A teacher in California sent this letter to State Superintendent Tom Torlakson. California recently announced that it was prepared to spend $1 billion implementing Common Core, although the state’s public schools have not recovered from the billions of dollars cut during the Schwarzenegger era.

Here is the letter:

August 1, 2013

Dear Superintendent Torlakson,

Thank you for your commitment to increasing funding for California’s six million public school students, working tirelessly to improve education in the Golden State, and for being an uncompromising advocate for teachers.

Your efforts have not gone unnoticed: last year, esteemed education historian Diane Ravitch wrote in her blog, “California has another great asset in its State Superintendent Tom Torlakson… He is one of the most enlightened–if not THE most enlightened state education chiefs in the nation. He understands that rebuilding the public system is a high priority.”

I am a high school English teacher at Edgewood High School in West Covina where I teach in our school’s International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme and serve as our IB Diploma Programme Coordinator. My involvement with the IB curriculum reinforces the core pedagogical beliefs I acquired while earning my MA at Claremont Graduate School twenty one years ago: children learn best when they are given the latitude and guidance to discuss and discover ideas and experiment via engaging learning activities. Deep learning is achieved via authentic, teacher-designed assessments.

While I admire the performance-based nature of the Common Core State Standards, and while the SBAC assessments do indeed require students to engage in performance-based tasks, I am gravely concerned by the exponential increase in high stakes testing that will no doubt accompany the SBAC assessments. I am alarmed by the developmental inappropriateness of the CCSS, particularly at the elementary level.

I suggest that you and your staff personally take the SBAC practice tests that can be accessed online. I believe that the length of the tests and their developmentally inappropriate demands will more than give you pause– you will become as fearful for our students’ wellbeing as I am.

Additionally, I am highly concerned about the significant cost of preparing for and administering the SBAC tests. Doug McRae, a retired executive in the testing field, projects the final cost of Smarter Balanced tests at close to $40 per student– triple what California is currently paying. It is no secret that many districts lack the bandwidth and hardware required to administer the SBAC assessments. As a result, cash strapped districts will be forced to divert funding that would otherwise be spent on students into upgrading their infrastructure to prepare for this next incarnation of high stakes testing.

Lastly, and most importantly, nearly one in four children in California live in poverty. It is well documented that the real crisis in education is the pernicious effects of poverty—socioeconomic status and school and test performance are inextricably entwined. The money spent on this brave new world of SBAC high stakes testing will make it impossible to provide the wraparound services that we know will improve the lives of poor children and therefore improve their educational experiences and outcomes: food security, health services, counselors, quality before and after school daycare, well-stocked and staffed libraries. The list goes on and on.

Last May, I proudly accompanied a group of my colleagues to the ceremony where you celebrated our recognition as a California Distinguished School. In your address, you fondly reminisced about your experiences as a science teacher, taking your students on field trips. At another point, you received enthusiastic cheers when you asked, “Who would like to see the arts back in California classrooms?” Unshackling our schools from the overwhelming financial burden of SBAC assessments will once again allow field trips, music and the arts to become a reality in California public schools.

In closing, I ask you to secure your legacy as a principled State Superintendent who unwaveringly advocates for that which is best for children. Please follow the lead of other State Superintendents who have chosen to withdraw from SBAC and PARCC assessments, and let’s allow the money our taxpayers opted to allocate to public schools go to those who are most deserving: our children.

Thank you for your consideration—

Warm regards,

Jeanne Berrong