Doug Robinson: The teachers respond to last week's column

Published: Wednesday, Oct. 2 2013 3:28 p.m. MDT

The teachers have plenty to say when it comes to the issue of absenteeism and government-mandated testing.

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Today’s column is brought to you by you, the readers. Or, more accurately, readers who are school teachers.

In a recent column, I wrote about the dilemma teachers face. They are required to give state-mandated proficiency tests in math, science and languages to a minimum of 95 percent of their students — even if many of those students choose not to come to school and even though the tests are voluntary for the students and don’t affect his/her graduation or promotion to the next class. The motivation for such tests is one-sided. Schools and teachers are held accountable, but the students are not. If the kids fail to take the test or score poorly, the schools and teachers pay the price.

Utah has an average absentee rate of 13.5 percent, which means nearly 14 of every 100 students is missing each day. So how are teachers supposed to get them to take the test and how are they supposed to score well if they’re gone?

It’s another dreamy, unrealistic reach by the government, a carryover from the silly No Child Left Behind law (NCLB), or, as educators like to call it, No Teacher Left Standing or No Child’s Behind Left. It’s a national issue that all states are grappling with. It’s federal law: EVERY child in public school must achieve grade-level proficiency in reading, math and science. While they are at it, why don’t they mandate world peace by 2016?

Well, educators had plenty to say about all this, especially the issue of absenteeism. Here are some excerpts from a few of their emails about last week’s column (and, by the way, why don’t we let teachers — the real experts — take charge of our education system, rather than legislators (or does this make too much sense?)?:

“Thank you for stating what so many of us teachers have thought for years,” wrote Donald Carper. “We are at mid-term for the first quarter, and I already have two students I’ve only seen once (in over 20 days). I have a large number of students who have missed around 10 days. They have been sick, or a relative has, and their parents have seen nothing wrong with taking their kids out of school for vacation, even if they had all summer to do it. And yet I’m repeatedly told there’s nothing we can do about it. I’m near the end of my career. I’ve loved all 40 years of teaching, but I would discourage anyone from following in my footsteps because life for teachers is going to get much harder with merit pay and publicly grading schools and teachers. It’s very sad.”

From retired teacher Janice Metcalf: “I have had parents take their kids to Disneyland for a week and ask me if their kids would miss anything while they were gone. Heck, yes! They miss everything. They miss review, new concepts, reinforcement, discussions … group work, games, new assignments, exposure to new ideas, etc. Then some of these same parents schedule a cruise for Thanksgiving or Christmas. I had asked administrators about testing for kids that were absent for so many days of the school year. These are the same kids that never miss a party or a field trip. It is mighty frustrating … Parents need to remember that adults don't have the option of deciding every day whether to go to work or not. Just get up and get going. That's what life is all about!”

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