(Update: Statement from superintendent of district in which teacher works has been added)
Teachers are increasingly speaking up about the onslaught of standardized tests that students in all grades — including kindergarten — are required to take in public schools today. Some are refusing to administer the tests, which can result in a teacher being dismissed for a breach of contract. Here is a letter that a Florida kindergarten teacher, Susan Bowles of Lawton Chiles Elementary School in Gainesville, Florida, posted on Facebook to the parents of the students in her class, detailing the tests she is expected to give to 5-year-olds and problems that have developed in administering the tests. She also explains why she will no longer give the Florida Assessments for Instruction in Reading, or FAIR, tests to her students anymore – even if it cost her her job. She gave me permission to publish it.)
Bowles is getting a lot of support on Facebook. The Gainesville Sun reported that “Alachua County Public Schools administrators, the School Board, the teachers union and hundreds of parents and other teachers have expressed support on social media for Bowles.”
To the parents of the boys and girls in my class,
I wrote you a letter over the weekend to let you know that I am refusing to administer the FAIR test [Florida Assessments for Instruction in Reading] to your precious little ones. I had hoped to send you an email or letter, but it would not be professional of me or allowed by the district for a letter to go out letting you know that I am doing something that is a breach of contract and therefore against the law. I want you to know that for the 26 years I have been a classroom teacher, I have been a good employee, and have always complied with my superiors. I also want you to know that this is not in any way being done because our principal or superintendent are mandating these tests. This is a government issue. So this decision does not involve anyone I work for. It is an act of civil disobedience.
I am hoping for government change in policy regarding testing.
Here is the letter I comprised:
September 7, 2014
I need to inform you of a professional decision I have made which may impact your child this year. I have decided to refuse to administer the FAIR test to my students. As you might be aware, there is a lot of testing that goes on these days. Some information of which you may not be aware is how much instructional time is lost because of all the testing. You also might not have knowledge of how many assessments are required.
These are the assessments given in kindergarten:
• Beginning of the year assessments given by classroom teachers to determine their knowledge of letters, sounds, phonemic awareness, sight words, number recognition and number sense. These are tests that all good Kindergarten teachers give. It is useful information for us to use in planning for instruction and in pulling small groups for instruction. Usually at this time of year at Chiles, we would have children in their reading groups. This year we have assessments mandated by the state which are so time consuming, it will be weeks before we can instruct.
• Baseline reading test from the Reading Street series (the county adopted reading program for elementary schools).
• FLKRS assessment [Florida Kindergarten Readiness Screener]– In the past this has been a checklist for determining how effective VPK (Voluntary Pre-Kindergarten education program) is. This year we were told to take anecdotal records by observing 45 performance indicators across five developmental areas. This is to be completed within the first 30 days of school. The demographics portion of this assessment is available online for teachers. The WSS (Work Sampling System) part where we enter data on the 45 performance indicators is not yet available. Monday will be the 15th day of school. Presumably they will have it up and running before day 30.
• FAIR testing – We have given the FAIR assessment in the past but this year it was revamped. It does provide useful information, but nothing significantly superior to what a typical kindergarten teacher would observe in her students. This year, it is more time consuming and more difficult. Kindergartners are required to take it on the computer using a mouse. (While testing a child last week, she double-clicked which skipped a screen. This little girl double-clicked three times and triple-clicked once. There is no way for the teacher to go back. Neither is there a way for the school administrator to go back and make a correction.) While we were told it takes about 35 minutes to administer, we are finding that in actuality, it is taking between 35-60 minutes per child. This assessment is given one on one. It is recommended that both teacher and child wear headphones during this test. There is no provision from the state for money for additional staff to help with the other children in the classroom while this testing is going on. If you estimate that it takes approximately 45 minutes per child to give this test and we have 18 students, the time it takes to give this test is 13 ½ instructional hours. If you look at the schedule, a rough estimate would be that it requires about one full week of instructional time to test all of the children. Our kindergarten teachers have been brainstorming ways to test and still instruct. The best option we have come up with is for teachers to pair up, with one teacher instructing two classes while the other teacher tests one-on-one. So now we are looking at approximately two weeks of true instructional time lost, because we cannot teach our curriculum, pulling small groups and targeting each child’s educational needs. FAIR testing is done three times a year.
*THIS IS THE TESTING I AM REFUSING TO DO. I KNOW I MAY BE IN BREACH OF MY CONTRACT BY NOT ADMINISTERING THIS TEST. I CANNOT IN GOOD CONSCIENCE SUBMIT TO ADMINISTERING THIS TEST THREE TIMES A YEAR, LOSING SIX WEEKS OF INSTRUCTION. THERE IS A GOOD POSSIBILITY I WILL BE FIRED.
• Discovery Education tests. These are given four times a year.
• Chapter assessments in math, which give us information regarding how well the children have mastered the material.
• Math benchmark tests – There are three of these.
• Reading unit tests
• Beginning this year, end of course tests are required of all students K-12. These subjects will be tested on in kindergarten: reading, math, social studies, science, music, art and physical education.
I think you can see this is not only a lot to ask of five year olds, it is also taking away hours and hours of instructional time. I am not opposed to assessments, and am for accountability in schools. But enough is enough. I keep asking, when will the insanity stop? When will someone speak up? God has put it on my heart that I am to take a stand. This means I may be giving up my beloved profession. I may lose the chance to delight in seeing the excitement and joy that comes from meaningful learning. I will no longer be able to say, when speaking of salary, “I’m rich in hugs.”
I especially want to apologize to each and every one of you, for the disruption this may cause your dear children if I am replaced by a teacher willing to submit to giving these tests. Even though I have only been their teacher for a short time, they have captured my heart. When asked about my job, I have always told people I have the best job in the world. Words cannot express the depth of sadness I feel in possibly giving it up.
Thank you for reading such a lengthy letter.
Here is a statement from Owen Roberts, superintendent of Alachua County Public Schools, regarding Susan Bowles and FAIR testing:
With all of the recent media attention surrounding the decision by local teacher Mrs. Susan Bowles not to give the state-mandated FAIR test to her students, I wanted to ensure that parents, teachers and other citizens understand the district’s position on this issue.
I have met personally with Mrs. Bowles, and the district has heard from parents praising her as an excellent teacher. I certainly appreciate her concerns regarding FAIR testing. I have said clearly and publicly that I believe there is too much standardized testing here in Florida, and that much of it doesn’t offer a significant educational benefit for children.
However, Florida law requires that all kindergarten students take the FAIR test during the first 30 days of school. Until the law changes, the district is obligated to administer the test.
That being said, I am very concerned about the current technical issues with the FAIR test, which is given online. They cropped up a few days ago, and as of Thursday morning, we had yet to receive official notice from the state that they have been resolved. Those issues are making an already difficult situation for teachers and students even worse.
I know many parents and others have questions about Mrs. Bowles’ status, which at this point has not changed. The district is reviewing this situation, and while that review is underway, Florida law says that we are not allowed to discuss it. But I certainly appreciate the concern that has been expressed on behalf of Mrs. Bowles, and I know she does as well.
In the meantime, I would encourage anyone who has issues with the FAIR test in particular or testing in general to contact their local legislators and other state leaders. This School Board has shared its concerns with those leaders for the past several years, as have I. However, they also need to hear from parents and other citizens about this very important issue.