Another open letter to Arne
Regular (and even casual) readers know we’re big fans of open letters to our Secretary of Education around here. There’s an excellent one running on The Answer Sheet today, which I encourage everyone to read.
From the letter, written by a New York principal (if you’ve read it, scroll to the bottom of this post for an action idea!):
I am certain that you know that there are many educators across this nation who quietly and generously go above and beyond each day for their students. Some work in very difficult circumstances in schools that are overwhelmed by poverty and truly do not have the resources to serve their students well. Others, like me, are lucky enough to work in well-resourced districts with more limited numbers of students who have great need. I know that you would not want to deliberately harm the work that we do.
However, the punitive evaluation policies that New York State has adopted (and that many other states have adopted) due to the Race to the Top competition are doing just that. It is a dangerous gamble that might score political points but it will hinder what you and I and so many others want—better schools for our kids. We already know from research that reforms based on high stakes testing do not improve long-term learning.
This June, New York’s teachers and students felt the first effects of rating teachers by student test scores. Across the state we received a clear message along with our Regents exam packets — Albany does not trust the people who educate New York’s students. We will now be ‘scored’ based on our students’ Regents exam scores, and because of these new high stakes the state education department is ‘teacher proofing’ students’ answer sheets.
Both students and teachers feel the brunt of this distrust. Here are some examples. Students can no longer use pencils on the new scantrons that must be scanned and then sent to a remote location for scoring. Only ink is allowed. If a student’s pen bleeds through the scan sheet, additional complications arise. Because they cannot erase, students need to follow elaborate procedures of circles and Xs to correct their answers if they decide to change them. The rules for corrections nearly brought one nervous student at my school to tears.
On the back of every student scantron, a teacher must now print her name if she is a rater, and then bubble in a code for each question she grades. Imagine writing your name on 300, 400, or even 500 scantrons (depending upon the number of students taking the exam). While the days when students had to write “I must not cheat” 300 times on the blackboard are gone, their teachers now have to do the equivalent so that the New York State Education Department can monitor how they score student answers. It wasted literally hours of our teachers’ time, and they felt angry and humiliated.
During the early days of No Child Left Behind, the New York State Education Department turned the Regents into high-stakes graduation tests. On exams in math and science, we were required to double grade every student paper in the range slightly above or below a 65. When a student failed the exam, I could tell a parent that many eyes had looked at it. If any doubt remained, another teacher would review the exam. The score rarely changed, but at least I could reassure a distraught parent that we were fair and accurate.
As of this spring, I can no longer give that reassurance. Principals are now forbidden to re-score a paper once a computer assigns the score. An elaborate process involving the district superintendent and the state Education Department is triggered to change a student’s score.
Apparently principals, who will also be evaluated by scores, are assumed to be ‘cheaters’ as well. Angry parents are now insisting that I send their child’s exam to Albany for review. The state Education Department says that the review will take two to three months. Can you imagine being a hopeful graduate waiting that long for a test that you failed by one point to be reviewed?
At the end, she shares the actions she’s taking to right these wrongs.
…I took the time last month to write a detailed, four-page letter to President Obama, but I did not get even a boilerplate email in response. Funny thing: during the campaign when I regularly sent contributions I always got a thank you. Now when I get a solicitation from his re-election campaign, I make a contribution to Save our Schools (SOS) instead.
Perhaps I will see you when I march with others in Washington D.C. on July 30. My husband and I will be there, rain or shine.
If you’re among those who are disappointed with this Administration– and I know there are tons of us out there!– please consider doing the same thing! The SOS March is fundraising this week, on Thursday in particular, and it could be really powerful for people to voice their dissent with the Administration by donating the money they would otherwise give to his campaign to the March instead. Emailing, Facebook-ing, or Tweeting that you’re giving to @SOSMarch instead of @BarackObama because you disagree with his education (or other…) policies could be the beginning of the kick in the pants these guys need to start doing the right thing.
Just a thought 😉