Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Hawaii public schools bedeviled by tyranny of testing, inadequate funds

By: Hawaii BAT  Mireille Christianne Ellswort

Published in the February 14, 2016 edition of The Honolulu Star Advertiser 

Mireille Ellsworth has taught English and drama at Waiakea High School in Hilo for nearly 12 years and in Guam for six years.

Supporting Senate Bill 2586, the Schools Our Keiki Deserve Omnibus Education Act, means creating a dedicated fund to transform public education in Hawaii.

A 1-percentage-point increase in the general excise tax is such a small price to pay when we are uplifting our whole state through this initiative.

Currently, students are suffering under a competitive model of education that does not take into consideration the needs of each child.

As a classroom teacher, I have seen decreasing motivation and lower skills in my students with each passing year.

>> Damaging decisions like “Furlough Fridays” cheated students out of weeks of classroom instruction.

>> Not maintaining teacher salaries to match the cost of living is driving teachers to quit, leaving students with full-time substitute teachers or emergency hires.

>> Ranking schools by test scores is a competitive and punitive model of education. Students have told me they just faked their way through the test and felt bad about themselves for not doing better, but they know the test doesn’t count on their grades.

When the results are finally released, teachers don’t have those students anymore and cannot address the issues anyway.

>> Teachers are told to “step it up” with fewer resources and are being subjected to a new teacher evaluation system, which is not helping them improve their craft and is sucking valuable time needed for lesson planning and evaluating student work. Teachers are not even allowed to see the test upon which their evaluation is partially based.

>> Students and parents are being lied to that the Common Core standards are increasing critical thinking.

At my school, we have had to remove complex literature from the curriculum that demanded students use higher-level thinking skills, like inference, and replace it with nonfiction.

Instead of studying poetry, students are asked to find “textual evidence” in articles, which is basically “finding the answer in the book,” not “reading between the lines,” which requires way more complex thought processes.

>> My colleagues in the content areas are shocked at how little students know about science and social studies entering high school.

Imagine, students are lacking in social studies, the very foundation of citizenship. Wrongly, it’s all about the reading, writing and math scores. Completing an argumentative essay in one sitting for a test on a topic you have never thought about before is unrealistic and not even what college courses are like.

We must end high-stakes testing and get back to what educational research tells us, instead of cheating our children because of test preparation and what a textbook company’s salesperson is pitching.

The mantra so heavily publicized for all students to be college and career ready is propaganda.

We have lost vocational programs in this state, and students who are not geared to academic-oriented careers are either leaving high school without any marketable skills or going to college without a goal, and not finishing either, because it’s too expensive or they were aimless and not motivated.

Then they have student loans to repay and are in crippling debt that will further discourage them from trying to build a secure life for themselves.

Anyone who feels that there is something more important to fund than education is short-sighted.

Social ills we are trying to address can be prevented by young people having a wonderful childhood and fabulous opportunities in their lives as young adults. It’s time we stop mouthing how important our children are and give them the support they deserve for the hope of a secure future.

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