Mr. and Mrs. Gates,
I would like to preface my remarks by saying that I recognize your good intentions and efforts to make the world a better place. If everyone who is as financially fortunate as you willingly chose to attempt to make a meaningful difference in the world, Earth would be a much better home for everyone who lives here.
That being said, I must approach this subject from the standpoint of the new and enthusiastic teacher that I am. High-stakes testing is not a measure of success or intelligence in students. High-stakes testing is not a barometer of the ability of a teacher to effectively instruct children. High-stakes testing is exactly what it sounds like – a gamble with the future of our education system. Teachers and students cannot afford to waste time, effort, energy, or money on an ineffective means of evaluation.
I am a member of a generation of teachers who not only experienced the effects of high-stakes testing as a student, but also as a teacher. As I look at my profession, I often wonder why many of us chose to walk into what often seems like a minefield. It is when I look into the excited eyes of my students that I am reminded why we chose to become teachers.
I am an administrator. I am a planner. I am a travel agent. I am a counselor. I am a mentor. I am a life coach. I am a guiding influence in the lives of young people. I am a listener. I am a thinker. I am a philanthropist. I am a child psychologist. I am a shoulder on which to cry. I am a role model. I am a friend. I am an artist. I am a musician.
But, most people know me as a band director.
I can tell you with certainty that no field in this world is as uncertain as the arts. Job security is a thing of the past. Guaranteed money is a thing of the past. Those things are paltry in comparison with the fact that a well-rounded, arts-influenced, compassionate, goal-oriented education is on the brink because of standardized testing.
My job has little value to many outside of the world of education because I do not teach math, science, English, or history. But, I challenge you to find a subject more readily willing to teach the essential life skills those classes simply cannot teach than the arts. I do not recall a math class ever teaching me the value of teamwork. I cannot remember an English class ever requiring that I accomplish multiple tasks at once. Most importantly, I cannot think of a moment in my own educational career that filled me with as much pride and joy as music did.
This is not a treatise to devalue any of our core subjects, nor is it a call to arms against my colleagues who teach those subjects. I absolutely recognize the value of the core curriculum, but the difference is, so does everyone else in the world. No one questions whether or not a student needs math, science, English, or history. The arts are the first things to go.
I want our students to succeed. I want them to be competitive with the rest of the world. I want only the best for them. I can assure you that the best for them does not involve high-stakes testing, it does not involve hours of crushing stress, it does involve the pressure of tests and piles of homework, and it does not involve the extrication of the arts from their lives.
Please, I implore you, rethink testing. It simply isn’t right, and it simply isn’t fair.
Very sincerely and respectfully yours,
Mr. Wesley McCall