By Becca Ritchie.
This statement was delivered to the Renton School District Board of Education on Wednesday, January 28. (see details here.)
Martin Luther King said
“Some of us who have already begun to break the silence of the night have found that the calling to speak is often a vocation of agony, but we must speak. We must speak with all the humility that is appropriate to our limited vision, but we must speak”
“A time comes when silence is betrayal.”
I am an accomplished educator recognized by the Renton Chamber of Commerce twice with the Ahead of the Class award in 2007 and 2013, the Seahawks/Symetra Hero in the classroom in 2012 and the Mariners Teacher of the Week in 2013. I have been a part of our SIT/Leadership through the years and am currently the chair of our Site-Based Council as well as our department chair for the Nelsen creative arts team. I am committed to all students in our school achieving success. I encourage policies that will support the students in our school to develop into citizens of Renton who think critically, problem solve and become the future of our city. I support students when they explore and consider what their future will hold. I help students find confidence to try, and sometimes fail, as they learn and grow.
I, as a professional, assess my students continually in my class. I know which of my students struggle and I find creative ways to engage them to continue to try. In the past few years, students come into my class with their own preconceived notions of a label. I have had students tell me “I am a 1. I will always be a 1.” These students go into the test, no matter what I tell them, how much I encourage them or how prepared they are, thinking that they will fail. These are eleven and twelve year olds. No child should consider their self a failure, especially at this tender age. Adolescent angst is challenging enough without the system, which has been underfunded to help these children for decades, delivering a blow to their self esteem. By ignoring the world around these children and using a snapshot of one day in their life to rank and cull them, we are doing them a grave injustice.
Teachers constantly use data to drive instruction. Kids do not come standardized, nor should they, and the individual data a teacher gathers on a child is in the context of the relationship, the child’s readiness level and many classroom factors. The teacher who knows each and every student and the precise moment in which to intervene as they tackle a multi-step algorithm; the educator who can sense from a child’s posture the exact tone to use to engage them on a difficult task; when a student needs you to believe in them and spend that extra moment to provide specific positive feedback so they will try harder next time vs. when to be quiet and let them lead and take a risk; using the weekly quiz that shows exactly which skill is not quite mastered and guides the teacher to plan a lesson and find new materials to try to teach another way; these are teacher behaviors relying on relevant data to help kids learn.
We do NOT need standardized tests to measure achievement. A one-day snapshot of a child’s performance is not indicative of authentic learning. Students may show mastery on a standard one day and not the next. This is human. The student who comes to school hungry or sad or is distracted by friendship issues on SBA day? Failure. The child who can’t type as fast or as accurately as his peers? Fail. The kids who can’t read a screen as well as a piece of paper because they forgot their glasses or have tired eyes? Failure. The anxiety ridden children who literally pull their hair out because of the pressure to perform? Fail. The students who don’t care about a test their teacher hasn’t created and which doesn’t mean anything to them because it isn’t connected to anything they care about? Failures.
Diane Ravitch said: “Sometimes, the most brilliant and intelligent minds do not shine on standardized tests because they do not have standardized minds.”
External accountability is a need acknowledged by many people, understandably. But standardized testing has not been shown to improve achievements. Humans are not standardized.
Students cannot realize their full potential at school when we have cut counselors, nurses, art, music, extra curricular activities, behavior support, classroom aides, science materials, field trips, and most of all cut sacred TIME for teachers to plan innovative instruction. With No Child Left Behind teachers have been assigned more duties for student data collection, we must fulfill new evaluation rubric requirements, we are handed still more tests that are not aligned with curriculum or student’s developmental needs and are riddled with errors, we have additional certification requirements that take time away from classroom work, we are expected to perform new leadership duties, we must navigate new technology without training or working equipment, we have to teach to pacing guides that are often impossible to follow, we somehow complete report cards thoughtfully even though they do not match new standards and the new tests, and we still must learn what the new standards even mean without any time to do so thoughtfully; and all this with a lack of high-quality aligned curricular materials while our students come to school needier than ever. This is not just a workload issue. This is literally driving teachers out of the profession.
This reality is unconscionable and I cannot remain silent.
I ask others to stand up with me for children and our future.
I object to the latest iteration of No Child Left Behind’s failed policy called the Smarter Balanced Assessment which goes against my professional conscience.
