When teachers take a moral stand and refuse to administer tests on principle, and some are even opting their own children out of high stakes tests, parents should take heed. . .

I came across this letter in the Opt Out Alachua Facebook group from veteran Kindergarten teacher, Susan Bowles, of Gainesville, Florida.  Opt Out Alachua is one of fifteen local opt out groups, started with the support of Opt Out Orlando.

I cannot adequately express my respect and admiration for Susan Bowles’ courage and determination.  Her moving letter underscores all of the recent actions in this grassroots movement to push back against market-based education reforms, which are reported in the Washington Post Answer Sheet blog:  FAIRTest: Testing Reform Victories: The First Wave. We, parents, are locking arms with our teachers and pushing back against the punishing mandates being hurled at public schools from Tallahassee and state legislatures across this country.  We stand firmly behind this brave teacher and will lay odds that her community will too.

Opt Out Orlando fervently hopes that the Superintendent and Board of Alachua County Public Schools, instead of sanctioning Susan Bowles for her act of courage on behalf of her students, will follow her lead and use this opportunity to earnestly and openly discuss the problems that we face with over-testing in all Florida school districts today and move forward as a community, to find sensible solutions.  Parents and teachers in Florida and across the country, who have been frustrated and oppressed by corporate education reform, should take heart in the rising courage and growing numbers of teachers like Susan Bowles, who are speaking out, and join our efforts to take back our PUBLIC schools… because WE are the public.

Susan’s letter is introduced here by her proud and supportive husband, David.  When I spoke with David today, he said, “Go ahead and post it. She is in it – all the way!”  Susan and David Bowles are the proud parents of four adult children.

______________________

David Bowles:  I am very proud of Susan’s stance and completely support her, even if it means she loses her job. That would mean someone whose passion has always been about teaching little kids would be out of the profession. She began teaching in 1977.

September 7, 2014
Dear Facebook Friends,

I have just sent emails to my principal and CRT, the superintendent, my colleagues at school, the school board members, ACEA (local teachers’ union) and the Gainesville Sun. I have a letter ready to go to the parents of the children in my class, pending principal approval which is standard protocol.

WHY I AM REFUSING TO GIVE THE FAIR TEST TO MY KINDERGARTNERS!

We have given the FAIR assessment in the past but this year it was revamped. It does provide useful information, but nothing significantly superior to what a typical Kindergarten teacher would observe in her students. This year, it is more time consuming and more difficult. Kindergartners are required to take it on the computer using a mouse. FYI: Kindergartners aren’t born with mouse skills. Many of them are proficient on tablets or smartphones, but the mouse can be tricky. (While testing a child last week, she double-clicked which skipped a screen. This child double-clicked three times and triple clicked once. There is no way to go back. There is no way for the school administrator to go back and make a correction.) While we were told it takes about 35 minutes to administer, we are finding that in actuality, it is taking between 35-60 minutes per child.

This assessment is given one-on-one. It is recommended that both teacher and child wear headphones during this test. Someone has forgotten there are other five year olds in our care. There is no provision from the state for money for additional staff to help with the other children in the classroom while this testing is going on. A certified teacher has to give the test. If you estimate that it takes approximately 45 minutes per child to give this test and we have 18 students, the time it takes to give this test is 13 ½ instructional hours. If you look at the schedule, a rough estimate would be that it requires about one full week of instructional time to test all of the children.

Our Kindergarten teachers have been brainstorming ways to test and still instruct. The best option we have come up with is for teachers to pair up, with one teacher instructing two classes while the other teacher tests one-on-one. So now we are looking at approximately TWO WEEKS of true INSTRUCTIONAL TIME LOST. We will not be putting them in front of a movie or having extended playtime, but the reality is that with 35 students, instruction is not the same. FAIR TESTING IS DONE THREE TIMES A YEAR!

I KNOW I MAY BE IN BREACH OF MY CONTRACT BY NOT ADMINISTERING THIS TEST. I CANNOT IN GOOD CONSCIENCE SUBMIT TO ADMINISTERING THIS TEST THREE TIMES A YEAR, LOSING SIX WEEKS OF INSTRUCTION. THERE IS A GOOD POSSIBILITY I WILL BE FIRED.

I am heartsick over the possibility of losing my job. I love my job. There is nothing I would rather do than teach. I have cried and cried over this, but in the end, it’s not about me. I feel God wants me to stand up for what is best for children. So, come what may, this is my stance. I WILL NOT ADMINISTER THE FAIR TEST TO MY STUDENTS.

If you are wondering what you can do, first and foremost, pray that the testing situation for children in Florida will change. Secondly, if you are a teacher or administrator, tell your story. This is not an education problem. This is a state government problem.

Whom should you contact? Governor Scott sits at the top in the chain of command. I say, voice your concerns to him. He actually might listen since he’s up for reelection. Just Read Florida is the group that masterminded the new version of FAIR. Let them know what you think about it. This issue isn’t about one teacher. This is a springboard for educators and parents to tell their stories. Please, let your voice be heard.

Thanks to Becky Jones Young, my childhood friend and fellow lifelong teacher, for taking a stand of her own in Ohio. She was an amazing middle school English teacher, who quit teaching (her love, joy and passion) because she could no longer participate in cheating children out of fun, creativity and enriching learning – in the name of education.

Susan Bowles
Kindergarten Teacher
Lawton Chiles Elementary School
Gainesville, Florida

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