In this April 18, 2013, file photo, Burgess-Peterson Elementary School principal Robin Robbins, center, meets with students during an after-school study program in Atlanta, in preparation for state standardized testing. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

Susan Barber has been teaching for the last seven years at Northgate High School in Coweta County, Georgia. In the following compelling open letter to new Georgia state School Superintendent Richard Woods, Barber lays out how standardized testing has affected teachers and students in her school, and asks that he find ways to give teachers more instructional time and reduce pressure to “teach to a test.” Her first paragraph refers to a letter that Woods wrote to Education Secretary Arne Duncan, which is published in the post below this one. Barber’s open letter to Woods, which I am publishing with her permission, appeared on her blog, Teach With Class.

 

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, U.S. 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. Talk to my students. Talk to me.

If I am going to be measured on how well my students read and write, I need more time to teach them 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.

Susan Barber

English Department Chair

Northgate High School


(Correction: An earlier version had some misspellings in the introduction. It is now correct.)