Giving Teachers Standardized Tests in Math

Despite having test scores showing that only 25.9% of the district’s 10th graders can pass a math test, Dr. Wardynski at the State of Schools address Tuesday night, claimed that we’re going to “own math.”

He went on to claim that he’s “seen a huge improvement in math scores.”

A 75% failure rate must be a definition of “owning math” for which I was previously unaware.

To his credit, Wardynski took total ownership of the failure Tuesday night by letting everyone know that it was his initiatives that made this happen “even after many doubters said new practices the school system implemented would hurt graduation rates.”

So at least now we know who to blame for only a quarter of our 10th graders passing the ACT Plan test for the 2013-2014 school year: It’s Wardynski and his initiatives.

He, of course, chose to spin those abysmal numbers as a “huge improvement.”

Blaming Teachers

As the “strong leader” that he is, Wardynski always takes the credit and places the blame. These test scores were no different.

Shortly after these terrible test results were release in January, Dr. Wardynski and Dr. Vasile hatched a brilliant plan that had the benefit of making them look like they were doing something to address these math scores, and at the same time, give them a scapegoat to blame.

Wardynski hinted at this plan Tuesday night during his speech when he cryptically and confusingly stated, “Americans struggle with math, and we think it starts in elementary school. We need to change the paradigm.”

Nice of him to have done so much research on this matter that “he thinks” it starts in elementary school, isn’t it?

So last night we found out their “plan.”

Dr. Vasile has created and is going to administer a math test to all our elementary teachers grades K-6th.

That’s right, the way to improve math scores and “change the paradigm” is to administer standardized tests to our elementary teachers.

One’s ability to teach has now, in the city of Huntsville, been reduced to one’s ability to pass a standardized test.

When Wardynski gets an idea in his head, it suddenly becomes the cure all for everything wrong with education.

If you’re paying attention, this is yet one more example showing that no one in Huntsville City Schools’ administration has a clue what education actually is.

The “Plan” for Math Standardized Tests

Here’s the memo that was distributed to some of the elementary teachers in the district yesterday. (It seems that some principal’s elected not to share this with their teachers yesterday. Feel free to share it so that we can help the district get the word out. Obviously they need some help.)


First, as I’m sure we’ll see in every controversial decision the superintendent makes from this point forward, our “strong leader” decided to lay the blame for a new program squarely at the feet of Judge Haikala and the Consent Order.

The Consent Order will be responsible for everything Wardynski wants to do from this point forward.

Second, he’s creating a brand new, “Wardynski only” certification called “Master Math Teacher.” (I wonder if Jason Taylor will attempt to copyright this as well?)

This sounds a lot like the Master Teacher certification program that began in 1969 to provide meaningful professional development to teachers. I’m sure this comparison is intentional, but don’t be confused; Wardynski’s plan has absolutely nothing to do with Master Teacher. This “Master Math Teacher” certification will be meaningless to any other district in the state/nation.

Finally, in order to ensure that only the teachers who are best at taking a test will be teaching math, every grade from third to sixth, will be departmentalized by subject. This means that your children will be changing classes, as they do now in the sixth grade, starting in the third grade.

So Why Should You Care?

So teachers are taking a test. So what? Why should that matter? It’s about time that teachers got some of their own medicine, right?

Well, here’s why this thrown together at the last minute plan is a bad idea for your children.

Departmentalization Will Limit “Specials”

Departmentalization will disrupt the daily schedule so that “specials” such as art, music, guidance, library and even PE will be further limited. (And pardon me for a moment, but none of these things are “specials.” Every single one of those classes is essential to children’s development and education. They’re “essentials,” and it’s about time we treated them as more than a waste of time.)

Content Knowledge Is Not The Same As Teaching

You should also care about this idea because it reduces the ability to be a good teacher down to the ability to pass a standardized test.

I realize that many in the general public might not be aware of this, but teaching requires far more than having a solid base of content knowledge.

Most of us have had at least once in our lives a teacher who clearly knew his or her subject matter, but had no ability to actually communicate that subject matter to someone else. And most of us have, as a result, failed to learn much in such a teacher’s class. Great content knowledge is not great teaching.

Have you ever had the opportunity to talk to an engineer you’ve met here in Huntsville? How did that conversation go? Did you understand what they were trying to say? (I’m not trying to abuse my engineer friends here. As with all things, there are certainly exceptions, but engineers are not typically known for their ability to communicate with, you know, ordinary mortals.)

Engineers certainly know their stuff. They can certainly communicate their stuff to other engineers who know their own stuff. But when it comes to teaching, knowing your stuff is merely the beginning of the process.

This is what Dr. Wardynski is completely ignorant of because he is not able to teach. Content knowledge is crucial, but the ability to communicate that content in a way that someone without the knowledge can comprehend is at least just as important. And frankly, for elementary school, communication is clearly more important than content.

Paying Teachers More to Teach Math Devalues Other Subjects

Math is important. But it is not the only important subject. English, reading, writing, science, history, social studies, art, music, and PE are not less important than math.

This plan tells our teachers, our schools, and our students that the only subject that really matters is math.

And a world where only math matters is a world devoid of nuance, of multiple answers to questions, of critical thinking, of emotion, of human interaction, of art and even though music and math are intimately tied together, it is a world devoid of song.

Will our children stop singing if we pay math teachers more? Of course not, but they will learn that the song in their heart is less important than the numbers in their brain.

Our children should not have to sell their songs so they can “own math.”

