‘Your Children Are More Than a Number to Us’

Tulsa educators Nikki Jones and Karen Hendren

Tulsa educators Nikki Jones and Karen Hendren

Two educators in Tulsa, Oklahoma have gone public in their refusal to administer the standardized testing regime imposed on their elementary school students, regardless of the consequences.

In a thoughtful and eloquent letter to parents of their students, Nikki Jones and Karen Hendren, both first-grade teachers at Skelly Elementary, wrote that the tests have “robbed your children of their educational liberties.”

Prior to writing the letter, Jones and Hendren informed the district of their intention to “opt out” of administering the 55-question Measures of Academic Progress, or MAP and a student survey they believe violate student privacy. The two teachers acknowledge that doing so may put their careers at risk, but “if keeping our jobs means harming children and squelching them during a prime developmental span, then we want no part.”

Jones and Hendren, both members of the Oklahoma Education Association (OKEA), are the latest public faces of a fledging movement of educators, parents and students who are standing up to denounce the abuses of a system that has undermined student learning and demand that more time in the classroom be preserved for real teaching. In September, Susan Bowles, an elementary school teacher in Florida, won widespread support by also publicly refused to administer the Florida Assessments for Instruction in Reading, or FAIR.

In the five-page letter, Hendren and Jones lay out in detail to parents the grueling  number of hours of testing and test preparation their children are forced to undergo, leaving little time for actual teaching.

“Your children are losing 288 hours of time with their teacher because of mandated testing. When you break down our days and count for specials, lunch, and recess, we end up with about 4 hours of instruction time. 72 days of our school year we, as teachers, are tied up assessing students with the mandated asssessments. Why are our schools failing? Why are our children not learning to read? We think the numbers above answer those questions.”

Jones and Hendren, despite their public stand, have hardly acted in isolation. Anger and frustration at the testing culture has ben growing across the state and fellow educators have lined up to express their support.

“The actions of these young teachers clearly demonstrate just how frustrated all of our educators are with our current testing culture,” said OKEA President Linda Hampton. “Teachers feel backed into a corner by high-stakes testing and it’s taking the joy out of learning for our students. Our focus should be on what’s best for our students, not what’s best for testing companies.” OEA recently signing onto a resolution adopted by the state PTA calling for a moratorium on high-stakes testing.

Over 85 percent of their students failed the MAP test. In the letter to parents, however, Jones and Hendren make a solid case that the assessment is developmentally inappropriate, unfair, and unduly stressful to their students.

“How can they say the data is valid when they are not even tested in the language they speak? How can they say the data is valid when they ignore what the research says about early childhood developmental capabilities? Is the data provided from MAP ever going to surpass the data that we collect, as the professionals, in our classrooms? 

“This isn’t about my evaluation,” Jones explained to Tulsa  World. “If I’m doing my job properly and in the best interest of children, then I know My evaluation will always be fine. It’s about watching kids cry and throw chairs and pee in their pants and scratch their faces until it turns red and bleeds. That’s what it’s about. That’s all this is about.”

Jones and Hendren also excoriated the accompanying student surveys that asks students, among other prying questions, to describe their level of sleepiness, and seeks other information that the two teachers and many parents believe amounts to data mining and a violation of family privacy.

Jones and Hendren conclude the letter by explaining to families that “your children are more than a number to us. They deserve more time in a rich learning environment, interacting with others, and growing deeper across academic and developmental domains.

“This is about what is in the best interest of the child. When education steps away from the child, all purpose is lost.”