The apparent suicide of a South Gate teacher possibly prompted by low test scores is an extreme case in added pressure that has been put on educators. Some teachers in the desert argue that it is unfair to base effectiveness on tests.
The body of Rigoberto Ruelas Jr. was found at the foot of a remote forest bridge. Authorities are still investigating, but friends and colleagues suggest he was distraught over the teacher rating.
Ruelas taught fifth grade at Miramonte Elementary School and was ranked as a “less effective teacher” based on his students’ test scores. Friends and family members said that he became despondent as a result of the rankings.
Palm Springs Teacher Association President Bev Bricker does not agree with a test-based ranking system. “We’re not about one test, we’re not about multiple tests,” she said. “We’re about can we get students excited about learning, can we get them to analyze, to synthesize, internalize all the information we give them and how they internalize, how they gather information.”
Bricker also commented on the great expectations and limited resources for teachers in the state. “California has the toughest content standards and the highest measurement of proficiency of those standards with the lowest per people funding in the nation,” she said. “As well as some of the most diverse student population, so our teachers work incredibly hard.”
Pressure for students to perform on standardized tests can often have negative psychological effects on teachers. “It causes anxiety, it can cause depression, and obviously people that are depressed sometimes commit suicide, it leaves them with the feeling of never having done enough,” said clinical psychologist Dr. Sandra Curry.
The debate on how to best gauge teacher performance continues.