Posted Tuesday, November 25, 2014
As we head into Thanksgiving -- the start of my absolute favorite holiday season -- I am feeling very thankful. Among many things to be grateful for, I am thankful to be a part of the TPS family. The TPS family has been having some tough conversations over the last couple of weeks. As we all know, there are concerns about the over-testing of students and the use of student surveys to guide and inform teachers in the classroom.
Because we believe so strongly in educating our students, there will be disagreements. Those can be healthy. I truly believe every one of us really wants to do the right thing for children.
So, I have reflected over the past few days and thought carefully about the advice that my teacher advisory groups provided last week. They advised me to communicate more with teachers and listen carefully regarding the issues of assessment and surveys.
I have heard those concerns and we are going to address the issues together. To accomplish this, we will be forming two task forces. The first task force will look at all assessments given at both the district and building level to help resolve issues related to testing. It is obvious that we need to have a broader discussion about our district's use of assessments generally, and one that involves teachers in the process. I understand the angst and the very real concerns that teachers have about over-testing, and we will work through it together.
Additionally, I will communicate in a clear, concise manner on what has led the district to utilize the assessments that we are currently using. It is not acceptable that we had 1,128 students score "unsatisfactory" in 3rd grade reading last year. That's why it's important that we have reliable data in order to guide instruction. As in all things, however, we must strike a balance. And we cannot lose sight of the child. We cannot afford to lose people -- students or teachers -- in the process. The task force will be formed immediately.
I also look forward to a full and complete discussion regarding the use of student surveys, particularly in the early elementary grades (grades K-2). Although the student surveys were developed with TPS teacher input, my advisory group informs me there is still not a clear understanding of the evaluation process and the role that surveys play in that process. We have worked very closely with TCTA in constructing an evaluation program that follows state law but is less intrusive on teachers. I do want you to know that as we worked over the past year with TCTA to develop the evaluation program, I truly was thinking in the best interest of both teachers and students. That said, I want a full conversation about the various issues. So the other task force will be in collaboration with TCTA to take a look at the use of student surveys in early elementary (grades K-2) for our multiple measure teacher evaluation system. We will convene this task force after the survey reports have been provided to teachers. We will also make opportunities to meet with upper elementary and secondary teachers in focus groups with TCTA later in the spring semester as we start planning for 2015-16. I hope you will check out a new section we have placed on our website in an attempt to demystify and further clarify our district's use of student surveys and multiple measures. We want to be totally transparent with teachers and parents, and hope this information improves understanding.
The "over-testing" issue is one that has been challenging for me personally. I have been very outspoken about testing in Oklahoma. I have fought with determination the use of tests to develop a flawed A-F school grading system. I have opposed end-of-instruction tests and led the effort to change high-stakes testing of 3rd graders. So I have a strong record to stand on, and I am sympathetic to the cause of opposing excessive assessments. That said, we need an appropriate level of assessments to guide instruction or we will fail our students.
If there is one thing our family can agree on, it is that we must do everything we can to improve student achievement. As we all sit down for Thanksgiving at tables in Tulsa, in Oklahoma and across the U.S., we do so knowing that not everyone will be enjoying the traditional meal. We must remember those who are less fortunate. We make decisions daily that affect ALL children, and we need to ensure we are serving all of our students.
Heading into this holiday season, I am extremely grateful. I am thankful for our teachers and principals who fight the good fight every day, for giving of themselves even when they sometimes feel like they have nothing left to give. I admire your passion, your courage and your commitment. I am also thankful to our ESC and support employees, as their work supports the work in our schools.
I am also feeling optimistic about our future. We need to have these conversations about testing and it is healthy to question current practices. That's the only way to challenge our thinking and cause change to occur.