Focus on the Future

I’m a huge supporter of the fb group, Focus on Fluvanna’s Future.  They used social media to help make the change they wanted to see.  I went to their meetings, got signatures on petitions, held up signs by the side of road, and asked teachers to demonstrate, speak, and vote in favor of candidates who supported their values.  I take some jabs from FFF (the leadership comments really sting) but ultimately, I’m a big fan.

 
Their challenge to teachers is to lay out the problems we have and put forward solutions.  I’ve been doing  that for years, just not in such a public forum.

 
Specifically (and carefully, 2 months to go) I think one problem is teachers have little influence over professional and instructional decisions in Fluvanna.  We need decision makers to understand that our input can lead to big improvements- for them, for us, and for the kids.  My attempted solutions have ranged from quietly talking to administrators, to privately and publicly appealing to school board members, and now to helping teachers get it all out there hoping anonymous input is better than none at all.

 
Step by step, here’s what I think we need:
We need the school board to acknowledge there’s a problem.

We need their commitment to repair the problem.

We need a plan to address the problem.

We need a way to measure if we’re making progress and a new plan if we’re not.

Right now the closest thing teachers have to collective input is the Staff Advisory Council.  I go to these meetings and they’re a little more staff and a lot less advisory than you might think.  They include a (long) presentation by central office staff.  The notice of our March meeting invited us to the school board auditorium for a presentation by the Curriculum and Instruction team about Meeting the Needs of All Students – Special Education to Gifted Services.  Not exactly what I expected from a staff advisory group.

 
So, back to the future.  If you’re not a member of Focus on Fluvanna’s Future, please check them out on fb.  And hit the Like button for Teresa Ledford!

(If you’d like to keep up with Fluco Blog, click FOLLOW in the bottom right corner and enter your email address.  It’s private and completely free.  If you’d like to weigh in, click Comments.  The email address you give can be real and will not be displayed, but if you want to be anonymous NEVER give your real name.  They might ask for a website, which is weird and not required. Please try it!)

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7 thoughts on “Focus on the Future

  1. The problem is bigger than not enough influence. The problem is trust, from both directions. Teachers are completely micromanaged by the administration because we’re not trusted to do our jobs well, and the administration keeps changing course (now NO steps for legacy teachers) damaging trust from teachers. What’s the solution? That’s where you might have it right. We need the school board to get involved.

  2. When I stopped teaching at the end of the 2013 school year, I had plans to continue to fight for better public education in our state and county. Aside from a few remarks here and there on social media, I have remained relatively silent. My time has been spent developing curriculum for my own children, who I now teach at home. Throughout the year, I sadly continued to hear stories from my former colleagues who were desperate to teach their students in an effective manner but were being forced to teach in a way they knew was not best for children, all in the name of acquiring test scores. Even more upsetting, when teachers expressed concerns about over-testing or being forced to rush through material, they were ignored. In some cases, teachers were chastised and even disciplined for expressing their beliefs. While I no longer have students in Fluvanna County Public Schools, I continue to live in the county. As a community member, I have a vested interest in the public schools in our county. I can no longer remain silent while our public school system continues to deteriorate because of an emphasis on test scores at the expense of authentic learning.

    In Fluvanna County, testing dominates the educational scene. At a bare minimum, students in grades three through eight take three reading MAPS test a year, three math MAPS test a year, an IA pretest in math, reading, science and social studies, and an IA posttest in math, reading, science, and social studies. At a bare minimum, this amounts to fourteen tests. These are not the tests you remember from when you were in school. This is not anything like the weekly spelling test you remember or even the unit tests you took every so often. These are almost all computer-based tests designed to help students prepare for the SOL, although their effectiveness in this capacity is debatable. Fluvanna teachers are not allowed to assist in developing these tests. They normally take two days to administer. For students this means that at a bare minimum, 28 days out of the school year are spent taking county mandated tests. Often times there are additional tests, including MAPS language usage and benchmark tests, which serve to further expand the amount of time our students are testing. While I am specifically addressing the testing that takes place in grades three through eight, testing has increased dramatically for students in the very early grades as well.

    The General Assembly has recently taken some steps in the right direction to reduce testing for students, and these steps are a start. The state still has a long way to go, but I am hopeful that lawmakers will eventually come to realize that high stakes testing does not promote learning. Fluvanna County did eventually sign the resolution that was supported by most of the counties in our state and prompted the General Assembly to begin to examine the amount of SOL tests with which Virginia students are faced. Unfortunately, the Fluvanna County School Board and administration have not backed up this resolution with any action.

    Patricia Wright, the Superintendent of Public Instruction for the state of Virginia has acknowledged that all of the test preparation that takes place in the classroom is not effective. She has challenged localities to take a long hard look at what typed of test preparation they are using. Her words are compelling. Ms. Wright stated, “For the last couple of years we’ve gotten criticism about too much test prep in the classroom – too much time on practice tests. I agree. When I think about how much time the state requires, I don’t think it’s the state test taking up too much prep time. When you look at the type of assessments given at the local level, is all of it necessary? Test prep will not help students be successful on the new test. Those teachers who have been successful have told us just that. Test prep is not the answer to the new test. If all you do during the year is test prep, you’ve missed the boat. It requires a deeper level of teaching to get students to think deeper, more critically and solve problems. I suggest school divisions reassess the amount of testing. How many diagnostic tests, benchmark tests, SOL prep tests do you need to give? I would challenge school divisions to reassess their level of local testing in preparation for the state testing. High school teachers who were successful on the SOL have told us test preps are not going to help students pass these tests.” If the Superintendent of Public Instruction believes test preparation is not effective, why has Fluvanna County continued to pour hours of valuable instruction time and unimaginable amounts of money into test preparation? What can parents and community members do to change these policies?

