Letter to Superintendent Woods

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Dear Superintendent Woods,

Welcome to your new job. I cannot imagine being in this position at this time, but you have stepped up to take the lead in Georgia’s education system. I was highly encouraged to read your letter to Arne Duncan, Secretary of Education, explaining your concerns with today’s standardized testing crisis. While you have studied and spoken with multiple teachers and administrators, I would like to share how standardized testing affects my students, my school, and me.

I have been teaching in Georgia at Northgate High School for the past seven years primarily instructing juniors and seniors from remedial classes to AP. I love students, and I love teaching. I want to be a teacher who is “part of the solution and not part of the problem” which is harder and harder to do in education today. While I have little control over decisions on a large scale, my mind is continually thinking on and dreaming of ways to make my classroom, and our system, better. I believe the greatest and most under tapped resource in Georgia’s education system today is Georgia teachers, but the good teachers are starting to leave.

I have three degrees, two at the graduate level, but my performance, training, and knowledge is almost always assessed through my students’ standardized tests scores or through a teacher evaluation system which is seriously flawed. While I am committed to the standards on which we are measured, a quick stop in my room by an administrator who is also overworked and held to absurd standards is not how I want to be assessed. Come to my room anytime to see what we are learning and doing, but please take time to do more than check off the requirements I am meeting. My classroom experience is far bigger than a checklist.

If I am going to be measured on how well my students read and write, I need more time to teach them how to read and write. Some days I feel I spend more time getting my plans properly formatted, administering standardized tests, and going to professional development meetings on the state evaluation system or Georgia Milestone than I do teaching. These things are needed and necessary, but when they interfere with my ability and time to teach, there is a serious problem. Please protect my instructional time. I want to teach my students. My students need me to teach them. Please protect our administrators’ time by allowing them to be about the business of curriculum planning, strategic and long-term goal setting, and spending quality time with teachers and students.

In addition to instructional time being used for testing, the amount of money devoted to testing is mind boggling. Almost $108 million has been designated for the Georgia Milestone assessment. As department chair at my high school, every year I have to tell my team that we will once again not get new textbooks. We have been through three adoption cycles now without new books. I beg that state money will be funneled to where it is most needed – students. Students do not directly benefit from testing, yet that is where the money goes. I understand this is a complex issue with federal and state requirements to be fulfilled, but our students are suffering while political gains are being made. We must put a stop to this.

Testing does offer some advantages. I am not a proponent of throwing out tests all together. Schools should be held accountable on student learning as well as teacher instruction, but we have swung so far to one side that there is no longer balance in the system. Testing does not measure a student’s growth in his or her love for learning or the development of grit. Testing does not measure a student’s thought process or style of writing. Testing does not measure the ability to apply knowledge or creative problem solving. I would like to think that these are some of the most important skills students learn in school today, yet they count for nothing in regard to my evaluation or my school’s performance.

The system today is defined by terms such as CCSS, TKES, LKES, CCRPI, GHSGT, GAPS, SACS, CRCT, GMAS, SGAs, SLOs, yet all I want to do is teach SCHOOL. Give me and my colleagues the freedom to do what we are trained to do and what we love doing. I voted for you and am now looking to you to be a sensible leader who will not play political games but will advocate for students and teachers.

Please let me know if there is anything I can do to be of service to your office as I desire to work alongside others who want to make Georgia education the best it can be. Thank you for your time and commitment to education.

Susan Barber

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25 responses to “Letter to Superintendent Woods

  1. I concur. Teachers need to be able to use their talents to teach Georgia ‘s children. We are doing them a disservice if all they understand about education is testing.

  2. Thank you for taking the time to articulate what so many of us think and feel. As a parent with children in 6th, 5th and Kindergarten I am baffled at how our educational system nation-wide hasn’t figured out how to teach and inspire our students in a consistent manner that only modifies itself as new information becomes available vs. every other year when a new and improved teaching methodologies is instituted.

    We have been teaching kids in some capacity since nearly the dawn of time, why hasn’t our national education leaders figured this out yet? Let our teachers find a rhythm to what they are teaching by not changing the curriculum every two years, give them the resources to reinforce what they are teaching (aka actual text books), pay them handsomely as they are molding our country’s future workforce and leaders, weed out those teachers that are clearly just there collecting a paycheck, and reward teachers for creating dynamic learning environments for their students. Do this and I would imagine higher test scores would be a natural by-product.

    What does it take to make change in our educational system? An uprising of parents perhaps????

    Kudos to you Ms. Barber, you sound like an amazing teacher and it shows in the love and admiration of your students. Keep up the great work!

    • I do think teachers and parents need to start taking a stand and saying enough. The problem is the politicians, people who make our policy. They are using students and teachers as pawns to make political plays which is just wrong. Testing companies are also a big business, and economic gain currently drives a lot of decisions in education. The public needs to say, “No More” so we can get back to teaching! Thanks for your support! If we all voice our opinions, we can make a difference.

