From the Tampa Tribune:
Sarah Robinson thinks high-stakes testing has hijacked and perverted Florida’s educational system.
Carolyn Collins is worried about the self-esteem of students who think they stink at writing.
Those were just two of the concerns raised Wednesday night as the state’s education commissioner came to town as part of a public relations blitz in the aftermath of controversy over startlingly poor writing scores on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test.
About 50 people — a mixture of parents, teachers and local school administrators – attended the session at Hillsborough Community College as Gerard Robinson kicked off his statewide tour to deal with much of the criticism spawned by plummeting scores on the state’s writing test.
“The blame belongs on the people calling the shots, not the teachers,” said Sarah Robinson, who lives in Safety Harbor and has an eighth-grader in public school. “No one should be surprised that students’ writing skills have suffered. It needs to stop.”
“We don’t want students to think they got dumber,” said Collins, president of the Hillsborough County branch of the NAACP. “How do we as a community ease a blow that’s already been done?”
The controversy began early last week, when the state announced that a tougher grading system would mean a staggering amount of students would fail the writing test. State board of education officials then lowered the passing grade from a 4 to a 3 on a scale of 1 to 6 to mitigate that problem.
Robinson admitted again that there was a lack of communication with parents, teachers and others about the crackdown on such things as spelling, punctuation, capitalization and other integral issues.
“It won’t happen again next year,” he said.
Kathleen Shanahan, chairwoman of the state Board of Education, agreed.
“I’m not saying everything was done well,” she said. “I think we have learned some lessons on this.”
But she stressed that tougher rigors for the test had to be implemented.
“Do we want to have our kids graduate from high school and compete in a global world?” Shanahan said. “People really need to understand what happened. It wasn’t about the kids being dumber. It was about the standards being raised.”
Shanahan and Gerard Robinson defended the focus on high-stakes tests and boosting standards for them as a way to make Florida students even more competitive on a national and international scale.
A dozen years ago, Shanahan said, Florida ranked No. 48 in education. Now it is No. 5. Graduation rates have increased 10 percent as well, she added.
“I don’t make this up,” she said. “Data reflects the facts.”
Last night’s meeting represents the trial balloon for the Jeb Bush company line. Shanahan was Bush’s chief of staff and Robinson, one of his state level Chiefs for Change. Defending FCAT in general and high-stakes testing in particular is up to Bush now. In Robinson and Shanahan, he couldn’t have had two people closer to him and his agenda. They are serving as Bush’s emissaries to Floridians. But if Floridians actually get Bush, it will mean that the end game on testing has arrived.
Next stop: Boca Raton.