An Open Letter To School Superintendents

Why aren't more Superintendents doing this? 

There is a Twitter account that some of my "friends" have created called @grandpasammy. It was created because I have a tendency to rant on my many Voxer threads about the current state of education. I just call them like I see them. I have taught over a decade in Title I schools, as well as a district that had enough money to go 1:1 iPads. I never made over fifty thousand dollars a year until my 18th year of teaching, and even that was an extended contract. That didn't matter to me, I became a teacher because I felt like I was contributing to the greater good. There is always one question in my years of teaching that could never figure out: 

What can I do to change the state of high stakes standardized testing?

I can't do it alone. I really don't know too many teachers who are fond of high stakes testing. Why are we not banding together and fighting the system, which we KNOW is obviously flawed? How can I do this without seeming like a grouchy old man shouting at the kids to get off my lawn? 

I think there is one simple answer: Leadership

I was inspired when I found a letter written by the Superintendent of Hudson ISD today. 

This post was written by Mary Ann Whiteker, you can find her at @mwhiteker on Twitter. I think we should all support her, or tweet at her today for taking a bold stance. I don't think many Superintendents would have the courage to post this on their district website. Any Superintendents out there who agree with Mary Ann, I encourage you to post a letter on your district website as well. Here is the post in it's entirety: 

HISD has embraced a "New Vision" for the district. This vision will focus on 5 key goals: 

  1. digital learning
  2. 21st century learning standards (academic and career)
  3. multiple forms of assessment 
  4. accountability that is not focused on one state test
  5. transforming our school into a 21st century learning organization 

"We will no longer purchase banners or plaques that imply we are a state recognized or exemplary campus based on one state mandated test!  Parents will not see STAAR worksheets or test preparation materials.  Teachers will not be referencing the tests in their classrooms. Rigor, purpose, interest, talent, creativity, problem solving, innovation, real-world application, digital access, collaboration will transform classrooms into centers that promote students owning their learning rather than learning for a test!

What about “the test”?  It has not disappeared, it is now on steroids!  During the 82nd Legislative Session, the state assessment system, TAKS, was retired and STAAR was born for grades 3-8.   STAAR is elevated to 15 End-of-Course (EOC) exams for high school students, with 15% of the test score impacting the student’s course grade.  These new tests are not basic knowledge skills tests.  They are designed to measure college readiness for all students.  Ironically, colleges and universities never consider these tests as part of the admissions requirements.  Colleges, as well as the business community, continue to report our students are not prepared to enter either pathway.  Students are lacking work ethics, technical skills, problem solving, collaboration, inquiry skills, research, etc.  Why is the state increasing the focus on this state test when the past reflects the tests were not preparing our students for the future?

Sadly, these tests have become punitive instruments to evaluate teachers, campuses, districts without consideration of available resources, children’s interests or talents, the impact of poverty on closing academic gaps and the real world demands critical to the nation’s economy. Campuses and districts have been designated as low performing based on the performance of one sub-group on one test (math, reading, science, writing, OR social studies) in one grade level. That same sub-group could have performed extremely well in another subject area in that same grade, having no impact on the campus/district rating. All other sub-groups in other grades could have achieved exemplary performance, yet the campus would retain the rating of that “weakest link”!  Voucher legislation that will be proposed during the next legislative session will be greatly influenced by the misrepresentation of these tests and ratings on our schools. 

Hudson ISD will continue to expect students to meet the state standards; however, the state assessment will no longer drive our curriculum or instruction.  We have not lowered our student expectations; we have changed the focus, a quality education for the 21st century.  We are asking the community to support this new direction.  The quality of our schools should be based on the many varied accomplishments of our students and the exemplary programs provided by our exemplary staff, not a state accountability rating based on state assessments administered prior to the end of the school year.   Our accountability should be determined by our local communities, not the state or federal government.  Our vision has become the HISD mission - to “foster a community of life-long learners by providing an environment that builds self-worth, integrity, and respect for diversity while striving for academic and social excellence!”

Mary Ann Whiteker - Superintendent Hudson ISD - mwhiteker@hudsonisd.org

Kudos to you, Mary Ann Whiteker, I applaud your courage to draw the line in the sand. For the link to the original post, click here