  3. As veterans leave it will also be difficult to encourage new teachers to enter the field as we change pay structures, discontinue paying for advanced degrees, change the pension plan via GA HB 152, penalize teachers with wep and gpo and the continued failure of the federal government to pass the social security fairness act. We need a bigger voice.

    • Attracting quality new teachers is going to be a problem in the very near future with many of the proposed changes. Not only do teachers need a bigger voice, students do as well. Decisions must be made with them in mind!

  4. Just a thought. Go on Zillow in Dougherty County, Ga. It’s a real estate site. Scroll down under several listings until you see the ratings for the schools for that particular district. Tell me why, with all the money spent on education, that the high schools in this area have a 1-3 (poor) rating on a 1- 10 scale. If I owned a corporation or a huge business and was looking for a location, I would NEVER consider having my employees children to enroll in this system. It is atrocious! It’s like the children are housed until they become adults or go to jail.

    • It’s sad to me that in what I consider to be the greatest country with so many resources at our disposal that any of our public schools receive this kind of score. Our students deserve better!

  5. Ms. Barber,

    I do not live in Georgia, nor do my three children attend public school (personal choice even though we live in one of the best districts in Missouri), and I cannot say that I am familiar with the various federal/state standards for education. However, I do know that a one size fits all approach cannot be a viable solution when it comes to teaching our children. Additionally, nowhere in the private sector would a company stay successful if their board of directors, in this case the politicians, had little to no industry knowledge and experience. Yet these individuals, collectively, are able to decide on the direction, requirements, standards, and process for evaluation without ever needing to properly investigate and understand the issues and challenges our schools face. Instead, many of them rely on personal beliefs, lobbyists, and how to use the situation to their advantage when it comes time to enacting changes. I am not saying that all politicians have malicious intent, yet too often those with the insight, knowledge, and desire to seek improvement are drowned out in all the noise.

    Kudos to you for writing a well thought out letter in which you seem to be asking for something as simple as a seat at the table when changes are discussed and decisions are made. What a radical concept these days.

    Regards,
    John Hussey

    • Thanks, John! Yes, a seat at the table would be nice. I don’t have all of the answers, but all sides should be represented when the questions are being asked.

  6. Pingback: A Teacher’s Letter to Her New Superintendent | Actualization·

  7. I just saw your letter on the Washington Post website. I am so proud of you! Thanks for so eloquently working what many of would like to say.
    Keep up the great work! You’re making a difference (:

  8. Privatize the education system in America. If that is too big of political mess, at least let the parents decide where to send their children to school. Let the money follow the child. The failing schools/teachers will weed themselves out and the accomplished schools/teachers would rise. Private schools do not have the problems public schools have. Ever wonder why?

    • Private schools do not have many of these problems, but many parents do not have that option. Every child deserves the right to a quality education, and our country should be able to figure this out.

    • Private schools do not have the “problems” public schools have because they are not subjected to these ridiculous testing standards! That’s right, private school students do not have to take the tests here. Here in Ohio, private schools’ teachers do not even have to be credentialed with a teaching license as is do in public school. There is something very wrong with that.

      • Private schools also are not forced to take every child. If there is a behavior problem and it isn’t addressed and fixed, they are sent to public schools to disrupt the masses. I truly think we need to rethink how we handle special Ed students of all kinds.

  9. Yes, yes, yes, and yes! You have hit the nail on the head with much of what has made me decide to leave teaching after 17 years for lower-paying (can you believe it??) but MUCH less stressful and more realistic job in higher education technology.
    I actually found out today that the county SLO that I was required to give this past year (but had no part in developing!) had only a 22% meets/exceeds growth rate for all 6 teachers in the county that gave it to over 200 students, leaving us all with a Level 1 for student growth percentiles. I complained about the test as soon as I gave it, but was told it was a “valid test that met the state standards,” which it was not- they have since seen the data, the light of day, and I am now getting paid to revise that assessment this summer. The horrific part is, if I were to stay in teaching and be evaluated by TKES next year (where the student data lags a year), even if my evaluator gave me the highest rating (level IV), the highest rating I could get is “Needs Improvement” because of this completely invalid test that I was forced to give. They’re lucky that I’m not sticking around for another year, and that there isn’t merit pay tied to it- otherwise, I’m pretty sure I’d file a lawsuit…

    • I am sad to hear that you are leaving but honestly understand the frustration. So much of our time is not devoted to teaching. This past year I taught two repeater 11th classes where I was “evaluated” by several students who had averages of less than 50%. Some of these kids just come to school to sell drugs – no interest in education – but they weigh in on me as a teacher. I suppose a great teacher should be able to motivate every student in his or her class, but I am just trying to keep up with the few who are behind grade level and want to learn and play the testing game.
      I also am going in on Monday to “revise” a SLO which is flawed.
      Lawsuits are going to be epidemic in education if this system remains in place.
      Best of luck to you in high ed!!

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