Dear Texas State Legislators, Governor Perry, SBEC members and TEA officials,
My name is Mary Beth Lee, and I’m an 18-year public education veteran. From the time I was 15, I’ve never wanted to do anything but teach. I love teaching. I love to watch my students engaged in real learning, in problem solving, in learning the tricks to time management. I love watching the light bulb moment when they “get” a new concept. I love how they’ll try and try and try something, failing miserably time and again, until they get it right.
I love the excitement of a job well done and presenting lessons and integrating technology into my classroom. I love the idea of collaborating with fellow educators to make my school the best it can be and providing life-long learning opportunities inside and outside the classroom for my students.
But I’m not writing this letter as a form of praise for a job well-done.
I’m writing because I’m furious. I’m furious at the expense of tests, and I don’t just mean dollars and cents. I spent an hour watching a slide show on how to give a test this week. How to create a seating chart, how to show time, how to actively monitor a classroom. Later this week I attended a session explaining what exactly my students will be required to do to pass this test, and I discovered the answer is take everything you’ve ever learned about successful writing… and toss it out the window.
In the 18 years I’ve been teaching I’ve watched the testing companies take over the education world. They drive our curriculum, they set the bar, they make billions of dollars off the idea of education reform. And yet, for all their billions, and the bars they’ve supposedly raised, there have been no measurable gains in true academic achievement. In fact, Fortune 500 companies and universities across the country complain that we’ve raised a generation of kids with AMAZING self-esteems, who can’t problem solve, think creatively or write in a way that effectively communicates their thoughts. We’ve raised a generation who can bubble in test answers like none other, but when they’re given an assignment without step-by-step instructions, they freak out.
The other day a friend told me her 4th grade niece cried all night the night before her test last year. She was terrified of failing. I’m sure her teacher cried all night, too.
I don’t understand. I’m all for real education reform. I’m all for saying let’s encourage schools to set up systems for student success and academic achievement. I’m all for measuring data and collaboration. But these tests we spend billions on have done nothing good for education.
I went to school in the era before the test. I had my fair share of lousy teachers, but more often than not, my teachers were dedicated professionals intent on seeing me succeed in the classroom. The test has changed NOTHING. We still have lousy teachers who need to be counseled into new professions, but most of us are constantly seeking to do better, be better, inspire our students to academic achievement.
I realize the testing companies love to tell you how we’re behind the curve when it comes to education. That’s hogwash.
No other country educates every student, no matter what, for free. Quite honestly, I’d put our top students against any other country’s top students any day of the week. No other country says if you’re willing to work hard you can do anything regardless of your mental starting point. No other country can boast the numbers of people we see on a daily basis who’ve built million and billion dollar corporate empires from the ground up. Our spirit of entrepreneurship and our commitment to democracy have always been building blocks of this nation, and that was the case before tests ruled education.
My fear: tests will kill that spirit and commitment because both of those require the ability to problem solve, think critically and embrace creativity.
YOU have the power to change this.
Educators do not.
Please, I’m begging you, do something about this. Don’t let our children continue to suffer the mindless monotony of bubbled in answer documents and No. 2 pencils. Put tests back where they should be: tools to measure but not the be all end all of our public education system.
Mary Beth Lee