Sooke school board censures rebellious elementary teacher

The Sooke school board reprimanded Millstream elementary teacher Kathryn Sihota for insubordination last week for refusing to administer a reading test to her Grade 3 class.

She wasn’t suspended as expected, but received a clear warning that further misconduct could lead to harsher disciplinary action, including being fired.

That leaves Sihota in a tough spot. She refused to administer the District Assessment of Reading Team (DART) test in June, and will face the same dilemma in this school year.

Sihota says she isn’t sure what action she will take next summer. “I don’t know yet. I’m still reeling,” she said in an interview. “I want to provide the best learning environment possible. I hope the district will rethink the mandatory nature of this test.”

A letter of reprimand will be forwarded to the B.C. College of Teachers, which can launch its own investigation if its sees fit.

SD 62 administers the mandatory DART test to assess reading comprehension to kids in grades 3 to 9. Sihota argues the test is too stressful for young children and unnecessary as an assessment tool. The district says it uses the written, open-ended test to judge how to best allocate reading resources.

Sihota’s case caught provincewide attention and ignited a debate on the value of standardized testing. More than 100 teachers and representatives from the B.C. Teachers’ Federation and teachers’ unions rallied at the Sooke School District offices in Langford, supporting Sihota and denouncing the DART as another tool eroding teacher autonomy in the classroom.

“I didn’t expect this to take on provincial proportions. I’m glad the BCTF stood up for kids,” said Sihota, who is co-president of the Sooke teachers’ union. “If I was insubordinate for some other reason I wouldn’t have had the support.”

Sihota says the disciplinary process and media attention has been exhausting and emotionally draining. Kids in her class are asking questions about why she was on the TV news, and asking questions about breaking rules.

“Acts of conscience are difficult to explain to kids. You have to be careful about teaching kids about rules,” she said.

Sihota said she has heard plenty of support from parents, but the Sooke Parents Educational Advisory Council (SPEAC), backed the school board’s position.

“Parents want their kids tested and early intervention is key,” said SPEAC president Georgina Tran at a school board meeting last week.

Ron Warder, SD 62 assistant superintendent, said parents want to know the reading competency of their kids before they enter Grade 4, when letter-grading begins.

Warder said issuing the DART test to Grade 3 kids isn’t as onerous as suggested by the teachers’ union, and if administered in the fall, it provides a good tool to identify students’ reading strengths and weaknesses.

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