I object to the inhumane test environment imposed upon us by people who believe schools should be run like businesses and students treated like commodities. SBA will rank and sort children so labels of failure may allow takeover of public schools by privatizers in the name of ‘accountability’.
I object to the undemocratic process of adopting SBA and Common Core State Standards whereby educators and parents were not consulted. We are not being asked about what we believe is the ultimate purpose of education nor on the need for new tests and standards.
I object to treating students like guinea pigs in an experiment that has not produced any real learning gains but will increase drop-out rates, decrease motivation and continue to increase chances of suicide among teenagers for the incredible pressure they are put under to master content a mile wide and an inch deep.
I object to how computers are monopolized for weeks at a time for the sake of testing young children; tech Levy voters believed their dollars would be spent on learning not standardized testing. Further, private student data is often commercially available to private companies; yet school districts and especially parents are unaware of how a student’s data profile is being used.
I object to the use of Pearson’s set “cut-scores” predicting ⅔ of kids will fail. Such ‘failure’ will discourage incredibly hark-working students and teachers which may diminish their classroom innovation in coming school years.
I object to the lack of trust in classroom experts which has been replaced by faith in test publishers devoid of teaching experience and who deny a child’s uniqueness.
I object to the time stolen as SBA becomes the main goal of my reading, writing and math instruction, thus eliminating project based learning, health, social studies, the arts, physical education, music and social/emotional lessons.
I object to the fact that SBA will force more kids to drop out which will increase poverty; by failing this test students will lose faith in their individuality, self-worth and higher education or career prospects. Confidence is key to perseverance.
I object to the use of SBA or any standardized test that directly correlates to family income. Students of color, English learners, and those with low socio-economic status are disproportionately harmed by standardized testing and yet testing continues to increase in the name of closing the achievement gap. This is ludicrous.
I object to the lack of transparency on SBA test items and scoring mechanisms; that teachers and parents are not permitted to view the test or the answers their students write is insulting to the people who know a child best. Teacher assessment data and report cards are now being disregarded by accountability ‘experts’ who seek to label students for their own purposes.
I object to forcing young children to sit through hours of bubble tests when they don’t even understand what they are doing and why they are doing it. This is inhumane.
I object to expecting young children to “work independently” for hours while their teacher is forced to test other students one-on-one – test after test after test.
I object to children who are just learning to speak, read, and write in English being forced to take standardized tests using English academic language and culturally biased language. This too is inhumane.
I object to forcing children with special needs to take standardized grade level tests when they have already proven to be 1 ½ to 2 years behind typical peers via a formal evaluation using standardized tests.
I object to the misuse of precious revenue spent on SBA scoring, on practice tests, on required test materials, on contracts with test-prep corporations’ consultants and on staff time for training to teach to the test as well as training for administering the test. Funding has been cut for counselors, nurses, planning time for teachers, behavior support staff, playground supervision & equipment, libraries, field trips and safety plans and still we have increasing class sizes. Follow the money on who is profiting from SBA as it is not in the public’s best interest to give tax dollars to profit-makers who view children as voiceless consumers from which profits are earned.
I object to how financial backers for the corporate takeover of education are electing candidates who will support SBA by funding campaigns using billions of dollars earned on the backs of workers who live in poverty and whose children are harmed by this test.
I object to the SBA as it has been marketed; it is designed to prepare workers for a competitive global economy. Who can defend the social and environmental impacts of our current economic practices? Our path as a nation is focused on profits, not human rights or ecological sustainability. If the SBA was designed for perpetuating our exploitative economic practices, then many of us are morally obligated to renounce the test itself. Students have a right to an excellent public school education to learn to solve massive problems such as income inequity, not perpetuate them.
In conclusion, I believe students need to be prepared for whatever life path they choose; expecting every child to graduate high school with a nearly identical and narrow skill set is un-American and unacceptable. SBA is a critical tool used to ensure that schools are lockstep with a forcibly mandated, top-down education agenda that was not agreed upon by the most important constituents: parents, students and the classroom experts.
Therefore I professionally object to administering the SBA. Our students deserve better.
This being said, please select one of the options below. Thank you.
____ Becca Ritchie, Your concerns are noted and valued and you will be allowed to opt out of administering the SBA without any retribution.
____ Becca Ritchie, Your concerns are noted and your professional conscience is being discounted. Administration in this building or district requires you to administer the SBA despite your objections and the harm, outlined in the narrative, that children will experience.