Letters to the Editor

Federal Way schools suffer under new system | Letters

What will the new school year bring?

Thousands of students, parents, teachers, and staff ponder this question yet again as fall approaches.

This past summer, I retired after working in the Federal Way Public Schools for the past five years as a third grade elementary teacher. Initially, I was impressed by the partnership between teachers and administration in working toward improving student achievement.

I gave my wholehearted endorsement to anyone asking about working for FWPS or attending school there.

This year, when my daughter was looking for a house and asked about the schools in Federal Way, I could not recommend FWPS.

As much as I respected my fellow teachers, my principal, and the good intent of school administrators and all concerned, the past two years of Learning Targets and Power Standards have reduced teaching to testing, retesting, teaching to the test, scoring, and data entry.

Students have had to spend inordinate amounts of time taking tests, reviewing test results, learning how to improve test scores, and retaking tests. The classroom projects and activities that motivate students and promote lifelong learning have been tested into obscurity.

Am I against assessment or setting standards for teaching or learning? By no means, I received a master's degree in teaching from Seattle Pacific University and a PhD in educational psychology at the University of Washington with an emphasis in assessment.

Prior to teaching, I designed systems to assess physician performance at Group Health Cooperative. I believe that teachers, like physicians, need to be held accountable for results.

In my first year of teaching, my third grade colleague and I received an award from FWPS, because our students scored the highest in the district on the math portion of the Washington Assessment of Student Learning. To be accountable, educators need ongoing assessments to measure student progress. But these should be reliable, valid, quick, easy to administer and should not take an inordinate amounts of time for teachers or students.

During 2011-2012, FWPS introduced 150 learning targets across four subjects, reading, mathematics, social studies, and science for the third grade. There were similar changes across all academic subjects in FWPS from kindergarten through high school.

Despite excellent intentions at the board and administrative level, implementation at the class and teacher level was close to chaos. Teachers were told that each of the learning targets had to be assessed at least once during the school year. If a student failed to pass the first time they needed to have two additional chances to pass each learning target.

Do the math—for third-graders who are 8 or 9 years old, 150 x 3 = 450 learning targets to be assessed per student per school year.

With 180 days of school, an average of two to three learning targets needs to be assessed per day every school day in addition to MSP testing in spring for all students from the third grade up.

FWPS has prided itself and rightly on its excellence at meeting state standards for student performance while receiving one of the lowest per student allotment in Washington state.

At the same time, they have been innovating to fully incorporate learning goals into school curriculum and assessments. They are now engaged in a transition from Washington state learning targets and power standards of the past two years to the “Common Core” imposed by the federal government.

I sincerely hope for the sake of Federal Way students, teachers, and parents that the district decides to implement the “Common Core” in a way that is valid and reliable, but does not replace teaching with teaching to the test and learning with learning to take tests.

Sandra Hiramatsu, PhD, Seattle

 

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