I Do NOT Choose Misery… I Choose the TRUTH

On October 9, 2015, 2400 Spokane School District employees sat in front of a screen in each of their respective buildings. They received 7 hours of training via a Webinar and were given a 30 minute lunch. Teachers were told with force the day before, “You must be in your seats by 8:00 a.m.  You may not be late.  You will be given 30 minutes to eat.  It is highly recommended you bring a lunch and do not leave the building for your lunch because you will be expected to be in your seats promptly at the end of the 30 minutes.  You may not leave until 3:30. The District is keeping very close tabs on this time schedule.”

The bulk of the training was around TPEP, the new teacher evaluation system. Teachers sat before a screen and listened to district personnel explain to them the requirements of being an “applying” or “innovative” teacher. The message was clear that teachers needed several data points to prove their students had mastered certain skills and concepts. Amplify was listed as one of those data points. Amplify Testing is now being subtly pushed to be used and linked to teacher performance.  If you are interested in Amplify’s history you can read my chronological compilation here: Amplify… A Modern Day Medusa.

It must be realized the tremendous pressure educators are under. I watched the look on many teachers faces throughout the day. Their training, their creativity, their innovative abilities, their love of children, their knowledge of child development… is being discounted and ignored. It must be understood how the mandates from the Federal, State, and District Level are impacting classrooms. Understand, if anyone desires to see changes in our schools, attendance at school board meetings, willingness to speak at school board meetings, and voting in new school board directors who are willing to be out in the schools, listening and learning what educators and children need… will ALL be critical.

The Cost

I also did some math. 2400 hundred district employees were paid for attending this training. Considering per diem rates range from $222.00 to $366.00 a day per employee, I multiplied 2400 X $300 (close average). It cost the school district somewhere around $720,000 dollars for this one day training. This is tax payer dollars at work. Many educators felt demeaned, devalued, and slapped in the face.

I was mandated to be at this training although I am not on TPEP and have received much of the same training over the past three years. I was told I had to be at the training so I would “know what the teachers are going through and know how to help them.”  With all due respect, I am quite clear on exactly what teachers are going through at this time in Public Education.  I’m in their classrooms.  Their autonomy to do what is right for children is being squelched as they are handcuffed with the Federal, State, and District mandates.

The Hidden Cost

The morale of the teachers.

The Parallel Between SBA and TPEP

As I sat obediently listening, my mind drew a parallel. Educators are spending hours on test prep. This is robbing children of precious instructional hours to get ready for a state evaluation: The SBA (Smarter Balanced Assessment). Yesterday robbed teachers of planning time to prep and design quality lessons for children. This training deprived teachers from receiving professional development they personally needed to improve their instructional practice. Why? To prep the educator for the state teacher evaluation system: TPEP.

The full focus has become TEST PREP,  EVALUTION PREP and DATA.

NoteSome teachers did need the training on TPEP yesterday.  They are new to this evaluation system and appreciated the time.  The presenter did the best she could with what she was mandated to deliver to us.  I am positive she worked hard. However, many of us, would have preferred to stay home and save the tax payer the per diem pay, OR had the option to choose other professional development.  Many of us have sat through these Webinars and Power Points on TPEP multiple times over the past three years.  Not only was it a bad form of Professional Development, it was not necessary to insult our intelligence and assume we needed the repetition.  Many of the slides in the Power Point were read to us. We sat.  We listened.


“Good boys and girls”.

Teachers thinking for themselves

What are Teachers Expected to be Learning and Implementing in the Classroom Right Now?