This Plan to “Own Math” Will Not Work

Does this city have a problem with math instruction?

The ACT Plan results that I linked to above suggest that as a possibility, don’t they?

But here are some things you should know about the ACT Plan test:

Any test where 75% of the people taking the test fail, should, at a minimum, be closely examined for potential flaws/errors in design. Sadly, in order to ensure “test security,” it is impossible for anyone to actually “test” the test. Teachers have to sign non-disclosure agreements that will result in their dismissal and a loss of their certification if they break it. (In other words, they’ll never teach again.)

ACT Plan has been phased out this year and will be replaced by the ACT Aspire test. So comparing this year’s results to last year’s results will not be possible.

And honestly, are we really going to assume that three out of every four students in Huntsville are not capable of succeeding either in college or in a career? The mere suggestion is ludicrous.

Do we have a math problem? Maybe. Or maybe we just have a testing problem.

But even if we assume that we do have a math problem, how exactly will testing teachers address this problem? The only way testing will help is if we assume that the vast majority of our elementary school teachers are incapable of doing elementary school mathematics.

If this is so, we have a much bigger problem than any one district will ever be able to overcome.

On Tuesday night, Wardynski claimed that he “thinks” our math problem begins in elementary school and that “we need to change that paradigm.”

The paradigm that we’ve been following for the past 15 years has emphasized nothing but math and English standardized testing. Since Wardynski arrived in 2011, he has quadrupled the number of standardized tests our students take. How is giving a standardized test to teachers changing that paradigm?

Wardynski is simply looking for a scapegoat here. He’s hoping for failure so that he can blame the teachers.

Testing Details Teachers Should Know

Here’s what I know:

  • The test is voluntary. You do not have to take it.
  • The Master Math Teacher “certification” is only open to elementary teachers (K-6) with an Early Childhood Certification.
  • There will be a bump in pay (only Wardynski knows how much), and an increase in professional development requirements if you receive this “certification.”
  • The test will be administered on Thursday, May 14th from 3:30-5:30pm at Grissom and Lee High Schools.
  • The test will be computer based as you must bring your “charged” laptop with you.

Here’s what I suspect:

  • This test will cover mathematics up to the sixth grade.
  • The test will be a variation of the SchoolNet benchmark exam that Dr. Vasile has pieced together from Pearson’s test question bank.
  • You should expect there to be questions that do not have a correct answer (as is the case with the SchoolNet tests that our kids take at least 4 times a year).
  • Let me repeat that, there will be questions on the test that do not have correct answers. This may be an oversight on the part of the test creator. This may be intentional. Either way, it works to serve the purpose of creating a scapegoat for the failed policies that have gotten us here.
  • You will be highly encouraged to take this test. I would expect that you’ll be told that your job may depend on your having taken this test.
  • Your results from the test will be used to determine your placement and subject matter for the 2015-2016 school year. I suspect that if one school has several teachers who do well on the test and another school doesn’t teachers will be moved from to different schools across the district based on their test results.
  • I am convinced that Dr. Wardynski intends to manipulate and use these test results to assign blame for the district’s math scores onto teachers.

So What Can We Do?

If you are a parent, call the school board and tell them that you do not approve of the plan to departmentalize your child. Tell them that music, art, English, reading, science and history matter just as much as math. Tell them that they do not represent themselves nor do they represent the superintendent, but rather that they represent you. (Some of our board members, like Ms. Ferrell, certainly need reminding of this fact as she demonstrated in a PTA at Mt. Gap on February 17th.)

This is a flawed plan, and the board needs to know that parents do not support this so-called change in the paradigm.

If you are a teacher, the way forward is much simpler: opt-out.

The test is not mandatory. No one is forcing you to take it. So don’t.

You might be thinking to yourself, “it’s just one test.” And you would be right. This is just one test.

But it is one test to prove that you’re capable of teaching mathematics to a kindergartener.

It is one test to prove that more testing is the sole means of improving test scores.

It is one test to prove that educating others can be reduced to a standardized test.

In other words, it is one test that undermines everything that education is actually about.

It is based on a fundamentally flawed understanding of education, and it will, no matter how well anyone does on the test, perpetuate that fundamentally flawed understanding of education.

Wardynski is looking for someone to take the blame for his embarrassing test scores that are a direct result of his flawed policies.

Don’t be that scapegoat.

"Children see magic because they look for it." --Christopher Moore, Lamb: The Gospel according to Biff, Jesus' childhood pal.


  1. You are so right! I am insulted that I would have to take an elementary school math test AND have my student test scores looked at to consider if I was even a candidate to be a “Master Math Teacher.” Unfortunately, too many teachers will fall into this potential trap. Our system has a history of not respecting teachers or being totally honest. I would be wondering if I took this test, would that open me up to be moved to another school of the system’s choosing even I was not selected? Why don’t we take some of this money and give teachers a long over due raise?

  2. According to the letter, teachers holding Early Childhood OR Elementary certification will be eligible for this “opportunity.”

    1. That’s true. Thanks for the clarification.

      The letter also states that teachers will be given a stipend if they are the Master Math Teacher, but last Thursday, Missy Walker the district’s math coordinator in presenting this to the board said, “We HOPE to be able to give teachers a stipend.”

  3. Could we find a standardized measurement for commonsense and send Warndynski and the supporters of this new dictate to school for a reality check? Is there a standardized measurement for those with heart and commonsense,both which has not been seen since this man came into office.

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