Somerville teachers vote to oppose state-mandated kindergarten assessment

Members of the Somerville Teachers Association attending the union’s annual meeting Tuesday voted unanimously in favor of a resolution to end a new state-mandated kindergarten assessment.

The assessment is called Teaching Strategies GOLD, or TS GOLD. It is used in all but six of the 171 school districts required to implement an extensive new assessment in exchange for continuing to receive a state grant that supports full-day kindergarten programs.

“TS GOLD is a time-consuming and intrusive mandate that is not providing our teachers with any new information about their students.”

- STA President Jackie Lawrence

“TS GOLD is a time-consuming and intrusive mandate that is not providing our teachers with any new information about their students,” said Jackie Lawrence, president of the STA. “We are also concerned that under this program so much personal information is collected about young students, uploaded to the TS GOLD website and shared with the state. We have many questions about how this information will be used and why we have to participate in this program when our teachers find no benefit from it. We want the state mandate to end.”

The STA’s opposition is echoed in a letter that Somerville Superintendent Anthony Pierantozzi sent to the commissioner of education on February 24, after he heard from teachers about their concerns.

Pierantozzi’s letter notes that there is a “breakdown of trust between parents/guardians and teachers” because of the data collection requirements. The letter also expresses concern about the “redundancy” of the mandate, since Somerville teachers already have their own assessments, which they believe are much more useful.

The new requirement stems from a federal Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge grant that Massachusetts applied for and received three years ago. One component of this grant called for the state to implement a Massachusetts Kindergarten Entry Assessment program. Under that program, districts that receive state kindergarten funding were told they had to start implementing TS GOLD or another online assessment.

Although the MKEA grant does not specifically require preschool teachers to implement TS GOLD, several other grant programs do. Preschool teachers in Somerville have the same objections as kindergarten teachers, said Lawrence, who herself is a preschool teacher.

Under TS GOLD, teachers have to develop ratings on 19 behaviors or skills in two domains this year – Social/Emotional and Cognitive. They must document their ratings and enter data at two different checkpoints; the next checkpoint is June 5. The process can include photographing or videotaping students and uploading those images and behavior reports to the TS GOLD website. The state is not requiring districts to inform parents of the program or receive explicit permission from parents for their children’s data and images to be used in this way.

Somerville teachers held a community forum for parents on the TS GOLD requirement on March 10. Lawrence said many expressed serious concerns about the mandate, and the fact they knew so little about it.

“In addition to TS GOLD being time-consuming and raising privacy concerns, our teachers do not like the way it interferes with the flow of their classes and how they relate to their students,” said Lawrence. This concern was summarized in the resolution as follows: “[W]e are engaged in constant collection, recording and uploading of TS GOLD assessment data, which actually interrupts, interferes with and takes time away from quality teaching and learning. This information is not shared with parents/guardians. As a result, we cannot be 100 percent present (engaged in teaching and learning and meaningful assessment) for our students and their families.”

Next year, the requirement is slated to become even more burdensome, with ratings required in 10 domains.

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