Let’s examine a list at the Elementary Level:

  1. Journeys (Year Two of the adopted ELA program, but many are first year teachers or new to the district)
  2. EngageNY Math (You may see Eureka at the bottom of the worksheets.  Same Same.  This is a math program that has not been researched.  It is not differentiated.  It is scripted.  It does not align with any mathematical instructional best practices regarding how children learn mathematics.  It does not meet the needs of special needs children.  It does not meet the needs of English Language Learners.  It does not meet the needs of children who enter the classroom several grade levels behind.  Many teachers are floundering trying to implement this program in ways children can access the math)
  3. AVID (A College and Career Readiness Program)
  4. Why Try (A Mindset Program)
  5. Data Study (Five Schools have hired a .5 Data Coach.  The teachers involved in the study are required to attend many additional meetings as well as implement the requirements of the program.)
  6. Amplify Testing (Teachers will need to learn this new testing program, learn new rubrics (designed by non-educators), score performance tasks, enter in the student data, have additional meetings to interpret the data, and include it in their TPEP, teacher evaluation worksheets.)
  7. New Science Standards, Topics and Kits
  8. Social Studies Standards (currently with no program, but with a new program coming soon.)
  9. A new Extended Day Program in which children are in and out of the classroom daily as learning has become more and more compartmentalized and teachers have less and less solid blocks of time to teach a consistent cycle of lessons.  (Something required by TPEP)
  10. TPEP (The Teacher Evaluation System)  which involves 4 Domains, 8 Criterion, 62 Elements, various Components, Segments, and Driving Questions.
  11. And there is more…

Survival Mode

Ever Wonder Why Teachers are Choosing to Leave the Profession?

Ever Wonder Why There is Talk of a Looming Teacher Shortage?

As I drove away from the training the following was spinning through my mind:

Data Data Data. The world will not turn without data. Children can’t learn without data. People can’t eat without data. Schools can’t function without data. Teachers can’t lesson plan without data.  Teachers don’t know how to teach without data.

Data… how did we ever survive before data?

Bill Gates, in the Road Ahead, stated simply, “Data is power, he who controls the data has the power.” That was 10+ years ago. Kids are being tracked cradle to career. They now have the platforms (Amplify to name one) to forecast children’s capabilities for the state labor force… whether scientific or manual. Teachers are not to teach as an art, but to teach to keep the cogs in the machine moving.

My “favorite” message from the training, “We (The District) need your data so we can help you grow.”

Right behind that one, my second “favorite”, was the fifth norm presented at the beginning of the all day Webinar: MISERY IS OPTIONAL.

Hmmmm…  first time I’ve encountered this “norm” in any meeting I have ever attended in 26 years of being an educator.  This begs the question, “Why would The District front load the 6 hour Webinar with this norm?”

Think about it.

Ever read or watched The Divergent Series?  Or how about The Hunger Games… and President Snow of The Capital?

I do NOT choose misery. I choose the TRUTH.

“People are getting rich from data. This is a money grab. How many start ups and software companies are producing apps for CCSS (Common Core State Standards) and Test Prep? More than we can keep up with. They are still perpetuating the lie that US kids are behind the global curve. It’s a crock of $×÷$÷!” -A Spokane Parent (Sent to me October 9, 2015)

I’m Divergent.

I was educated Pre-Common Core, and was taught to think outside the four corners of the text.

The result: I think outside the four corners of the screen too.

Will you?

Passionately Submitted,


References:Spokane Assessment

  1. Spokane School District is not shy about Data Collection.  Meet “Quasar’… The “never ending forming galaxy of data!”

Spokane School District’s Assessment Page: Assessment and Program Effectiveness

    2.  What is the Core Really For?

7 thoughts on “I Do NOT Choose Misery… I Choose the TRUTH

  1. Raz- Brilliant! You hit the nail on the head!!! Teachers should have time to teach their students well. Students should be in an environment that is conducive to learning. Neither have this opportunity right now given the test, test, test, data mandate. Instead, teachers have the joy of teaching sucked right out of them and students have the joy of learning sucked out of them. And for what? To profit the testing companies/publishing companies on the backs of teachers, students, and shrinking educational budget. It is for this reason that as a parent, I refuse to have my student subjected to such testing. Not because they are not capable or competent (heaven knows that they are as illustrated by the fact that they are attending both HS and college at the age of 15), but because it benefits them nothing and costs them, their peers, and their teachers everything!
    Having studied statistics, test construct, and learning theory at the doctorate level, I can tell you first hand that the SBAC is a poorly constructed test that does not measure what it proports to be measuring. The fact that high-stakes are attached to it is beyond absurd! Truth certainly is stranger than fiction.
    Raz, keep speaking up and bringing light to the darkness. For it is by speaking up and helping to educate others that change can and will take place. Knowledge IS power! As parents and students are becoming better informed about the truth, they are standing up and saying “NO more” to their district administrators and school boards.


