Comments to the Board of Education 12/15/14
The following comments were made to the Board by concerned teachers from the Bradford School.
My collegues and I are troubled by a tremendous over-reliance on the DRA to make important decisions about children. The DRA is overlooking children with weak phonics skills and it over-identifies children as having poor comprehension who are merely poor writers. These problems have been identified by our veteran teachers, reading specialists, and even our novice teachers. Yet the DRA score is given far more weight than a teacher’s professional opinion.
No single test should be used to make critical and complex decisions about children, and a teacher’s observations & judgment should always be relied upon when interpreting scores.
Currently, there is more red tape to get children extra support than ever before. Teachers are required to provide so much data to document a student’s weaknesses that there is little time to conduct meaningful interventions. For each child who struggles, the teacher must document specific weaknesses with work samples, observations and test results, describe the interventions and then chart their frequency. The teacher is expected to administer tests to struggling children every 2 weeks.
The documentation and red tape is so burdensome that under these conditions, only the weakest students get services, and children with milder problems are neglected until their problems become a severe hindrance to their ongoing development.
In addition to problems with documentation, RTI takes too long. District policy dictates that children can’t officially move to a higher level of support until the start of a new marking period. This has been problematic for a Bradford student who requires speech services. The child’s needs were evident on the first day of school, and supported by our speech pathologist’s screening. However, the child’s teacher was not able to refer him for a formal evaluation and told to wait unti the start of the next marking period. This means he’s unlikely to get services until February or March.
We are frustrated by the administration’s response to our concerns about students. When requesting extra support, we are too often told that our students cannot quality because their DRA scores aren’t low enough. It’s appalling tha the expertise of teachers and specialists are disregarded in favor of a DRA score.
The district is grossly misusing RTI. Rather than using is to proactively help children, it’s used to reduce referrals to special education and make it appear as though the district is eliminating the achievement gap. In reality, this gap is widening for more children and at a faster rate than ever before.
I am here to speak on behalf of Bradford MEA members – about our concerns regarding teacher professional development, communication and technology.
We have district-mandated PD days – that are one-size fits all workshops and are not beneficial to all of us. We are at widely varying stages of our professional lives and can identify our own strengths and areas for improvement. We yearn for quality professional development in areas that we choose according to our needs. We are expected to differentiate our instruction for children. We want that same respect paid to us.
For example, in October, teachers attended a workshop about guided reading that many of us could have taught. Substitute teachers were hired and our students lost yet another day of real teaching. When a teacher at our school requested funding for an out-of-district workshop given by experts in the field, she was told that “the district already gives PD in this.”
There are more “professional development” days planned for this school year – more days away from our students, more funds spent on substitutes. The Board has been told that this PD is “invaluable” to the teachers. What would be “invaluable” to us would be to receive funding and release time for professional development of our choosing that addresses our needs. Stop taking us from our students! Stop listening to the administrators’ misrepresentation of how great the district professional development is. LISTEN TO THE TEACHERS!
Communication between the district & teachers is lacking and misleading when directed by the district to the parents. Parents are led to believe when it comes to the Common Core, benchmark assessments, and PARCC preparation that teachers are resistant to change and don’t like having to work harder. THIS IS NOT TRUE. We embrace change when the change is appropriate and beneficial to our students. We are not opposed to more work!
Communication is also last minute. Central Office sent an email on the last day of a 2-week time period given to complete reading assignments that gave additional instructions, new tasks and new procedures for entering reading grades on the report cards. Most of us had already completed the DRAs and entered the grades. The information came too late !
Regarding technology – we are asked to implement curriculum that requires technology that we do not possess. We are using Pearson Envision math with an online component. We were told that use of this Pearson product would be reflected in our observations & our evaluations. At Bradford – some of us have Smart Boards – some us do not. For those who do not, the program is used by gathering about 25 students around one old small computer screen – often with buffering internet.
If we have to use technology – YOU MUST SUPPLY IT ! Do not tell us that funds are not in the budget ! A budget that supports bonuses to the superintendent & members of her staff should not plead poverty when it comes to servicing students.
At the heart of Bradford School, is a concern for the importance of equity as well as respect for the work that the paraprofessionals do each day. We could not possibly meet the needs of our most vulnerable students without these dedicated and experienced professionals. At Bradford School, we have a large number of children with special needs and we work hard to be inclusive. We have been mulling over the importance of equity and how that relates to the importance of paraprofessionals since October 13th, a day when the entire district came together to hear Dr. Chris Emdin speak about equity in education and, ironically enough, a day for which the paraprofessionals have NOT YET BEEN PAID. We are simply appalled that the BOE prefers to pay more to enter into a grievance process than to pay the paras for this day of work.
It is not possible to separate the importance of equity in education from the important role that the paraprofessionals play in supporting the students of Montclair. Paras work one-on-one with children or with small groups of children to provide specific interventions for children such as: helping children focus, breaking down tasks into manageable chunks, and reviewing strategies not yet grasped. Equity is about providing our students who are furthest behind with the support needed to succeed and eventually close the achievement gap. On a side note, we would like to echo the call from others to disaggregate the achievement gap data in Montclair according to socioeconomics.
Yet, paras are not valued for the vital role they play in the education of our students. A few years ago, they were threatened with outsourcing and stripped of their benefits. The district has made significant cuts which has left the classrooms with paras for classified students ONLY. Currently, most paras are spread very thin – often assigned to three or four of our neediest students. So, it is inconceivable that classrooms are threatened with a 30% down-sizing of paras again. Moreover, there are an increasing number of paras being hired as long time subs without contracts. If we continue to disregard our para professional’s work conditions, we will not attract high caliber individuals and our students will suffer. Despite these conditions, our paras arrive each day at school bringing dedication and their unique talents to the children with different learning styles. Paras show infinite patience and resourcefulness. They continually go above and beyond, are asked give up lunch periods, and asked to perform tasks designed for highly trained specialists.
One final note, despite the repeated outcry of every school in our district, our MEA president Gayl Shephard’s place on the board meeting agenda has not been reinstated. Last year you provided each school with a forum to speak. This year we are given no voice at all, so we rely on Montclair teachers who reside in town to speak. Your efforts to silence us have not gone unnoticed. Your efforts to silence us have not worked.