Another Brilliant Letter From Melissa McMullan

The PJSTA’s own Melissa McMullan, via Diane Ravitch

The following was posted as a comment on the blog:


Dear Dr. Ravitch,


I have spent the last week and a half reeling from the shot across the bow that public education took on March 31st when the New York State Legislature ostensibly signed off on its destruction with the passing of the New York State Budget, and its attached legislation, S2006B-2015. As a teacher who is passionate about what she does, with two years of failing State Growth Scores, I know my days as a teacher are numbered. I am left with only one choice, to continue to act out of love for my students until the day comes when my district will be forced to remove me from the classroom and students I graciously serve.


My first act of love for my students, since the passing of this legislation and the absolute betrayal of my own elected officials, is the following letter I sent to the Board of Regents this afternoon.


Dear New York State Board of Regents:


This letter is in response to New York State Law S2006B-2015, dated March 31, 2015. I write you as a teacher of thirteen years who loves her profession and her students more than words could possibly capture. There has not been one day in the classroom that I wished away. Not one paycheck that I did not regard with awe over the fact that I could be paid to do a job I loved so deeply. Not one August that I did not greet with excitement in anticipation of new students, new challenges and new victories. Nor one end of school year I did not confront with sadness over the end of a ten-month partnership with my students filled with reading and writing and thinking and questioning.


Teaching is my passion. Every single day I ask myself what went wrong? Who did I not reach? What can I do tomorrow to push harder and support the growth of my students? I sincerely love teaching because after thirteen years, I am clear on only one thing – I will never have all of the answers. And I like that challenge. Each year brings new students, new families, new strengths and new areas of opportunity into my classroom. My voracious appetite for meeting their respective needs is confronted by the infinite possibilities that education offers.


This year, we had an interesting scenario. It became very clear on reading comprehension assessments that students understood what they were reading, but of the fifteen students in my class receiving Academic Intervention Services (AIS) for reading, out of a total of twenty-seven students, eight continuously earned failing scores on weekly assessments. We asked ourselves, is it the vocabulary in the questions? No. Is it vocabulary in the choices? No. We realized that students could not see the correct answers in the choices because they lacked the transferal skills to get themselves from what they knew the answers were to the choices given. We started giving the students the questions without choices, and having them write their own answers. Then we gave them the choices and they had to select the choices that most closely resembled their answers. Our failure rate dropped substantially from eight students to one to two students. This is what teaching is. Every single day we must go in, assess what our students need from us, and devise ways to meet those needs.


I often tell people that a teacher’s job is never, ever done. I could work around the clock twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week and still have things I want to accomplish in the classroom. As teachers, we have to eek out as much time as we can before school, during school and after school, and spend that time on the work we determine offers our students the greatest return on investment. This is why grading assessments we provide is so important to us. Students and teachers require continual assessment feedback so instructional time can best serve students’ needs.


Where is all of this going? It boils down to assessment. Your board has been asked to craft an APPR plan that bases 50% of a teacher’s APPR on assessments you deem appropriate for this purpose. Much of what I am about to discuss pertains solely to the current grades three through eight state testing program, but please keep in mind that these thoughts relate to any assessment we deem appropriate for removing a child’s teacher from his/her classroom.


Any assessment we use for the state’s 50% of the APPR must:


1. Include reliability and validity testing that demonstrates the instrument’s ability to measure what we are asking it to measure. Assessment in New York State public school classrooms must measure a student’s progress toward New York State Standards.


2. Be created by an entity that does not also sell curricular materials to school districts. The 2013 New York State 6th ELA exam included proprietary material that Pearson had also included in its series, Reading Street, which it sells to districts. This is a serious conflict of interest.


3. Have the ability to measure all growth a student experiences during a school year. The current methodology provides simple scores of one, two, three and four limiting its ability show us where growth has or has not transpired, for a variety of reasons.


4. Inform teachers and parents of information both parties do not already know. We know who has difficulty reading and who does not. We must use an assessment that offers rich details about where our students struggles are, as well as what students are doing well.


If we continue on our current path, teachers like me who love what we do, and have an innate desire to be the best teachers we can for our students, will be gone. For the last two years, I have been given a one and a two respectively for my State Growth Score. If you proceed with the State Legislature’s plan, and your current method of assessments, you will be taking good teachers away from the students who need them, using fraudulent instruments. With your June 30th deadline looming, I beg you to contemplate the gravity of this system, and as the law prescribes, use the next few months to speak with teachers and parents who are invested in this system, to craft a plan that places children first.


In all earnest, I am willing to meet with you anytime to discuss the frailties of our current system and measures we can take to meet the law’s deadline in a way that best serves public school children. They are what matter most.


Warm wishes,


Melissa K. McMullan
6th Grade Teacher
Comsewogue School District
Port Jefferson Station, NY

2 Comments on “Another Brilliant Letter From Melissa McMullan”

  1. Once again Melissa writes what I wish I could have . She speaks with such compassion for our profession and honesty that I can’t fathom why someone would want to do their darnedest
    To remove her from a place where she belongs, is needed and where she makes a difference in the lives of the children she teaches. I may have been teaching twice as long but would never and could never put myself in the same league with Melissa McMullan. Any system that would remove such a gifted,passionate and dedicated professional because some flawed assessment process deems her as unfit to teach could only be run by fools. Don’t lose faith Melissa, keep teaching the way you do because I have to believe that justice will prevail and great teachers, like yourself, will carry on and continue to change the lives of those young minds entrusted to your care.

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