coweta County teacher to Georgia State Schools Superintendent Richard Woods:

Dear Superintendent Woods,

Georgia Superintendent Richard Woods. (DOE Photo)

A teacher asks Georgia Superintendent Richard Woods, “Please protect my instructional time. I want to teach my students.” (DOE Photo)

Please protect my instructional time. I want to teach my students.

Welcome to your new job. I cannot imagine being in this position at this time, but you have stepped up to take the lead in Georgia’s education system. I was highly encouraged to read your letter to Arne Duncan, U.S. Secretary of Education, explaining your concerns with today’s standardized testing crisis.

While you have studied and spoken with multiple teachers and administrators, I would like to share how standardized testing affects my students, my school, and me.

I have been teaching in Georgia at Northgate High School for the past seven years primarily instructing juniors and seniors from remedial classes to AP.

I love students, and I love teaching. I want to be a teacher who is “part of the solution and not part of the problem,” which is harder and harder to do in education today. While I have little control over decisions on a large-scale, my mind is continually thinking on and dreaming of ways to make my classroom, and our system, better.

I believe the greatest and most under tapped resource in Georgia’s education system today is Georgia teachers, but the good teachers are starting to leave.

I have three degrees, two at the graduate level, but my performance, training, and knowledge is almost always assessed through my students’ standardized tests scores or through a teacher evaluation system which is seriously flawed. While I am committed to the standards on which we are measured, a quick stop in my room by an administrator who is also overworked and held to absurd standards is not how I want to be assessed.

Come to my room anytime to see what we are learning and doing, but please take time to do more than check off the requirements I am meeting. My classroom experience is far bigger than a checklist. Talk to my students. Talk to me.

If I am going to be measured on how well my students read and write, I need more time to teach them to read and write. Some days I feel I spend more time getting my plans properly formatted, administering standardized tests, and going to professional development meetings on the state evaluation system or Georgia Milestone than I do teaching. These things are needed and necessary, but when they interfere with my ability and time to teach, there is a serious problem.

Please protect my instructional time. I want to teach my students.

My students need me to teach them. Please protect our administrators’ time by allowing them to be about the business of curriculum planning, strategic and long-term goal setting, and spending quality time with teachers and students.

In addition to instructional time being used for testing, the amount of money devoted to testing is mind-boggling. Almost $108 million has been designated for the Georgia Milestone assessment. As department chair at my high school, every year I have to tell my team that we will once again not get new textbooks. We have been through three adoption cycles now without new books. I beg that state money will be funneled to where it is most needed – students.

Students do not directly benefit from testing, yet that is where the money goes. I understand this is a complex issue with federal and state requirements to be fulfilled, but our students are suffering while political gains are being made. We must put a stop to this.

Testing does offer some advantages. I am not a proponent of throwing out tests all together. Schools should be held accountable on student learning as well as teacher instruction, but we have swung so far to one side that there is no longer balance in the system. Testing does not measure a student’s growth in his or her love for learning or the development of grit. Testing does not measure a student’s thought process or style of writing. Testing does not measure the ability to apply knowledge or creative problem solving. I would like to think that these are some of the most important skills students learn in school today, yet they count for nothing in regard to my evaluation or my school’s performance.

The system today is defined by terms such as CCSS, TKES, LKES, CCRPI, GHSGT, GAPS, SACS, CRCT, GMAS, SGAs, SLOs, yet all I want to do is teach SCHOOL. Give me and my colleagues the freedom to do what we are trained to do and what we love doing.

I voted for you and am now looking to you to be a sensible leader who will not play political games but will advocate for students and teachers.

Susan Barber

English Department Chair

Northgate High School

 

Reader Comments 1

22 comments
BCW1
BCW1

The DOE is dysfunctional to say the least!!! TKES has so many working parts that it cannot possibly work. I am not sure what they are trying to accomplish. If the good ones leave the profession, who replaces them? Because the young good ones won't stay long. Then you have the state government that is constantly messing with benefits, curriculum, etc. They don't have a clue what they are doing as well.

atln8tiv
atln8tiv

"Please protect my instructional time." 


This has been my mantra for about the last five years, because we have the same issues in our technical colleges: meaningless evaluations, meaningless and mandatory professional development sessions, and a ridiculous amount of paperwork to 'prove' we're doing what we're supposed to be doing (educating students, in case anyone forgot, because it sure seems that the powers-that-be have). 


I left industry because I wanted to share my knowledge and experience, not become a paper-pusher for a system awash in bureaucratic busy-work.

atln8tiv
atln8tiv

To clarify: we aren't hamstrung by testing the way K-12 schools are, but we sure have more than our fair share of administrative paperwork that doesn't serve any good purpose other than being able to say we completed it.

Common Sense Committee
Common Sense Committee

She's right.  We want more accountability and higher quality teachers, so the only way to assess that is on a high-stakes test, right?  There's a saying that talks about we reap what we sow, and at this rate, we can't get mad at those who state their frustrations with the testing atmosphere.  

There's many parents out there who worry about their children due to the rise of "test anxiety," but we need their energy put to better use.  We need teachers, administrators, parents, and students involved in making real educational decisions.  Those who make the laws under the Gold Dome have little to no idea of what teachers do.  Why not include all of the above when deciding about testing, graduation requirements, and teacher evaluations?  Oh, wait, that's common sense, so let's not do that.

I can see why so many teachers leave the profession - they're burnt out from all the testing, testing regulations, and the added test prep.  Where do we find time to teach with all of this?  

