The FCAT Process Taught Them to “Write Like Robots”


One  listen to the drivel that’s coming out of Gerard Robinson’s mouth at his “listening” this week demonstrates what we’ve known all along. Top-down ed reformers like Robinson and his handlers don’t do a lot of, well, listening. As the Miami Herald wrote last week, “when “stakeholders” are invited to give their input, as teachers, parents and civil rights activists who have challenged the state over its requirements for students with disabilities or those learning English, their recommendations have been ignored.”

Robinson brushed aside parent’s concerns with testing yesterday in West Palm Beach with an airy, “what I’m hearing is that people just don’t like tests.”

But if we go back to stakeholders again – a group of people Robinson for whom clearly has contempt  – Floridians are learning about the product that has emerged from the tests Robinson so cherishes. Consider this observation from writer and former college English Composition  professor, Mary Jo Melone. She writes this in Florida Voices:

My composition students, most of them 18-year-olds straight out of Florida’s public schools, opened my eyes to the FCAT, specifically the writing test that has of late become the most cosmic of jokes. My students were laughing—quite cynically—much earlier. For what they said they learned from the FCAT has absolutely nothing to do with writing. The test had instead made them great students of politics and public relations.

They did not believe that the FCAT was really intended to test them on anything they knew; the months of harried instruction had taught them only how to take a test.

They repeatedly said the FCAT process had taught them to write like robots. They knew how to churn out five paragraphs—an introduction with a thesis, three body paragraphs and a conclusion. Thinking was divorced from the writing, and consequently, the new tasks of college-level writing often threw them.

And although their own lives depended on their FCAT success, they believed deeply that the results were far more important to their teachers—who were forced to teach in a certain fashion because their careers were at stake—and to the school boards and superintendents who got to congratulate themselves for producing ‘A’ schools, however an ‘A’ was calculated that year.

In short, my students believed the FCAT wasn’t designed to help them, but to make the adults in charge of their education look good.

That list of be adults includes Robinson who told parents last night at Boca Raton High School that “”the FCAT has made the state better.”

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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