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Letter to WA State Superintendent of Public Schools

by Alfonso Gonzalez on November 12th, 2010

One of our high school teachers wrote a letter to our state’s superintendent of public schools sharing her concerns over the state’s decisions for testing Science this year and next year. I asked her if I could share her letter because the concerns that she raised are so blatant and Maren wrote such a great letter that I’m expecting something to happen in our state to correct it. Here’s her letter:

Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction
Mail stop: 47200
Old Capitol Building
P.O. Box 47200
Olympia, WA 98504-7200

Mr. Randy Dorn, Superintendent

November 6, 2010

Dear Mr. Dorn,

I am a biology and chemistry teacher at Chimacum High School in the Chimacum School District.  I am deeply concerned about changes to the science High School Proficiency Exam, graduation requirements, and the impending implementation of the End-of-Course biology exam.

The biology EOC is going to be introduced next school year.  This is a new type of test, the first to focus on a single subject area, and will be the first tenth grade exam covering the new science standards.  Not only is it going to be introduced for the first time in 2012, it is going to be introduced in a very high stakes fashion—students in the class of 2014 must pass it to graduate.  To adequately prepare for such a new and high stakes exam covering new standards takes time at the school level—curriculum must be examined and potentially modified; alignment must be checked between new standards, class work and laboratory investigations; classroom formative and summative assessments need to be researched or created.

One might think that this is all work that could be started this year in preparation for next year’s big changes.  However, this year, we have an equally new, equally high stakes, yet completely different exam to prepare for: the science HSPE, which this year’s sophomores, the class of 2013, must pass to graduate.  Then, after only one year as a graduation requirement, the science HSPE is going to be abandoned and replaced by the biology EOC.

From 2011 to 2012, one year to the next, we are (1) changing from the 2005 to the 2009 science standards, (2) changing type of assessment from the comprehensive HSPE to the more focused EOC, and (3) changing subject matter from broad science to biology.  Not only are these three major changes being implemented within a one year time frame, they are also being changed within an extremely high  stakes environment—the sophomores taking the HSPE and the EOC must pass them to graduate.  I am not opposed to change—in particular, I welcome the change from the 2005 to the 2009 standards.  However, I believe that to impose these three major changes within such a short time frame can only have a negative impact on science education in Washington state.

In my district, the science teachers as a vertical team have worked very hard to improve our science instruction with collaborative planning and lesson reflection, analysis of our own classroom videos and student work, ongoing high quality professional development provided by  O.E.S.D. 114, and integration of our department and ESD work with our school district initiatives.  No matter what direction the state goes, I am confident that the science teachers in my district will continue to focus on quality science instruction and its impact on student learning.  We have many goals beyond just preparing students for a test, however, a high quality assessment aligned with high quality standards would likely work well with what we do.

Teachers and schools such cannot adequately gear up to prepare students for one type of  test required for graduation one year, only to have to discard or greatly change much of the work to prepare students for a different test, also required for graduation, covering different subject matter the next year.  I ask that you, Randy Dorn, recommend to the legislature to eliminate the condition requiring this year’s sophomores, the class of 2013, to pass the 2011 science HSPE to graduate. Instead of spending time and energy on the 2011 science HSPE, a onetime high stakes test covering old standards, teachers and schools need to be focusing on quality instruction, aligned to the much improved 2009 standards, and making a positive impact on student learning.

Thank you for your consideration,

Maren Johnson
PO Box 900
Chimacum, WA 98325

cc:                   Ellen Ebert, Science Director
Elaine Wood, Secondary Science Assessment Specialist

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