Monday, March 7, 2016

What will the PREP Act Prepare Our Children For?
By:  Alabama BAT Terri Rector Michal 

Most people know Alabama's PREP Act, SB 316 sponsored by Sen. Del Marsh, as a bill tying test scores to teachers’ evaluations and teacher tenure. Non-educators think, ‘I’m not a teacher so I can’t speak to this bill, it doesn’t affect me’. In actuality those folks are the very ones that can, and should, stop this bill. The sponsor of this bill knows he will get push back from teachers, but he’s hedging his bets that no one else will be concerned about it, making it possible to sail through committee on Tuesday.
Here’s why non-educators should be concerned about this bill.
History has shown that tying test scores to evaluations actually affects the children greatly. It creates a High Stakes atmosphere which edges out teaching and learning in favor of test prep. Here’s how that happens:
VAM (Value Added Measures) is a process that involves putting three years worth of test scores for a child in a computer and the computer then predicting how a child should perform in the upcoming year. A COMPUTER will predict what a CHILD should score in the upcoming year. Let that sink in. This computer will not factor in health issues, a death in the family, a divorce….any number of factors that affect a child’s performance. This causes educators to feel they do not have a fair chance, and they are right. A teacher could be an excellent teacher but have a lousy VAM score because of the flawed model and because a measure of a teachers worth can not be broken down to a number.
The PREP Act requires evaluations to be based on a MINIMUM of 25% test scores and a MAXIMUM 75% observations, student surveys, and ‘additional measures of performance correlated with impacts on student achievement results’ (aka, additional test scores, like benchmark tests). The REAL weight for test scores, reflected in an actual number (minimum 25%, and a number hidden in the ‘additional measures’) could easily be 50% or more. Each system will decide the weight of each item, which is also a problem I won’t go into here. If a teacher has two years of consecutive ‘bad’ evaluation scores he or she can be fired.
What all of this means is we have PROFESSIONALS’ CAREERS hanging in the balance over these evaluations that are based on things that should never be used to measure them. VAM was intended to be used in PRODUCTION to measure efficiency and growth and Standardized Testing was intended to be used to show weak areas that a student and teacher should focus on moving forward. I compare what this bill is proposing to using a ruler to measure a cup of sugar. Sure a ruler is a tool for measurement, but not THAT measurement.
So what would you do if you worked hard, and in many cases went into debt, to get a degree for a CAREER that you are passionate about, that you feel you were born to do (we all know they don’t do it for the money) but this career turned into a nightmare. No matter what you do, how many hours you put in, how much of your own money you spend, how much time you take away from your own family to do lesson plans and grade papers, how much professional development and continuing education you engage in….NOTHING can ensure you will be looked upon favorably by your employer EXCEPT a factor outside of your control IF you do your job properly. I would bet you begin to what you need to do to keep your job, even though it’s not what you were hired to do, or what you even feel you should be doing. You have bills to pay after all, and a family depending on your employment. In a teachers case they begin teaching to the test.
And this hurts children. Testing is NOT teaching, no matter what Superintendents like Casey Wardynski in Huntsville say. High Stakes Testing takes time away from classroom instruction and puts both our teachers and students in an atmosphere that is not conducive to learning.
These children are being denied a well-rounded and balanced education that not only teaches the core subjects, but also demonstrates how our society works, how government works, and aids them in finding where their true passions and talents lie.
These children will then graduate with a score to reflect their accomplishment, but what will that score ACTUALLY mean, not only to them but to rest of society that will move through this world WITH THEM?
I believe this is why EVERYONE in Alabama should be concerned about the PREP Act, and why we need to write and call the members of the Senate Education Committee and tell them to VOTE NO before the public hearing on Tuesday at 12:30.
When we take care of our children, our future takes care of itself.‪#‎SupportTeachers‬

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