Friday, May 8, 2015

A Letter To The Oklahoma House of Representatives...

I am a third grade teacher at a Title-1 School and the parent of a third grader.  I ask that you take time to think about how families and students in our state will be best represented.  Is taking a parent’s voice away, silencing a teacher, or treating a third grader like a test score the best way to represent and serve them?

I’m not sure what the house is thinking, but this testing stuff is madness! I know people like to think that teachers aren’t doing their jobs..and if we were we wouldn’t be afraid of how our students would score on the test.  Let me tell you a little bit about my students.  I have more than one student who has been diagnosed with ADHD (and it’s the real deal, not a made up excuse for bad behavior), another student who was diagnosed with autism just this year, a boy who is very smart but spends most of his time worrying if his mother is going to be in or out of jail, a girl who lives with her aunt because her mom just got out of jail and hasn’t been able to find a job, at least 2 students who speak fluent Spanish and while their English is good they have limited understanding of certain vocabulary.  I could go on, but you get the picture.  Imagine yourself in their shoes…is it possible that you might have a bad day, a day when you just can’t focus…is it possible that maybe some of these kids just aren’t test takers? Do we really need to base their future on one test? Yes, there are exemptions but those exemptions don’t always apply. Currently a student on an IEP can be retained if they score unsatisfactory, but at least under the current law there are certain exemptions that apply; such as benchmarking on DIBELS Testing, or a team/committee decision…under SB 630 the committee will go away and to my knowledge the second form of testing might go away as well.  These kids deserve better, they are individuals with individual needs.

In the days leading up to the test I asked my students to write about how they were feeling about the test and also asked them to tell me about anything that might keep them from doing their best on the test.  Some of my students felt confident and prepared, but many were fearful of failing, one student wrote that they would kill themselves if they didn’t pass (I spoke with the student before and after the test and they are feeling better about things, but the fact that a 3rd grader would have these thought even for a minute is unacceptable).  One boy wrote “I can’t concentrate because my parents are getting a divorce”, another student was worried about his brother who was in the hospital because of a domestic dispute with his girlfriend.  I could go on, but thinking about those letters makes me sick. 

I’m not sure that legislators understand what they are doing to education.  These laws are causing many to view students as test scores, this makes me physically ill, but I see how it happens.  Schools are judged on test performance, and many teachers and administrators don’t want to be associated with low performing students or schools.  Most people would agree that “teaching to the test” is not appropriate, but making everything hinge on one test is in direct conflict with that belief.  

The test is a waste!! I don’t know how to explain to you the amount of time that is wasted preparing for and taking the state test.  As soon as students start 3rd grade (at Title 1 schools) we begin targeting students who will need extra help to pass the test.  After Christmas we begin hard core test prep and the closer the test comes it intensifies. We spend 2 mornings a week, for 2 weeks testing…and that’s just 3rd grade.  If you take into account all testing grades and the time it takes to test students on IEP’s and makeup tests…my school has been testing for a month.  When one grade is testing it affects the schedule of the entire school, students are required to eat lunch in silence so that none of the testing grades are disturbed…It’s insane!

I’m sure you’re aware that there is a teacher shortage and yes part of it is the fact that teachers don’t get paid enough (but I won’t even go there); there are teachers leaving  the profession because they can’t stomach what has happened to public education.  If you look at the elementary job postings the majority are for testing grades.  Teachers aren’t lazy, they want to teach kids, they want to do what’s right for kids, and they know that all of this testing is WRONG!!  There are teachers who are afraid to teach 3rd grade at a Title-1 School, because they’re afraid of how low test scores will reflect on them as a teacher.  If we want the best teachers to teach at Title-1 Schools, we have to stop penalizing them and their students!!!

For the record, I care about my students way more than I care about their test score.  Their test score matters to me, because I know it will affect them…and the way things are going with SB 630 it will affect them even more next year.  Mess with me if you must…but don’t mess with kids!! I am currently debating whether I can continue teaching 3rd grade, not because I don’t love 3rd graders, but because I don’t believe in what I have to do because of the test. 

It is with great conviction that I ask you to give parents, teachers, and administrators a voice. Say no to SB 630.

Jennifer Seitsinger

3rd Grade Teacher 

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