Again, she's right.  I, for one, don't care about her "last line" regarding the fact that she voted for Mr. Woods, and wants him to act as a reasonable leader.  Isn't that what we elect our officials for, after all?  

Ms. Barber, I'm right there with you.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

"Testing does offer some advantages. I am not a proponent of throwing out tests all together. Schools should be held accountable on student learning as well as teacher instruction, but we have swung so far to one side that there is no longer balance in the system. Testing does not measure a student’s growth in his or her love for learning or the development of grit. Testing does not measure a student’s thought process or style of writing. Testing does not measure the ability to apply knowledge or creative problem solving."

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++


I agree. Susan Barber's letter to Superintendent Woods is "a knockout letter."  Her letter demonstrates how the education of children should never be made into a business model.  Trying to do that is like trying to fit a cube into a cylinder.  It is futile to do so, and all will suffer the consequences of that misguided view of education.

Bernie31
Bernie31

@MaryElizabethSings  - I would say a Good SUCK UP or a very good Brown Nose Job, is more appropriate. A Knock Out would mean Honest sincerity, her last statement revealed her Soul! Not one to be admired. for sure!

anothercomment
anothercomment

It is a shame that this English department head's letter is prima facia evidence of Judge Judy's biggest pet peeve the improper usage of the word me. See the last sentence of paragraph 3, and me, should be and I. This is grammatically incorrectly. Is it just the fact that Judge Judy and I went to New York State schools that are in the top 10 or above year after year. The usage is not and me, but and I.

There are some simple basics that teachers, especially English teachers and administrators need to understand and pass. No one should be allowed to teach our children if they can not say "ask " for something or something, not "ax " a tool or "axe" . I will correct you and write to your chain of command that you should not be teaching my children. We also do not "mash "an elevator button. We push an elevator button, then we hold the elevator door button for others, asking politely others what floor they would like us to push for them. We especially help our elders when going to the hospital or doctors appointments. We do not make rude comments about the Braille in the elevator, such as who would every need it. My response is my two cousins who went to the NY state school for the blind do. By the way we mash potatoes.

I tried to explain to my 20 year old applying to nursing school that her essay on Measles she should not li,it her comment to Mortality, but instead state we will end up seing rising morbidity and mortality. Which means illness and death, rather than just death as my daughter wanted to right.

mensa_dropout
mensa_dropout

@anothercomment 

Her sentence is correct. The You is implied in "Give me and my colleagues..." making the me the indirect object of the sentence. You would not say, "Give I a pice of candy." Me and I are dependent upon their use in the sentence as either nominative case or objective case pronouns.

Why not leave the grammar policing to those who teach English?

Just ask Milton Man (or <140, as I like to call him); casting aspersions gets you into trouble with those who just want to talk about education policy in Georgia and those who are smarter than you are.

Thanks for playing, though!

historydawg
historydawg

@anothercomment The English teacher correctly used "me" in the sentence you cited. Your post, however, is riddled with sentence fragments, misspellings, etc. We, southerners, don't take kindly to sophmoric Yankees spouting ignorance on our message boards. We will tolerate your point about the superiority of New York schools, but Judge Judy references are untenable.

Bernie31
Bernie31

I was with this Teacher, until I read her last statement.


"I voted for you and am now looking to you to be a sensible leader who will not play political games but will advocate for students and teachers."  - Susan Barber


In My Mind this statement above said " Disregard, everything I have said above, I am not serious about any of it"

straker
straker

"I have little control over decisions"


And, as long as this latest social experiment in teaching is in vogue, that will continue.

Looking4truth
Looking4truth

Accountability is not something most teachers fear.  I, for one, am proud of my students' achievement.  However, the encroachment of constant testing means there is less time for teaching.  I feel sometimes like I'm on one of those cooking shows where you  have thirty minutes to fix a dish with unknown ingredients to wow judges who couldn't do it if they tried.


Give teachers the time to do the job for which you hired them.  If most of a teacher's job is to be taken up by proctoring tests, then be honest and tell them.  But don't mandate a 180-day curriculum be taught in 160 days.  It won't work, and the results will not be what are desired. 

EdUktr
EdUktr

I hope the Superintendent will excuse the silly claims this column regularly puts forth on behalf of the teachers' unions. 

Accountability and greater choice are here to stay.

mensa_dropout
mensa_dropout

@EdUktr

Accountability is GREAT!  Do we need to do that with thirty five testing windows in high school?  Can't we maybe combine some of them instead of paying hundreds of millions of dollars?

The Milestones test is 140 minutes per section...Four sections.  And one section is 90 minutes.  

Less is more.

Quality, not quantity.

Insert pity cliche here. 

SethMoore
SethMoore

There's your biggest problem right there at the end of the letter.. a Georgia teacher in this day and age still voting for a Republican...sheesh!

Jimm Shorts
Jimm Shorts

Yes, the purer than snow Democrats did such a great job from the early 20th century until those evil Republicans took over. Get bent...

proudparent01
proudparent01

Yes, there are major national testing mandates, but much of the testing comes from Georgia requirements that our state legislature and superintendent can change. TKES and LKES requirements for school teachers and leaders are overwhelming our schools. SLO pre and post tests have created an avalanche of testing that is a constant distraction to regular classroom teaching. Even beyond the written requirements of these programs, there are mindless implementation guidelines that force schools to test students as young as kindergarteners multiple times at the beginning and end of each course. Also, the tests tied to teacher evaluations create an atmosphere of anxiety and potential for abuse. 


Superintendent Woods, please listen to this and other teachers and lighten the testing load in Georgia. You can make immediate changes by updating Georgia testing now.

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