Mr. Gates: #EndHighStakesTesting – Teachers will win.

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Dear Mr. Gates,

I am entering my 20th year of public school teaching in middle school mathematics. I am recently National Board Certified. I have such an enthusiasm for teaching that two of my daughters also entered the profession. They are fine arts teachers and struggle daily with institutional demands that do not value their work as mine is valued. Why the difference?

My “worth” can be measured by a high stakes test.

I have always been a good teacher, and I have been told by students and parents that I am a great teacher. My students learn. I promise them I will not waste their time, and I expect them not to waste mine or anyone else’s.

My daughters are great teachers. At age 25, my eldest took over the reins of the oldest band program in Fairfax County, Virginia. She replaced a 30 year veteran icon. Her students consistently earn superior ratings. They tell her in writing that their experience in Band has changed their life, that the leadership opportunities, the discipline and the very creation of music, both individually and in an ensemble, has enriched their lives beyond expectations.

They come to school (and she works) 6 days a week for Band.

My other daughter teaches elementary art. Surely you value the need for graphic and artistic expression in the 21st century. Her students learn to express themselves kinesthetically and visually through a variety of media. Her classroom is organized chaos with that hum of productivity that makes any observer jealous and desiring to jump in, too. But her students have seen their time allotted for art class shrink by a roughly a third just in the past 3 years. Why? To prepare for The Tests, of course.

Drill, baby, drill.

Some of my students are enthusiastic learners of mathematics. Some work 6 days to prepare for contests such as MathCounts. Many stay after school with me, and find confidence and beauty in mathematics. But for the past 5 years, my school has responded to TheTest by removing students from electives (that’s Band and Art, among others) so that they can get “remediated.”

Of course you understand. They must improve The Test score.

My students miss instruction for more than a full week so that Testing Gets Done. Can you imagine the boredom, the disengagement, the anger that results? And don’t think I’m just describing the “low kids,” who are frustrated and resentful that their very worth is being reduced to a Score. I’m describing kids like you, like my daughters, who love so much about this world, who follow their own curiosity wherever it may take them, who work and study because it is intrinsically rewarding. But we subject them to The Test, over and over. An absolutely mind numbing part of every child’s life.

If you want a citizenry of functionaries who can’t think for themselves, who mindlessly follow directions (and if you have not sat through a Testing Session, you may have no idea what I’m referring to) and who are subject to remediation over arts, congratulations on your achievement.

For my part, I reject this future and I reject your influence and power. I will work ceaselessly to bring the reality of high stakes testing to light. Teachers will win.


Linda Allen
Arlington, VA
A Badass Teacher


About Highlighting Members' Needs

We are running for the following Renton Education Association positions because we believe in the following planks: Becca Ritchie, Candidate for REA President, Nelsen Middle School, Computer Tech Susan DuFresne, Candidate for Primary Executive Board, Maplewood Heights Elementary, Integrated Kindergarten ✅  Demanding a healthy work-load/life balance. ✅  Bargaining competitive professional compensation. ✅  Challenging the status quo test culture with: Less is more! ✅  Emphasizing our professional expertise. ✅  Prioritizing equity and access for all. ✅  Utilizing 2-way 21st century communication tools. ✅  Acting in solidarity with all unions. ✅  Supporting ALL members. ✅   Implementing developmentally appropriate K-3 curriculum/assessment.
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1 Response to Mr. Gates: #EndHighStakesTesting – Teachers will win.

  1. Deborah Ehlers says:

    Well said! I have to add these editor’s notes:

    The amount of class time the students have in my art class hasn’t diminished- MY time has. Less planning time, less prep time, NO transition times between classes. And this is because of a school schedule that is built around meetings to perform data analysis (our homeroom teachers have even LESS planning time because of this schedule). So for me what that means is: no new lessons (unless I research and write them on my own time), grading on the spot in front of students (spending seconds looking at each artwork instead of minutes), fewer materials because I don’t have time to prep them, etc etc. I can’t even meet my students at my door anymore because I’m rushing to swap posters and materials as they walk in (well why can’t I do that at the end of the previous class period? Because they’re in elementary school and need to be monitored/assisted when they clean up). On days when I taught for 3 hours straight in the AM (NO other teacher in school had to do that, btw) I had to have a snack in front of the kids because my blood sugar would drop too low before it was my lunch time. Basic “best practices” that are common sense for any teacher who knows what makes a good classroom environment are being ignored.

    But even then I’m one of the “lucky” art teachers- there are many in the county who DO teach the 45min/7 classes a day schedule, no planning whatsoever except Monday afternoons (so you can imagine what it’s like for them on weeks when we have Monday holidays), some in trailers without running water…I even talked with one art teacher who didn’t get her lunch until the last block of the day- now in WHAT other business would that happen?!? Our Fine Arts Office is amazing and even their advocating for better teaching and learning conditions is being ignored by the county. Thank you Mom, for speaking up and continuing to be a role model and inspiration for Kathleen, Julia, Allison, and I. 🙂

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