UNIVERSITY OF WASHINGTON
Department of Mathematics, 354350
Seattle, Washington 98195-4350
FAX (206) 543-0397
e-mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org
Warfield phone: (206) 543-7445
October 1, 2005
Washington State Professional Educator Standards Board
Old Capitol Building
600 Washington Street, S., Room 249
P. O. Box 47236
Olympia, WA 98504-7236
Dear Ms. Wallace,
I am writing to express a firm stance of the Washington Teachers of Teachers of Mathematics (WaToToM) about the testing of future teachers. WaToToM is a group of people with a professional focus on the teaching of K-12 mathematics teachers. It includes faculty members of universities, four-year colleges and community colleges throughout the state, some people in state and local school administration and some in-service teachers who help us stay connected with the K-12 system. As we understand it, the current screening mechanism is the set of West-B and Praxis tests whose description is linked to the OSPI web page. When we examined the tests, they seemed to us extremely inappropriate.
The state of Washington has been moving forward in an impressive way with its educational standards. The EALRs were written well and thoughtfully, and the GLEs that further define them are also sound. What distinguishes us from most other states, though, is that we have a testing system that supports both of them. The WASLs were put together with great care by experts, with feedback from many people who are involved and passionately interested. They are designed so that in order to "teach to the test", teachers need to provide their students with exactly the kind of conceptual understanding and skill in reasoning and communication that the EALRs and GLEs emphasize.
To provide that understanding and those skills, teachers need a profound understanding of mathematics at the level they are teaching and enough confidence and competence to be able to support their students' intellectual growth. Those are heavy demands to put on teachers, but absolutely essential if we are to make the progress we so much desire. Since this analysis of what teachers need is relatively new, assessing whether they have acquired it is hard – not much material is yet available. On the other hand, using a test whose emphasis is directly contrary to what we are aiming for is as disastrous at the teacher level as it is at the student level. The Praxis exams, especially the ones at the elementary level, are very closely equivalent to the tests of basic skills that we finally got rid of for our K-12 students, and convey just the message that they did: what matters is skill at procedures, not understanding of them or anything else. We can't afford to undermine our own efforts by conveying that message.
As I said before, WaToToM as an organization has taken a firm stand on this issue. In support of this stand, many individuals in WaToToM feel sufficiently strongly to be willing to offer our time and experience to help seek out other existing options (there are at least a few). We would also be willing if necessary to help develop them further. If there is any help that we can provide that will support your efforts in this direction, a message to me will result in immediate notification of everyone in the group. We very much hope that you will involve us as you make the decision of how to test Washington's teachers.
Virginia M. Warfield
Department of Mathematics
Mail Stop 354350
University of Washington
cc. Terry Bergeson, Superintendent of Schools
Mary Alice Heuschel, Deputy Superintendent, Teaching and Learning