Orlando Sentinel reporter Dave Weber talked to the superintendents of schools for Orange and Seminole counties about Florida’s new accountability system and came away with stunning news:
Florida’s runaway school accountability system is destined to fail and take with it the positive goals it was intended to accomplish, the superintendents of Orange and Seminole county schools agreed Friday.
Orange Superintendent Ron Blocker and Bill Vogel, superintendent of Seminole schools, said the state’s school districts are being overwhelmed by demands of the continually expanding accountability system. Teacher evaluations based in large part on student test scores — the latest requirement imposed by the Legislature — are unworkable and may be the tipping point, they said
We have an accountability system that is going to fall apart like a house of cards,” said Vogel, criticizing state leaders for “making up the rules as they go along” without listening to educators.
Comments by Vogel and Blocker came during a “Two Chiefs, Two Decades” program in the Orlando Sentinel’s “Florida Forward: Conversations about the Future” series. Blocker and Vogel, both retiring in June, commented on issues the schools will continue to face.
But what initially started out as testing students to correct their deficiencies has gone astray, Blocker and Vogel said. Using student test scores to evaluate teachers is unproven and costly, they said.
School districts are struggling to come up with required end-of-course tests to evaluate teachers. The existing Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test exams cover only reading, writing, math and science.
“The cost is in the millions and it will bring down the entire accountability system,” Vogel said.
Blocker said the increasingly heavy student testing schedule “tends to narrowly focus” on immediate results, bringing concern whether students are gaining lasting knowledge.
Blocker said some high school students are so intimidated by the FCAT that they fail repeatedly, yet prove their abilities by passing the ACT college entrance exam, which can substitute for the FCAT graduation requirement.
Vogel and Blocker said growing pushback from the public could help bring the school accountability system back to reason.
Responding to parent complaints about testing, the Palm Beach County School Board this week discussed efforts to “stop this madness in our schools,” as Chairman Frank Barbieri characterized it.
Orange School Board member Rick Roach said during the Sentinel program that Barbieri has asked Orange schools to join the protest.
Weber correctly points out that the astonishing views of two superintendents from bill districts represents the second shot across the bow of Florida’s reliance on standardized tests. The first shot came this week when the Palm Beach School Board signed off on the National Resolution on High Stakes Testing.
I predicted earlier this week that likely opposition would be coming from Seminole and Orange county, two districts who have shown a willingness to take on Tallahassee. Board members of both districts will probably follow suit.
Partisan politics will soon be taking over in Florida on testing and accountability. Superintendents and school board members who have political aspirations for higher office - especially if they are republicans – will begin speaking out. They’ll have to weigh in as strong advocates for Jeb Bush’s inspired accountability measures as it will curry favor from the RPOF and assure future support. On the other hand, doing so will flush them out as being political opportunists whose loyalties are not with the constituents they are serving in their current jobs.