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Rolly: Legislators, bureaucrats don't trust teachers

Published March 28, 2014 5:09 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The column I wrote in Friday's paper about the honors English teacher being disciplined in Granite District for not following procedures in a district-wide standardized testing program touched on a deeper systemic problem.

Ann Florence, who teaches at Wasatch Junior High School, refused to turn in test scores from the standardized Acuity test as a protest of the test imposed on teachers by district brass.

Many teachers oppose the test, claiming it is a waste of time and doesn't test the students on the curriculum being taught.

District officials say it is a way to test where individual students are academically and identify what areas teachers need to focus on to help each student.

The computer-adaptive test is given three times a year to measure the student's progress throughout the year.

And, unlike most standardized tests created by a source outside the school, the teachers are required to grade the scores themselves by accessing the work online.

The protesting teachers question whether the true motives are to measure a student's progress, especially when the first test of the year covers academic subjects the students haven't been taught.

There is a deeper motive, some suggest. And it is spawned by the Utah State Legislature.

The Legislature over the past few years has passed legislation that indicates a distrust of public school districts and of teachers. Some of the bills are punitive and seem to favor home schooling and private schools over public education.

The Legislature has decided to grade the schools, based on questionable criteria, and doubters worry it's an effort by the right wing to discredit public education.

The Legislature is constantly tweaking the education program, requiring testing to show students progress and installing a system to discipline teachers whose students don't measure up.

One bill requires schools to post financial information online so everyone can see exactly where that money is going.

School districts have responded by imposing tests like Acuity. The doubters believe such tests, which don't contribute to the learning environment, are devised to show the Legislature the students are progressing.

Meanwhile, all the testing is taking away from teaching time. And the teachers themselves, those on the front lines in the education battle, seem to have little imput into the decision making process.

Florence has a reputation among her students and her peers as an outstanding English teacher. But her talents in the classroom don't matter. She may lose her job and the students may lose a great teacher because some bureaucrat doesn't like her attitude.

Several years ago, a friend who was a junior high school teacher in Bountiful asked me to take her 8th and 9th grade classes for a day and teach her students the art of newspaper writing.

I was the teacher, all day. She often left the class while I was teaching, so it was just me and a bunch of hormone-raging teenagers.

I taught six classes, with one free period. There were about 30 students per class.

It was the hardest thing I've ever done. In comparison, my newspaper job is a cinch. When it was over, I wanted to take a nap for two days. And because it was just a one-day stint, I didn't have papers to correct when I went home that night, which is the nightly task of the regular teachers.

Every member of the Utah Legislature should be required to do what I did and teach a class in the public schools once a year. They might learn something. —