Teachers slam district tests

Published 11:44 pm Friday, October 10, 2014

Four Creekside Elementary third-grade teachers during Thursday’s School Board meeting aired frustrations with local tests meant to prepare students for state Standards of Learning assessments.

Natalie Street said the tests are not meeting the needs of students. “We defend you, every day,” she told the board. “It’s time for you to defend us.”

Known as benchmark assessments — also midpoints and nine-week tests — they’re delivered at different times throughout the school year, depending on grade level, providing teachers with feedback on how students are measuring up to academic standards, district spokeswoman Bethanne Bradshaw said.

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Assessment data is meant to help teachers make “appropriate instructional decisions,” like increasing enrichment or instigating intervention, Bradshaw stated.

“Much effort and time have been devoted to aligning the format and rigor of local assessments to state assessments,” according to Bradshaw. “The number and frequency of administering benchmark assessments have decreased over the last two years.”

Deborah Perry suggested the frequency of the assessments doesn’t give students enough time to master a skill — for teachers to “teach, reteach and remediate” — before moving on to another one.

“At one point we had a week to review and remediate students to help them prepare, and now we are teaching up until the day of the test,” Perry said.

“The children haven’t changed, the teachers haven’t changed, the curriculum hasn’t changed that much. What has changed is the district test,” she said, indicating her explanation for the rise in the number of schools missing full state accreditation from six last year to 10 of 19 schools this year.

Too much district testing and too much rigor “beats us down,” Perry continued.

Deanne Lauver said too many students enter her classroom below grade-level. “My question to you is: Why don’t we, as the teachers, get the final say” over whether students graduate or repeat a grade, she said.

“Maybe if we had some say in it, we wouldn’t have so many students below grade level and expected to take and pass SOL tests with up to fifth-grade vocabulary.”

A group of teachers speaking out so vigorously during a School Board meeting was a rarity. “Teachers are frustrated that their voices are not being heard,” Street said. “There is a big disconnect from our School Board to our directors, to our specialists, and on down the ladder.”

She said she was warned against going public. “Well, I will be ‘That Teacher,’” she added.

Shea Wilde said she has stuck by the district for 11 years. “I continually get asked why I keep teaching in Suffolk,” she said.

While the district has been good to her, she said, she and those running it are “not in agreement.”

“Defending my Suffolk Public Schools family is getting very difficult, because of your actions or your inaction,” Wilde said.

She referenced the high numbers of teachers leaving for neighboring divisions offering better pay and for other reasons. “What are you going to do to keep myself and another 116 family members from leaving?” Wilde asked.

Board member Judith Brooks-Bucks told the Creekside teachers they are “teachers that care,” not “teachers with problems.”

SOL results are reported “like they are the only thing that exists,” Brooks-Buck said, adding, “There are some of us that understand very clearly this is not the measure of teaching, this is not the measure of learning.”

Enoch Copeland said the outspokenness is appreciated. “I used to do that myself — and used to get in trouble,” he quipped.

Michael Debranski, chairman of the board, suggested Suffolk schools are unfairly singled out and maligned. He cited a Washington Post report on the high number of Virginia schools missing full accreditation. Schools accredited with warning rose to 545 this year out of 1,827, up from 393 last year.

“’Failure’ is not a part of our repertoire. We are not in ‘crisis’ mode,” Debranski said. “I feel we are addressing our needs and our problems. We are not trying to lie about it. We are doing everything we can.”