“If This Is the Best Robinson Can Offer, He Should Resign”

Looks like the editors of TCPalm have had enough of Florida’s test-based education system:

Florida’s public school students aren’t stupid. And, teachers aren’t incompetent.

But, can the same be said for the state’s education bureaucrats who are tasked with overseeing the education system?

The recent debacle related to writing scores on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test is just the latest example of a failure on the part of education leaders and their legislative counterparts to reform Florida’s public system to become the best it can be.

Results from the writing portion of the FCAT showed a massive drop in passing grades for fourth-, eighth- and 10th-grade students, with only about a third of students passing the test statewide.

Education Commissioner Gerard Robinson expressed surprise, saying, in part, “When I saw the dramatic drop in scores, I realized that overnight students all of a sudden just didn’t become bad writers and had to figure out was it a scoring challenge or was it a challenge with the raising of standards and rigor.”

But, Robinson had been warned months ago that scores were likely to drop significantly as the state rushed headlong into both more difficult tests and tougher grading. Robinson and members of the state Board of Education, however, chose not to listen to the concerns of local educators or take the time for necessary adjustments to be made.

But what’s new? While some of the top-down management of local public education has been necessary to awaken a onetime stubborn bureaucracy, two-way understanding is essential.

So, when faced with the miserable test results, the Board of Education dropped the passing score on the test so that about the same percentage of students were judged passing as in previous years. That essentially made the results meaningless and made a mockery of state attempts to require improved results for students and greater accountability for teachers and administrators.

The mockery is particularly troubling because of the high stakes associated with FCAT, including school grades, funding and upcoming evaluations for teachers and their potential salaries.

Robinson said external and internal audits will be conducted to determine why the FCAT writing scores this year dropped so much. Was the test too difficult? Were expectations too high? If so, what does that say about the academic standards in our schools?

Some have suggested the poor results on the writing test were because teachers may not have fully appreciated the changes, which included more emphasis on spelling and punctuation, for example. That implies that teachers were teaching to the test, but not teaching to the right test.

So, the “solution” is for teachers to do a better job teaching to the test?

That’s reflective of what’s wrong with the state’s efforts at reform and accountability. Testing isn’t teaching and learning isn’t about adequate scores on a test.

Under Robinson’s inept leadership and through the state Board of Education, students and schools aren’t been set on a path to success but are being set up for unjustified failure. That’s unacceptable.

Here’s a novel idea. Have educators do their jobs and help to mold minds that value learning and make tests of secondary importance.

But, that would require a change in attitude among education leaders and lawmakers in this state. And, surely, they know what is best. Don’t they?

If this is the best Robinson can offer, he should resign.

Robinson knew what he was getting into when he took the job and had already bought in to the way Florida’ education policy is established and implemented. His ouster would be symbolic and Robinson would become the scapegoat for failed system that began over ten years ago.

This Jeb Bush’s mess. And Rick Scott’s now, too, as he bought into the accountability gambit. Scott further mad matters worse be insisting upon ranking the state’s districts by FCAT scores. One wonders if he privately wants that one back.

The nation’s test-based accountability idea is at risk in Florida. Long celebrated by ed reformers and flacked by its architect, Bush, in what seems like a never-ending concert tour, its collapsing upon itself. The numbers aren’t working out and all ed reformers have now is to tell critics that they just don’t know what’s good for them.


About Bob Sikes

A long time ago and a planet far, far away I was an athletic trainer for the New York Mets. I was blessed to be part of the now legendary 1986 World Series Championship. My late father told me that I'd one day be thankful I had that degree in teaching from Florida State University. He was right and I became twice blesses to become a teacher in the late 1990's. After dabbling with writing about the Mets and then politics, I settled on education.
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