Letters to the Editor

Test scores vs. teacher compensation | Federal Way letters

"As I have said publicly, teachers must be given the right tools to succeed and cannot be fairly judged by any single measure (such as student achievement). Every class poses its own special challenges and the roots of student achievement start with many factors beyond the control of the classroom teacher; it follows that punishing teachers for the shortcomings of society in making students ready to learn is unjust..." — Randy Gordon

There's a lot of talk these days about paying teachers on merit, as well as tying teacher compensation (and also firings) to standardized test scores. Here are some problems with those ideas: Paying teachers on merit — how do you judge the "merit" of a teacher? All students getting A's in a class? Well, then, why not just make it easier to get A's? Is the merit judged by how many students request to be in one's classroom? Then I guess we end up starting political campaigns: "Be in my class! Sign up for me!" We would spend all our money on marketing and campaigning. Or is it how many students pass the state standardized test?

The idea of tying teacher compensation and teacher layoffs to test scores is riddled with problems. Firstly, we're talking about one test score, the standardized state test administered in the spring. Any data hound will tell you that making decisions based on one piece if data is just bad logic. It could be an anomaly or the test itself might be badly written, and so that data needs to be be supported by other sources.

But what if you get a teacher who has several years of bad test scores — shouldn't they be let go? Each year is actually a different group of kids, and each group of kids has its own dynamic, its own collective strengths, and its own collective weaknesses.

Some years, you get a whole crop of high learners — that is, the kids who get things quickly, and don't struggle much with concepts. Those kids will fly past the standardized tests, and good for them! A different year, you might have 30 to 40 percent of your students from the special education population, kids who have already been identified as having struggles in learning, but they are expected to pass the exact same test as general education students. Or what about my English language learner (ELL) students? They have to pass that same test, too, in English, and yet we've already noted they need language help.

Beyond the variables listed above, there are many other things that teachers just cannot control: Whether a child is belittled by his parents at home, whether a child has just gone through a traumatic event (one of my student's brothers died a week before standardized tests, a colleague had a student who had both parents arrested the night before the tests began), whether a child is angry or hungry or tired due to things that happen outside of school.

I am a teacher. I love teaching. My philosophy for the struggling learners is "baby steps." You might be a seventh-grader reading at a fourth-grade level when you come to me. We'll make strides forward because I have to accept you as you are and start where you are. Will we get you up to what the state considers the standard for seventh grade by next spring? I don't know if that will happen; there are too many variables outside of my control. But we will make strides forward, and I promise to challenge you and support you and answer your questions, to care about you as an individual and remember that you care about your puppy and skateboarding, and to make you feel you are a part of my classroom as well as a part of your own learning and discovering. I am your springboard.

But if you don't "do well" by some politician's standards next spring, I may not be around very long.

Kat Wamba, Federal Way

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