Saturday, June 9, 2012

Focused, but appropriately cautious


School boards across Florida have been considering a resolution that would call on the Governor and state Legislature, as well as the U.S. Congress and Administration, to address what many consider an over-reliance on testing in the schools.  Some refer to it as the "anti-testing resolution."  Collier County Board Chair Roy Terry asked the Board to consider that resolution at a Workshop last week.

One by one, our Board members spoke.  While agreeing with the concerns expressed in the resolution, they questioned the factual accuracy, appropriateness and clarity of the language.  A consensus emerged not to adopt the resolution at this time but to wait for discussion at the this week's Florida School Board Association meeting, which several Board members will be attending.

This resolution reflects just a small part of what the Tampa Bay Times calls “a growing national debate about how much testing is too much — and what effect high-stakes accountability has had on the culture of schools throughout the country.

Roy Terry
In explaining why he put the resolution on the agenda for the Workshop, Terry, a former teacher, coach and principal (click here for his bio),  said:

Everywhere you go people are talking about testing and its impact on our educational system.  How much it costs, time taken away from instruction, pressure on students and purpose for the test are all areas of frequent discussion.

The FCAT itself has changed over the years as to its purpose.  Originally, it was to discover student weaknesses and design a program for improvement. 

Since that time the test has become more than just a diagnostic tool, it is now used to:
  1. Determine graduation
  2. Promotion from 3rd grade to 4th grade, schools and districts
  3. Evaluation of teachers and performance based [bonuses]
  4. State funds to reward high performing schools
  5. A plan is in the works to use testing to determine if only students who pass the End of Course (EOC) exam will be funded for that course

There are many other reasons why high stakes testing is not working:
  1. Most new teaching has to do with how to take the test
  2. Due to pressure on students to pass the tests classes that develop creativity are gravely disheartening
  3. Costs to deliver these tests are running in the millions of dollars
  4. Tests are given in April and May in some cases 6 weeks before the end of school (Students think school is over, and [we] lose 6 weeks of instruction time each year
  5. End of Course tests should actually be at the end of the course
  6. It takes another two weeks out of the year to actually administrator the FCAT test

We need to get the message across that there needs to be a better, more efficient way to get this job done.  Whether we adopt [this resolution], develop one of our own or do nothing at all, we need to join the conversation.  Our schools and local control of the educational process [are] being slowly taken from us.  We need to at least let our voices be heard.

I don’t know the answer, that’s for sure.  But I came away from last week’s Workshop confident that our School Board members are focused on the right things, raising the right questions, and yet acting with proper caution. 

This critical issue isn’t getting enough coverage in our local Naples Daily News paper.  But here’s something you can do to stay informed: go to www.google.com/alerts and create an alert for “Florida school board testing resolution.”   Just watch it for a while.  Let me know what you think.  

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