    1. Thank you Michele. I agree the SBA is not valid or reliable… yet there continues to be training for principals which will trickle down to teachers to propagandize how worthwhile the scores are. Thank Golly more and more states are getting wise and withdrawing. Teachers NEED strong PD. Especially the new teachers. They need so many supports. Focusing them in on how to be evaluated before they even have a chance to learn how to use the programs they have been handed is ridiculous. I appreciate your response. -Raz


  2. Wow. Your experiences out in Spokane are frighteningly similar to ours here in Maine… even down to the “norms” setting. Please keep us up-to-date on your experience with Amplify testing, as I am quite sure that in Maine, we will be using something similar soon. Many cheered when Smarter Balanced left, but I am quite certain that something even more all encompassing is in its wake. (See my blog post: http://emilytalmage.com/2015/08/05/cashing-in-on-opt-out/ )


    1. Hi Emily! I love your blog. It is amazing how many of us are realizing the truth behind all of this. It is hard to be the Sheepdog at times, but keep it up! Glad to connect through blogging… I want to follow your blog, but it did not have a follow button. On the side of my blog you can see the ones I follow and it helps others as a reference. I agree about celebrating SBA withdrawal… the problem is what replaces it. Stay in touch, Raz


  3. Raz… a link to your blog was included in the electronic feedback form for a workshop I co-facilitated for my teachers on Friday…the topic was also TPEP. My opinion is that TPEP isn’t inherently bad or wrong, but that so, so many places are implementing it poorly (for whatever reason: lack of time, lack of resources, initiative fatigue, fear). What you describe sounds like such a tremendous missed opportunity. What if, instead of bolting you to your chairs and demanding compliance, your district trusted your 2400 colleagues with time to work within the framework make the connections between what they already do and what the framework talks about? You’re right about the costs…those seven hours may have done more to damage teachers and teaching than just about any other conceivable use of that time.

    And this of course has me thinking: if an administrator walked into your classroom and saw you teaching your kids the way that this inservice “teaching” was happening, would it pass muster? My assumption is “no.”


    1. Hi Mark,

      Can you leave your email or private message me through Facebook? I would like to have a courageous conversation regarding TPEP.

      I appreciate you joining the discussion.

      I hope my whole post was read. The reason being is TPEP is not the only issue I address. We are becoming so test and evaluation driven it is sucking the time out of classroom instructional time to do what is right for children.

      I am going to write my thoughts in another blog post so I do not have to rewrite it several times in discussion threads.

      Here is my first question and response: Put 5 principals in a room observing a teacher. Will the TPEP evaluation be exactly the same? The scores exactly the same? Is there inter-rater reliability?

      Take a high school PE teacher who decides to become a principal. Their first job is as an elementary principal. I’m a mathematics expert. Do you really think they have the lens to judge my mathematics teaching?

      1st year principals verse 20 year principals?

      Way Way Way too many variables.

      Furthermore, it is a time zapper. It is a time zapper on the part of the teacher as well as on the part of the principal.

      Answer my first question about inter-rater reliability… then I can follow up with many more.



      1. Raz,

        I do see that there was more to your post than TPEP… I was reading it more from the lens of how teacher-learning through PD like what you described is such a counterproductive way to connect teachers with any kind of learning, and particularly one as complex as teacher evaluation. In one of the comments above, you mention that teachers need strong PD… that’s my angle, and what my role is in my district this year: design and deliver higher quality PD and cut through as much of the BS as possible.

