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KATHY KORTE AND JENNIFER PROSEUS: Standardized testing takes away valuable classroom learning

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As mothers helping to lead the fight against harmful policies inflicted on our children in New Mexico and Tennessee, we felt compelled to respond to a July 24 opinion piece written by education leaders Hanna Skandera and Kevin Huffman that appeared in the Washington Post.

In classrooms across New Mexico and Tennessee, standardized tests are taking away valuable classroom learning. Of the 174 days our children attend school in New Mexico, 76 of those days are impacted by some standardized test or another. In Tennessee, teachers estimate that at least 1/3 of the year is devoted to testing or test preparation.

Meanwhile, classroom budgets in New Mexico and Tennessee have shrunk while class sizes have increased. Millions are being diverted to standardized test companies. Skandera holds much-needed revenues hostage by requiring districts to agree to give certain tests like DIBELS in order to receive “grant money.”

Despite what Huffman and Skandera claim, parents and teachers have never said the old way our states evaluated teachers is the only way to do so. What we have said is that linking a teacher’s evaluation score to standardized tests is the wrong way to go.

Joint resolution

In fact, the state’s largest two school districts in New Mexico came together last year and developed a joint resolution and an alternative evaluation plan for consideration by Skandera. Their plan diminished the weight of standardized tests on a teacher’s evaluation score. Skandera rejected the districts’ alternatives. She ignored the districts’ joint resolution.

It’s just as bad in Tennessee, where 70 percent of teachers are evaluated on test results of subjects and students that the teachers may not have ever met or taught. Further, Huffman pushed to have teacher licenses linked to these standardized tests.

Teacher test scores in New Mexico were so error-ridden that teachers had to file Open Records Act requests seeking the data used to derive their individual scores. Skandera called the requests “burdensome,” claimed not to have the data and only gave teachers the Value Added Model formula. Skandera shuns transparency.

Skandera and Huffman claim that unions in New Mexico and Tennessee are staging town halls to “stir up parents with misinformation.” We are proud to say that grass-roots parent and teacher groups are leading the charge to inform and educate parents about what is really happening in our schools. Groups like Stand4KidsNM, PASS, PTEC and NM Refuse the Tests in New Mexico are leading the parent education effort.

In Tennessee, Huffman told a group of business people that he didn’t listen to parents because “there are several faux parent groups that claim to represent parents but they don’t and they have ulterior motives and agenda.”

Agenda is children

Our agenda is our children. Huffman can continue to ignore us, but groups such as the Momma Bears, TREE, SPEAK, TN BATS, and TN Parents are working very actively to inform the public of the harms associated with these reforms.

Huffman and Skandera tell the public that “teachers feel more motivated” to teach. We can say with certainty that our teachers are motivated — to leave their profession.

In New Mexico’s largest school district, 858 teachers have resigned or retired since July 2013. That is an unprecedented number caused by badly implemented reforms imposed by Skandera, who has never taught a day in a K-12 classroom and has not sought the input from professional educators she claims to support.

The same travesty befalls Tennessee. From Memphis to Knoxville, teachers are quitting or retiring early and morale is at an all-time low. Huffman’s answer to the crisis was to sign a no-bid $6.4 million contract with Teach for America. As a result, Tennessee pays more than any other state per TFA recruit. Huffman was for a decade employed by TFA as general counsel, senior vice president of growth strategy and development, and executive vice president of public affairs. We think this is a conflict of interest.

The reality we face because of Skandera and Huffman in New Mexico and Tennessee:

  • Our children are being used as unpaid guinea pigs in a testing nightmare that feeds billions of dollars to corporations making the tests;
  • Our children are being taught by substitute teachers or Teach for America staff because professional educators are devalued by an invalid statistical model pushed by Skandera and Huffman;
  • Our children are shortchanged of art, music and P.E. because more time is devoted to preparing them for tests; and
  • Our children’s public schools are starved of support, closed, and/or given to private charter operator/investors who make big bucks off of our taxpayer dollars.

Skandera and Huffman say their policies are “inspiring.” Indeed. They’ve inspired mothers like us to enter the political battlefield and fight for our public school teachers and our children who are under attack at the hands of our states’ so-called educational leaders.

Kathy Korte is a co-founder of Stand4KidsNM (facebook.com/stand4kidsnm) and a member of the Albuquerque Public Schools Board of Education. She is the mother of four public schools children. Jennifer Proseus is a mother of two public school children in Tennessee. She is an active member of TN Momma Bears (mommabears.org)

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