As a longtime subscriber to The Tribune, I often admire your editorial perspectives. However, the Aug. 31 perspective piece written by the San Jose Mercury News (based on a Los Angeles Times decision to publish test scores alongside teachers’ names) supports more data-driven teacher evaluations (“Parents deserve info on teachers, schools”).
Despite how fair this sharing of information may appear, “value-added analysis” data does not consider class size, the level of individual students (special education, English language learners, autistic or honors) or other factors that may influence how well students perform on a high-stakes test.
Nevertheless, some politicians, mega-rich corporations and others want a quick, easy way to measure teachers’ effectiveness in the classroom. Fortunately, teachers don’t teach only what is on the test. Otherwise, our children wouldn’t learn skills or joys associated with music, drama, good speaking, history, science, tolerance or citizenship.
If we are serious about improving education for our students, we should stop relying only on standardized tests. Instead, we need to make sure our students have state-of-the-art facilities, top-notch teachers, small class sizes and effective administrators who work closely with teachers and parents.
We need a public that refuses to allow politicians to play “politics” with voter-approved educational funding meant to benefit our students. It is no coincidence that the wealthiest districts in our nation earn the highest scores. Students do not learn well when they are scared, hungry or tired.
Teachers, counselors and support staff wear many hats to help ensure every child’s needs are met. Yet, these are often the same people who are blamed when certain (data-driven) standards are not met.
We need a curriculum that is not imposed by test-makers only concerned with math and English. We need to offer our students much more than high-stakes tests that do not measure the most essential goals we hold sacred in education.
Of course, we need our children to be able to read, write and numerate well, however, we also want them to think for themselves, be good citizens, have good character and be able to experience the wonders of art in all of its various mediums.
We want our students to understand their own history and culture and appreciate and respect other cultures. We want them to learn about health and how to take care of their bodies. We want them to engage in critical thinking that will fortify their skills at solving problems they will face in the future, not just the next test.
We want them to laugh and be engaged while they learn science and math and not be dragged down in the drudgery of memorizing facts, completing work sheets, repetitive homework or test preparation. We need to be in control of the testing, not allow the testing to drive our teaching.
To enact such a vision, we need to work together. We need our educational professionals to work with parents and the community in a collaborative effort to meet the needs of all our students.
Diane Ravitch explains in her book, “The Death and Life of the Great American School System,” how mistaken policies are corrupting educational values. She explains how we need to embrace a national curriculum that proves its excellence in the classroom.
The editorial agrees with United States Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s assertion that the No. 1 factor in student success is the teacher. I agree. Teacher unions agree. However, to measure teachers’ effectiveness by the results of one test disrespects all teachers and threatens their ability to be free to teach to the whole child.
After all, do parents want their children to grow up to just be good little test-takers? I don’t think so. Most parents want their children coming home from school excited about what they learned and where they are going next. Children who love to learn grow up into adults who become lifelong learners.
Parents also want teachers who care about their children. Parents hope for the kind of teachers who find a way to individualize the learning so it sticks with each and every child. We need to foster, create and, yes, demand an environment where teachers and students can be successful.
Weak teachers need to be retrained or fired and administrators need to follow a process and see that this done. Teacher unions do not want to see weak teachers on the job because it dilutes the hard work of everyone else. Weak administrators who can’t do their jobs need to be retrained or fired, too. School boards and superintendents play a key role in this area.
Finally, most parents want teachers who realize that students don’t care how much the teacher knows until they know how much the teacher cares. Once that ingredient is applied, a student’s learning transcends anything that can ever be measured on a bubble-in test.
Bruce Badrigian is in his 32nd year of teaching English at Morro Bay High School. He is currently teaching part time at Cuesta College and taught for five years for the University of La Verne. He is in his fourth year serving as president of the San Luis Coastal Teachers’ Association.