MTA president talks to state ed board about testing, charters and Level 5 schools

MTA President Barbara Madeloni addressed three different issues in public comment before the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education on Tuesday, Oct. 21, 2014. Read her testimony, below, to find out what she had to say about high-stakes testing, school and district accountability and charter schools.

Good morning Chairwoman McKenna and members of the board. I am Barbara Madeloni, president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association, and I am here to address issues involving testing, Level 5 designations and charter schools.

But first, some context. Like many of you board members, I am new to my position. I was elected MTA president on a platform that called for more educator voice in the development of education policy. This platform also called on educators, parents, students and the broader community to reimagine our goals for public education, to value its role as foundational to democracy itself.

“The excessive and corrosive focus on standardized testing is a top issue everywhere I go.”

- MTA President Barbara Madeloni

As I have traveled the state listening to our members this fall, I am moved by the simplicity of what we ask: well-resourced schools in every community; a commitment to teaching the whole child; freedom to teach to the beautiful diversity of our student populations; autonomy to do our jobs; respect for our expertise; and the time to do our jobs well — free from fear, unhelpful mandates and threats of job loss and school takeovers.

The excessive and corrosive focus on standardized testing is a top issue everywhere I go. Don’t be fooled into thinking that district administrators are mainly responsible. It is clear that the high stakes attached to the tests required by the state — in concert with the federal government — are driving many administrators and elected school leaders to become test-obsessed even against their better judgment.

Those high stakes include a state accountability system that stigmatizes students and educators in communities that have high percentages of low-income students of color and English language learners.

Rather than putting tremendous pressure on the political infrastructure to deal with skyrocketing income inequality and unequal resources in our schools, our accountability system pressures teachers to raise test scores at any cost. That cost is high, and often includes the loss of autonomy, creativity and love of learning.

Teachers in Level 4 schools are, in effect, wearing a scarlet D. They lose many rights and live under the threat of being branded Level 5 — the functional equivalent of an F. Those in Level 5 schools lose even more of their rights, are required to work longer hours for little more pay, and their voices are stifled by a loss  of job security. Many excellent teachers are driven from these schools.

We urge this board to step back from the framework of testing and hyper-accountability to join us in advocating for giving schools the resources they need and educators the time they need to do the work that matters: building relationships, knowing each child’s needs and strengths, and developing students as thoughtful, caring, productive members of their communities.

I also want to briefly discuss the charter school issue. We have long been concerned that charter schools create a two-tiered education system that drains funds from our district schools.

Today, the focus is on whether this board should have approved charters in Brockton and Fitchburg despite overwhelming opposition from residents in those communities and in contravention of your own regulations. The answer is a resounding “no.” The bar to their approval is not a mere “technicality,” but is based on a decision to give some weight to growth scores – a decision that this board made after lengthy debate.

To bow to pressure from the charter lobby and undo that decision would be a travesty that would make teachers and parents in public schools across the state feel marginalized. What’s more, it would be a breach of trust. We urge you not to reconsider your decision.

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