By Judy Dotson.
This statement was delivered to the Renton School District Board of Education on Wednesday, January 28. (see details here.)
I come from a family of low-income, minimally educated parents. My mother’s education ended at the equivalent of 7th grade. She had 13 brothers and sisters. They were a farm family. Hard work was their life. She was hired out to work for a wealthy family as a housekeeper, nanny, and cook when she was just 14.
My dad had the privilege of graduating high school and spent the rest of his adult life working in the shipyard in Bremerton. He was a great mechanic, fiddle player and whistler.
They were born just after the turn of the century; 1902 and 1905.
When I was a senior in high school, a counsellor told me that it was a good thing my parents lived in low income housing and couldn’t afford to send me to school. Why? Because, he said, I just wasn’t college material. Maybe, if I somehow managed to find a way to attend college, I could be a teacher and teach home economics. That an educator would say something so derogatory about his chosen profession still amazes me.
The implication of his words was loud and clear, however: you, Judy, are not smart enough to succeed in college. You, Judy, should not expect much of yourself and you won’t be so disappointed when you don’t make it.
You might think that was a horrible thing to say to a kid at that age. Don’t bother to try. You’ll never make it. Just accept that you’re a level 1. Deal with it.
Now, I was almost 18 years old when I was told that my destiny was to be a level 1 forever. Not 9, 10, 11. Not 5 or 6.
Race forward to the present. With all of the wide ranging knowledge we adults have gained, we’re now telling our students, “You’re not going to pass the test. You’ll be a level 1; a failure”. Really? There is not a parent or grandparent in this room that would EVER say or do that to their child/grandchild.
All of us in this room tonight have a common goal: a well-rounded, positive, gratifying education for our children. It doesn’t matter if that education leads to a college degree or a master mechanic, electrician, plumber – it doesn’t matter. We want – we EXPECT – teachers not only to teach our children but to do it in a positive, caring, enjoyable manner. For that to be the reality for our kids, all of us here tonight must be committed to that goal.
Standardized testing is not going to get us there. Standardized testing is demeaning and punitive. It has the potential to damage a young child’s still fragile self-esteem.
There are kids who want to take the test because they want the challenge. These are the kids who’ll go on to be successful no matter what. They have a high self-esteem, strong self-confidence and a strong EQ (emotional quotient). It’s the other children about whom I’m most concerned.
Not everyone has this spirit though – especially when they’re only 9 or 10 years old and come from a position of poverty. They already think they can’t/won’t make it. They have no hope. They have no dream. For some it’s fear of failure, lack of developmental readiness, or other reasons. They just want out.
We – educators, administrators, education supporters – must give them that hope. We must dare them to dream and provide the support that will allow them to take that step toward success and intellectual fulfillment.
I am a teacher. I am a professional in a profession that is, often times, not recognized as one. I love teaching, I love learning. Sharing my love of learning with others and seeing that love blossom in them is an amazing, wonderful experience. Having the time to talk one-on-one with a student who (says)s/he hates math (or science or reading) and is no good at “school”, what I really hear is that s/he has learned that s/he is not good at learning. As educators, we can help those children. We can give them the confidence to take the chances toward meeting their dream. We can have the time necessary to have those conversations, to hear what our children are saying – their fears, concerns, desires.
My colleagues addressed the needs of these still maturing children. I’ll not reiterate them. But, know that many more than those who are speaking here tonight, feel as we do. I hear it daily from my colleagues.
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.
____ Judy Dotson, your concerns are noted and valued and you will be allowed to opt out of administering the SBA without any retribution.
____ Judy Dotson, 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.