Thursday, November 10, 2011

Open Letter to Legislators

The following is a letter that I recently sent to a state legislator.  I believe the sentiments are applicable to many locations and not just Pennsylvania, so I am publishing it as an open letter here.  Individual names have been eliminated from this version.

Dear Legislator,

Thank you for your e-mail keeping me updated on the status of the current legislation and your views.  I appreciate that you are looking at the legislation from many different points of view and that you have seen some of the ways vouchers will hurt the students in our district.

I would like to share the point of view of a classroom teacher with you, however.  I enjoy debating politics as much as anyone else, but I assure you the following sentiments are based on what I have come to understand as a teacher who is committed to inspiring my students to develop the attributes they will need to succeed in life.  These comments are not motivated by a desire to protect teaching jobs, or any other union agenda.  They are simply what I believe is best for students.

Any legislation using standardized test data in a punitive way will have a negative effect on students.  This includes legislation that allows students to use vouchers to transfer from "failing schools."  Even though there are no such schools in our district does not mean that students here will be immune from the detriments of such a law.  Administrators, teachers, and students will still face pressure to "pass" tests that do not focus on 21st century skills our students need.  Those skills will continue to be ignored, and our students will continue to graduate unprepared for the world into which we are sending them.

In the past decade we've seen a great change in the world.  As the internet has evolved, computers have become ubiquitous, and portable devices have become more prevalent, information has become easy to obtain instantaneously.  Preparing students for this world in the same way we prepared them before it is negligent and harmful.

I have also seen a change in my students.  They are increasingly unable to think critically.  They are less creative.  They are less comfortable working with others to complete tasks.  I believe the majority of teachers would agree with these observations.

For those of us working directly with students, it's easy to see the correlation between the above statements and the increased focus on standardized test scores.  I am not writing this because I am forced to teach to the test.  I am not.  I choose not to.  I choose to teach my students to learn 21st century skills like collaboration, innovation, critical thinking, and digital communication.  Most teachers are not as fortunate as I am.  They either lack the support of administration or lack the confidence to take a leap of faith.  In either case, good teaching is prevented by fear of a test that provides data which cannot be used to guide the teaching of students until months after the test is taken.

I am a huge proponent of data-driven assessment.  The assessments and data must be much more immediate than that which we get from standardized tests to have any impact on student learning.  Data must be collected within lessons and days.  There is much research to support this.

Just because data is easy to collect and organize does not make it the best data to use.  Standardized tests were put in to place to benefit many people.  Students were not among them.  Anyone who believes otherwise has either not spent enough time working with students or has a political agenda.  It is time we focused on what's best for students in education.  Any reform that doesn't is destined for failure.

Thank you for your attention and for your consideration of the above ideas.

Best Regards,
Michael A. Soskil
5th Grade Teacher

1 comment:

  1. My Wisconsin legislators (and Governor) need to read this.