Teachers are spending too much time preparing students for assessments and “high stakes testing,” and find themselves vexing over SMART goals according to Altus Schools’ teachers who participated in a “Round Table” discussion held by District Superintendent Roger Hill last week. Most teachers contend that new reforms enforced by the Oklahoma State Board of Education are too focused on testing and result in less time in the classroom actually teaching, and are planning to rally at the State Capitol on March 31.
“We can sit here and round table all we want and gripe and complain and whine and belly ache, but until we stand up and say, ‘this has got to change this is not right,’ its not going to change,” said Brandi Manning, an English Teacher at Altus High School. “Education in general draws people that are willing and want to help, and we’re flexible and we bend and we give and we take, yet the people who are telling us what we’re supposed to do, they are not that way. They wont give, they are not flexible, they think they can just run us over. We have to stand up.”
Superintendent Hill opened up the meeting and asked teachers about the biggest challenges with kids in the classroom. A teacher from Will Rogers said it was just getting the kids to show up for school. A teacher from Sunset said that parental involvement was an issue as well as accountability, and another teacher said that parents have asked them to teach their child respect.
The round table lasted for an hour and twenty minutes as discussion touched upon teacher starting pay and teacher shortages, leadership at both the District and State levels, and updating building facilities and technology for students.
But what quickly became the focus at the round table was the reforms and mandates made by State legislature for SMART goals, assessments and “high stakes testing.” Teachers reported having to eliminate creative teaching activities just to ensure they are covering the standards imposed by the State Board.
“I think that all of the high stakes testing have taken some of the joy and spontaneity out of learning for kids, even at the high school level,” Manning said. Manning no longer has the time to lead her students in writing exercises, such as when her students would pick a spot outside and all write descriptively about it, a creative writing exercise that teaches more about personal perspective as much as writing. “Everyone had a different point of view,” Manning said, stating that there needs to be more time for kids to be creative, to enjoy what they are doing, and to “soak it in.” Instead, for example, kids are required to read 80 words per minute at a fifth grade level, and Manning believes it can take the enjoyment out of reading for some students. “That’s killing the joy of reading,” she said. “When they get to the high school level, and don’t like to read or don’t want to read, its because it was killed at a young age.”
Altus High School American History teacher, Robert Garrison, stated that he has been known to do creative activities that parents and students have enjoyed in his classroom, but now has had to do away with them over recent years to focus on meeting standards.
Jeanne Herring, a 3rd grade teacher at Sunset said that testing has shortened the school year. “Spring break is when I start not sleeping at night, because they have got to know it by testing,” Herring said. “I am a third grade teacher. My kids have never taken a ‘high stakes’ test before of that magnitude. So I have to teach them how to take a test, and to look for the tricks. It takes time to teach them how to take that test and get ready for that day.”
Not only do teachers have to prepare students for testing, but this year they are required by the State to make a SMART goal as part of the teacher evaluation system. Teachers must come up with a goal to improve student performance, discuss it with an administrator, and then come up with ways to reach that goal.
Sunset Title I Reading teacher, Cathy Madl, believes that SMART goals take time away from school Principals as well. “I feel for them because they are using their time that they need to be thinking about these kids and not a SMART goal,” Madl said. “I want them to have time to think about what they want to do with these children to get them up higher and not waste their time.”
After much discussion, Superintendent Hill asked about how teachers felt about leadership at the State department, there was a unanimous “sigh” that filled the Conference Room.
One teacher, Melissa Fourroux, 2nd grade teacher at Rivers Elementary stated, “It just seems to me that they have not stepped foot in a classroom to actually see what it is we’re doing when they look at what they’re asking us to do, it is not faithful, instead they just keep adding and adding.”
Superintendent Hill announced that there is a education rally set at the Oklahoma City Capitol on Monday, March 31, and asked, “Is it time for educators to take a stand?”
“I think we show up in bus loads at Oklahoma City,” Hill said. “I think we make ourselves known and that we’re there. I think we take parents with us as well, and show up. If we have kids that want to go with us, the more the better. I know we have a lot to risk, it’s not time to be cautious. It’s time to be courageous. It’s to the point where we are cutting staff, cutting programs, class sizes are going to escalate, and we are going to be doing a disservice to the kids and we’ve got to do something about it.”
A round table will be scheduled in the future to further discuss Teacher and Leadership Effectiveness (TLE) evaluations, and the Common Core Curriculum, to be completely implemented by School year 2014-2015.