School policy frustrates Federal Way teachers

Standards Based Education (SBE), the new system implemented by Federal Way Public Schools (FWPS) this year, drew a vociferous round of criticism at the FWPS board meeting on Tuesday.

But instead of parents being upset at the implementation of a new policy, it was teachers who expressed their displeasure and frustration at the way the new policy was implemented throughout the district this year. Staff from various schools, along with a fair number of parents, packed the Federal Way City Hall council chambers, making it standing-room only, with some having to stand out in the hall in an attempt to view the proceedings.

SBE, which is aimed at creating standardization for teachers and students regarding grading, class content and other important areas, was rolled out in an awkward and frustrating fashion, said Jason Brown, president of the Federal Way Educators Association during the Nov. 8 meeting.

“The majority of staff here in Federal Way support Standards Based Education. What my members have asked to share with you this evening is their extreme frustration over the process,” Brown said. “They believe the process we’ve used thus far has been confusing to staff, students and parents alike. It has not been uniform across grade levels or sites and has created an enormous and unrealistic workload for teachers and support professionals, as well as principals.”

Brown continued, saying FWPS teachers are “burning the candle at both ends,” and feels a major issue with the implementation of SBE has been technology related, a common refrain from previous board meetings in the 2011 school year.

“(My) membership believes that the technology glitches have been a major contributing factor to the frustration,” he said. “But the most significant concern has come with the workload, with the writing of curriculum and the creating of assessments for so many power standards and learning targets. Staff feel that student learning has taken a backseat to data entry.”

Kay Walls, an eighth-grade teacher at Lakota Middle School, backed up Brown’s claims, providing some hypothetical numbers on the work being required of teachers under SBE.

“The reality is, I have 100 students. I give one test. It has six learning targets. That’s 600 grades,” she said. “If I take 10 minutes to correct the test, and 10 minutes to figure out if they passed or failed the standards, including time to input the grade, that’s 2000 minutes. That’s 33 hours. That’s one test.”

Matthew Gillis, a student at Federal Way High School, also expressed his frustration with SBE and its effect on himself, his fellow students, and his teachers.

“This new grading system…It’s a nice system in theory, but there’s a difference between something working in theory and something working out in reality,” he said to a round of applause from the crowd of mostly teachers and staff. “As a student I’ve been able to observe the frustration it has caused my fellow classmates and my teachers. It’s just more effort and it causes frustration…we just…it just doesn’t seem to work with us, we just can’t click with it. We just don’t like it.”

Superintendent Rob Neu, and board members Angela Griffin and Suzanne Smith, took the time to respond to concerns expressed by the those in attendance.

Neu touched on the fact that he and Brown have been in consistent and frequent communication regarding the issues surrounding SBE and it’s implementation. He also noted that he’s made the effort to meet with teachers personally, to sit with them and see how the system works. But, he did recognize that the issues still exist.

“You’re right. It’s not working like it should at this point,” Neu said. “The bottom line is, we’re in the system, and we’re hearing the struggles, but I’m also hearing tremendous success stories. What I want to share with you is that we will continue the conversation, continue the effort. I want to thank you. I know it’s been hard. I can’t emphasize that enough. It’s a monumental shift, it’s an important shift. I’ve looked at all the research out there, and I’m convinced we’re heading in the right direction. I do think that once we get all the kinks ironed out, we’ll be proud of our direction.”

Griffin said she was happy to have so much feedback, from all involved, but wanted to know why there seems to be so much difficulty for so many to adjust to SBE.

“I am thankful to get the feedback from, the term that was used tonight was practitioners, and that’s invaluable. We need to listen and have some two-way communication,” she said. “I have been asked by one teacher to have a meeting to sit down and see how their classrooms are functioning. I would like to say if there are others who would be willing to meet with us individually or collectively. What’s different from how teachers have had to develop assignments and do lesson plans and grade and report that grading. Why is it taking so much more time? I want to learn from the people in the buildings.”

Smith said that change is difficult and painful, but that the change and the pain being felt throughout FWPS is worth it.

“We can change when the pain is less than the pain to remain as we are,” Smith said, referencing an unattributed quote. “Everything is painful, everything is hard. And ask any woman in the room who’s gone through childbirth…it’s worth it after awhile.”

Smith continued, saying that anything worth doing is going to come with some blood, sweat and tears.

“But everything that’s worth doing is going to be hard. There’s going to be growing pains and some things we have to work through. And as a system, if not now, when? It’s hard and it’s painful, but it’s worth it, because we can’t stay how we are.”

For more information on SBE, visit






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