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By Susan DuFresne.

This statement was delivered to the Renton School District Board of Education on Wednesday, January 28. (see details here.)
As a kindergarten teacher I am an early childhood educator. As a professional I am responsible for their very first experience in our schools – and working with a group larger than their own family. I take the responsibility for making that initial experience in school positive – one where children feel safe and loved, where their individual curiosity, talents, and potential are nurtured – where each child develops a love of learning. Over the years, I learned this gift is what parents value in me as their child’s first teacher. If our parents knew what we were doing to their children in our schools, I think they would be alarmed.

As a special and general education teacher, I love the challenge of finding each child’s strengths and unlocking the key to their challenges, helping them grow socially and academically as whole children. From gifted students who read at a 4th grade level in kindergarten to those who will not learn their letters by the end of the year due to neurological issues that impact their ability to learn – I know they all come to learn something new. As a teacher, I get to know each unique child. Each child comes to me with an empty rice bowl hungry for new and different knowledge. Feeding them all the same standardized diet does harm. Children are neither standard nor common. Why are we taught to differentiate our instruction, yet forced to administer standardized tests? This doesn’t make any sense and isn’t best practice.

I work to give my students joy every day and know that research shows ALL children learn how to learn through play, a well-rounded curriculum with art, music, theater, movement, and games that provide a varied diet for multiple intelligences rather than one-size-fits-all. But now, the agony of this increasing testing has for the first time, moved down to pre-school and kindergarten. Instead of joy and a love for learning, our 5 year olds experience test anxiety and are labeled as failures. How can a 5 year old be labeled as a failure already?
Building, district, and state mandated testing strip our children of the exact experiences they need. In kindergarten almost all testing is done one-on-one, losing valuable instructional time and expecting 5 year olds to work independently and quietly for hours at a time. WA Kids takes hours at the beginning of the year when it is important to develop relationships and establish routines. This is not best practice. Nor are the bubble tests for kindergartners. I was mandated to administer a WELPA bubble test lasting an hour and ½ last year to children just learning English. Several students cried, begging me to stop, saying “Mrs. DuFresne, this is too hard. I want to go home.” I wanted to go home too.

For these reasons, I cannot remain silent.

Teachers constantly use data of a different sort 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 their relationship and classroom based assessments. 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; the moment 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; using the weekly quiz that shows exactly which skill is not quite mastered and leads the teacher to planning a lesson and finding new materials the following day to fill that gap; these are teacher behaviors and they all mean using real data to help kids.

We do NOT need this standardized assessment to measure achievement when it is apparent every single day. A one-day snapshot of a child’s performance is not at all indicative of that child’s overall learning progression. Students one day are at mastery and not the next. This is human. The student who comes to school hungry or sad or is distracted by friendship issues on the 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. I empathize with the kids who know they will fail and cry during the assessment. For those kids, we are the failures for making them endure this.

Diane Ravitch said: “Sometimes, the most brilliant and intelligent minds do not shine on standardized tests because they do not have standardized minds.”

When our leaders raise learning standards and increase testing requirements because students are graduating from high school without skills that businesses need we must remember these leaders are not teachers. [This is a bogus claim and should not be given credence. I am not sure how to fix this. Let’s think about it. ]These leaders seem to have contempt for teaching the whole child when they ignore our cries for support and resources that kids need to be READY to learn. We have cut counselors, nurses, art, music, extracurricular activities, behavior support, classroom aides, field trips, and most of all TIME for teachers to plan good instruction. Instead we have been given MORE duties for data collection, evaluation rubrics, more tests that are not aligned with our curriculum or student’s developmental needs, leadership duties, technology tasks, pacing guides that are literally impossible to follow, error-riddled tests that change often, report cards that do not match standards, new standards without training and a total lack of quality curriculum while our students are needier than ever.

This reality is unconscionable and I cannot remain silent.

I ask others to stand up with me for children and our future.

Thereby,
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 like commodities. This single test will rank and sort children so that labels of failure may be applied and the door will open for takeover of public schools by private interest groups in the name of ‘accountability’.

I object to treating my students like guinea pigs in an experiment that has not produced any real learning gains but will increase drop-out rates, decrease motivation and will increase anxiety disorders leading to what we’ve already seen: increased suicide among teenagers for the incredible pressure they are put under.

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.

I object to the use of Pearson’s set “cut-scores” predicting ⅔ of our kids. These scores will not inform our instruction but will discourage the incredibly hard-working school staff and diminish brave 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 the whole 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 assessment 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 we continue to increase it-often 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 disregarded by accountability ‘experts’ who strive to label students for their own purposes.

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 funding campaigns for candidates who will support SBA testing 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 undemocratic process of adopting SBA and the Common Core State Standards whereby members of society, notably parents and educators, have not been engaged in ethical discourse around the ultimate purpose of public education and whether or not new standards may or may not solve the real problems impacting education.

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.

I object to the unprecedented practice of increased unnecessary testing, standardized testing from Pre-K to grade 12 including the WaKIDs Teaching Strategies GOLD, WELPA, DIBELs, CogAT, STAR, SRI, all high stakes testing, and the latest iteration of No Child Left Behind’s failed policy: the Smarter Balanced Assessment all of which go against my professional conscience.

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 wait to learn “working 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.

Therefore I professionally object to administering the SBA. Our students deserve better. This being said, please select one of the options below. Thank you.

____ Susan DuFresne, Your concerns are noted and valued and you will be allowed to opt out of administering the SBA without any retribution.
OR
____ Susan DuFresne 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.

Author

Anthony Cody
Anthony Cody

Anthony Cody worked in the high poverty schools of Oakland, California, for 24 years, 18 of them as a middle school science teacher. He was one of the organizers of the Save Our Schools March in Washington, DC in 2011 and he is a founding member of The Network for Public Education. A graduate of UC Berkeley and San Jose State University, he now lives in Mendocino County, California.

Comments

  1. karyn    

    Good for you! #StooCommonCore

  2. chemtchr    

    Thank you for putting this out, Susan. I’m looking for ways to apply the strategy in my own state, where the PARCC has been made optional this spring. My district has chosen to administer it. The tactical opt-out issues are shifting kaleidoscopically everywhere.

    So, I have a raft of questions you guys might follow up on, in a companion article. Is the full grade 3-8 and 11 SBAC assessment schedule still on in Washington State? Are any of the teachers in your group directly in the line of fire? Does your union have a plan to support them if they refuse, or counsel parents of vulnerable students that they can pull the students out of the test?

    Like Washington State, we have an assortment of online interim assessments and supplemental test-prep curricula which districts can mandate as part of their own accountability plan. Our EDWIN state data and assessment for individual students is set up for direct two-way student contact, and runs through an out-of-state contractor (Thinkgate). We also have seemingly redundant direct student assessment capacity and test-prep curricula direct from Pearson, apparently synchronized with Power School. The systems can push interim assessments directly to students on our rosters, and feed the student responses directly back to the corporate contractor.

    So, fields can be set up all the way to early childhood, to directly enter all the assessment data you’re mandated to collect on your little ones.

    I’m wondering if you’ve had any contact with your system yet, as a kindergarten teacher?
    http://www.k12.wa.us/smarter/

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