    I urge anyone who is concerned to write to your school board members. I may be wrong, but I firmly believe that many of them are not aware that the person in charge of education in our state has asked that test preparation be reduced. If you are interested in reading the original article that includes the quote I referenced above, you can find it at this link: http://www.chesterfieldmonthly.com/interview/the-states-top-educator

    It is also important that school board members, parents, students, and community members have an accurate account of just how much time is spent on testing over the course of a year. In the interest of transparency, I think it would be beneficial for the administration in Fluvanna County to publish lists of the tests taken in each grade level. These lists should include the county mandated tests listed individually, not generally, and include an estimate of how much time each test takes to administer. This will give parents an idea of how much time is spent on testing and test preparation over the course of a year. If the county administration stands behind their policy of test preparation, they need to be willing to put an accurate count on paper for the public to see.

    As community members, we also need to ask how much money is being invested in test preparation in our county. These programs are not cheap. When teachers are forced to spend their own money or rely on donations to stock their classrooms, it is irresponsible not to take a look at how much money we spend on these programs. The public should be given a yearly estimate of the amount of money the administration plans to spend on programs for test preparation.

    I firmly believe that parents should have the right to demand better for their children. Rather than have your child take yet another test to prepare for the SOL test, as a parent you should be allowed to request that your child receive alternative instruction. While teaching in Fluvanna County, I witnessed parents request and receive alternative instruction and assignments on many occasions when they did not approve of the instruction that was being provided. For example, parents have chosen for their children to participate in alternatives to family life, reading books that are part of the curriculum, lessons in scientific concepts that are not in line with their religious beliefs, and lessons surrounding presidential speeches. In every instance, the students received alternative instruction and assignments. Similarly, parents should be allowed to request alternative instruction and assignments rather than have their children participate in test preparation.

    The suggestions I have offered so far will help the community and parents to be better informed regarding test preparation in our county, but they do little to help with teacher morale. Our administration and concerned community groups rightly rallied against several members of the Board of Supervisors whose policies damaged education in our county. The voters of Fluvanna County listened, and our current board is inarguably more supportive of education, yet teacher morale has not improved. This can no longer be blamed on the Board of Supervisors. The administration must accept their role in shaping teacher morale. Teachers feel disrespected. Their input and experience is not valued. They are not allowed to help set and develop policy in the county. Yes, they are asked to join committees, but the work they do is to further policies established by the administration, policies they were not allowed to help develop. As I stated before, if teachers express concern regarding established educational policy in Fluvanna, they are at best ignored and at worst, disciplined. Parents and community members need to demand better for our teachers.

    If you are concerned about these issues, there is a group forming that seeks to address these concerns. We do not yet have a date for our first meeting, but it will be within the next few weeks. In the meantime, School Board members need to hear from you. They need to know that many well-respected teachers in our community feel powerless and ignored. They need to know how extensive test preparation is hurting students. When you contact them, it may be helpful to share the quote from Patricia Wright regarding test preparation. It may also be helpful to ask them if they feel they have an accurate account of how much time is being spent on testing and test preparation. I would like to put forth some guiding questions to help keep our group focused, but I think that our School Board members need to ask these questions:

    o How much time is spent on test preparation and testing?
    o What activities have been replaced as a result of time being diverted to testing?
    o Are these tests helping students to learn? Do they produce better students or better test takers?
    o Is this the best way to prepare our students for the future?

    Finally, I would like to urge parents of children in grades three through eight to closely gauge the amount of stress your children experience related to testing. Learning should not produce stress. Yes, learning is hard work, but this hard work should help to build a child up, not break a child’s spirit or stifle a natural learner’s curiosity. I have always had mixed feelings about opting students out of SOL testing. Opting-out does little to address what I view as the larger issue of over-testing and extensive test preparation. However, if I had a child who was experiencing a large amount of stress related to testing, I would not hesitate to opt that child out. Obviously, this is a personal decision. I am not advocating opting-out of the SOL tests as a policy in general. I urge parents to closely monitor their own children’s reaction to high stakes testing and make their decisions accordingly.

    • Teresa,
      Thank you so very much for your post. You capsulized the problems and gave very reasonable solutions too. I hope that more parents, teachers, and concerned citizens of Fluvanna will take your advice. We do have very good and strong teachers in Fluvanna and they should be able to speak out and be heard and listened to for their knowledgeable advice and not be taken for granted.

  3. Because I am still an English teacher at heart, I can’t ignore the fact that I should have used “whom” rather than “who” in the first paragraph. :)

    • We had an inservice by someone who fed us the line “I still consider myself a teacher at heart”. Her ensuing presentation indicated that this sentiment was completely insincere. You, Teresa, ARE really an English teacher at heart and I greatly appreciate your continued advocacy for teachers and students in Fluco land.

  4. I think one reason the administration doesn’t trust that we know what we’re doing is that THEY don’t know. How many administrators have actually been classroom teachers? And if so, for how long and how long ago?

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