        I do want to state from the outset that I realize there are a lot of stated and implied “ifs” in my responses. As you point out, there are many, many variables… just like in our classrooms. I’m not here to try to convince you that TPEP is The Answer or “okay” or even “only a little evil.” I do want to share the truths I know, though, in hopes that you can consider that the reality being manifested in Spokane is not necessarily the same everywhere.

        I’ll tackle the inter-rater reliability question first. Some districts are approaching inter-rater reliability from the angle of “5 principals see the same lesson and they give it the same rating.” The first problem with a district taking that position is that no where in the framework is there an evaluation rubric for a specific lesson–rather, the framework is intended to describe a holistic view of teaching…180 days, not 1. If a specific lesson is being given a rating (U, B, P or D), it is a gross misapplication of the evaluation tool. The purpose of classroom observation is to gather potential evidence in support of a teacher’s practice. Marzano’s “Effective Supervision” clearly advises against offering a rating for a specific lesson…there’s no way a principal could see enough in a single observation to draw a valid conclusion/rating about a teacher.

        The spirit of your question, though, is absolutely valid: we want teachers to get a fair and reasonable evaluation regardless of the principal, his/her past experience, etc. To achieve uniform and perfect consistency would require reducing the very complex work of teaching to mere checklist of “high leverage practices” or “preferred moves,” which may or may not be what is right for kids in that context. That would be the only way to guarantee complete inter-rater reliability…and that is perhaps the least useful kind of evaluation feedback to give or receive as it is agnostic to the realities of the classroom context. In the training I do for principals about inter-rater reliability, we stress that it is the inquiry and coaching procedure that must be uniform, to ensure that every teacher has equal opportunity to reflect, share, and surface the aspects of their practice that best represent themselves and their profession. If that is what is emphasized, the resulting ratings are much more “reliable” and consistent across multiple principals.

        You pose the question about whether a PE teacher has the experience and knowledge to judge your teaching of mathematics. Keep in mind that your principal isn’t being charged with being a content expert (or shouldn’t be, at least). In the Marzano framework (which I think is what Spokane uses), the evaluation rubrics for observable “teaching moves” in criteria 1, 2.1-2.7, 5 and 6, are pretty straightforward: to achieve “proficient,” a teacher should be able to describe (ideally through verbal conversation) how he/she monitors for the desired effect. Neither the law nor the framework defines what that monitoring must look like…that is up to the professional discretion of the teacher. Through reflection and learning focused conversations, the teacher shares his/her thinking processes, the hidden expertise that strong teachers possess but isn’t always obvious in an observation. The principal doesn’t have to be an expert in your content, you do, and through your teaching reveal that you are an expert (not through having to “prove yourself” with supporting documentation).

        The phrase I use all the time with teachers and with principals is the concept of a natural harvest of artifacts and evidence. No teacher should EVER have to assemble a portfolio (paper or uploaded) of pre-emptive cover-your-donkey “evidence.” Waste. Of. Time. No one should be creating anything for the purposes of their evaluation–with the distinct exception of some form of personal self-assessment of teaching based on the framework. So much depends on local decisions and how local contracts and districts are applying the law outlined in RCW/WAC. No where in the law is there ever a mention of a required number of artifacts, evidence, binders or portfolios. Likewise, nowhere in the framework is there a mandated list of how a teacher is supposed to teach. Any communication to you otherwise is a misrepresentation of the truth.

        Please understand I’m not on here to defend the way your district is handling TPEP… or anything else. If anything, I hope that my experience both as a classroom teacher evaluated using TPEP and as a trainer on the system can help illuminate that it doesn’t have to be the train wreck it sounds like it is becoming in your district. If implemented properly, this teacher evaluation system does not have to be prescriptive and confining…at all.

        My worry: if this approach to teacher evaluation isn’t implemented properly, something will replace it, and that something is likely to be far more prescriptive and constraining.


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