Welcome, Sheriff Zylak

Newly elected St. Mary's County Sheriff David Zylak, I feel, will lead St. Mary's County in the right direction. I have a lot of confidence in Mr. Zylak. Zylak brings a wealth of experience to the sheriff's office regardless of party, either Republican or Democrat. We need to make St. Mary's County a safer place to live and work.

Congratulations, sheriff, and welcome. I myself feel I have reached my Venus with politics, but I still do my share in the community. Mr. Zylak will do the same.

William R. Dexter Jr.


Let the Teachers Teach

Before we enter the next phase of the assessment cycle (the new Maryland School Assessment/High School Assessments) consider this: The Calvert Educators Association and the taxpayers of Calvert County deem the men and women who teach and work in the Calvert County public schools to be well-trained professionals deserving of high wages, good working conditions and respect from the community. I do not disagree with that; however, I have to admit that I do not believe that state officials share this opinion of Maryland's educators.

Why else would they be second guessing the professional judgment of our teachers to determine who has or has not accrued the knowledge to "pass" on to the next level or graduate? Why else would they stifle creativity by micromanaging our classrooms to the point that some teachers are reading from a script everyday -- even down to the point that every teacher in a particular grade is reading the same word from the same script at the same moment everyday (direct instruction)? Why does the state believe it needs to mandate state-generated content standards and assessments to measure "performance"? Don't they trust education officials on the local level to do their jobs? Didn't these same men and women pay to attend college, graduate school, take administrative courses, continuing education classes and endless hours of professional development in order to pass the teacher's exam and maintain their state certification?

I do not believe that the schools in the state of Maryland are in as bad a shape as the Maryland State Department of Education claims them to be. First and foremost, the MSDE cannot and/or will not produce any concrete proof to back up their claims of failing schools. Up until this year, the MSDE relied on Maryland School Performance Program (MSPP) and Maryland School Performance Assessment Program (MSPAP) to "rank" schools -- a ranking system that was and still is sequestered by state law. Schools received MSPAP scores and MSPAP report cards via a data tape, no scored MSPAP booklets were ever returned to this or any other county, therefore scores assigned to individual schools cannot be documented. Schools simply had to "trust" that the MSDE, CTB/McGraw-Hill and Measurement Inc. had made no mistakes in scoring, recording scores or had not manipulated scores for their own benefit. In short, local schools had no way of proving that the scores they received actually belonged to their students. And the same is true of the recently "released" High School Assessment scores.

Imagine having to work under these conditions, with your job on the line if your "team" didn't measure up to some unknown performance standard based upon constantly changing phantom criteria:

* State content standards that change annually.

* Not knowing which version of the assessment the state was going to throw at your students.

* Being forced to "teach to a test" that by state law you can't see.

* Being barred by state law from reviewing your students' scored assessment booklets to determine strengths and/or weaknesses.

* Having to sign a nondisclosure form (with threat of prosecution) just to proctor the assessment.

* Being forced to drill and drill MSPAP practice tasks until your students dropped from boredom.

* Students so nervous about the assessment that they "puke all over your high stakes test."

* Constantly working under the threat of reconstitution.

* Knowing that you and your colleagues could be transferred or fired based on undocumentable scores from La La Land.

* Working in the blind because the MSDE won't communicate with local systems.

* Trying to decipher vague, ambiguous "white papers" from the MSDE.

* Living in fear that we fall in ranking from No. 2 to dead last without explanation but with all the consequences.

* Having your students' assessments scored by the North Carolina-based Measurement Inc., which accepts a 70 percent accuracy rate from its $8-an-hour temporary help hired to score your child's assessment; and that's just fine and dandy with the state.

* Knowing that you will be fired if you speak out against the system.

* And the biggie, not being free to do what you love to do: teach.

Losing my First Amendment rights would be enough for me to run away from a teaching career singing like a canary. I don't know how much longer our teachers will be able to sit back and quietly take this kind of abuse from the state. If you think MSPAP was bad, the High School Assessments are right around the corner, with mandatory remediation (once again without the privilege of reviewing the scored assessment) necessitating year-round school with mandatory summer school to handle the multitude of students forced into remediation (kiss those family summer vacations goodbye). Honor roll students being denied diplomas, scholarships and college admissions because some temporary employee at some remote scoring agency claims the student failed one of the 12 assessments even though they earned an A in the class; soaring dropout rates . . . and plummeting property values -- are but just a few "outcomes" we can expect as a result of these high stakes assessments.

Impossible you say? Well, go to Massachusetts and ask those 12,000 "remediated" seniors who won't be graduating this spring if this is possible or not! When I sit back and look at the big picture, all I see are higher taxes, nosediving property values, stagnated economic development and mission impossible for even the world's most dedicated teacher. Smells like a setup to me.

Patricia Brady Dennis

Chesapeake Beach