The “Deceit Behind Raising the Bar” in Florida

College english professor and newspaperman John Young unpacks the flawed rhetoric of Florida’s education policy-makers by using a letter-to-the-editor from Florida student Alyssa Sturgeon. The Vero Beach fourth-grader wrote the Vero Beach Press Journal to ask how the state could flunk 73 percent of students in her grade across the state in FCAT Writes. She reasonably asserted that something must be wrong. Was there ever.  Professor Young explains that debacle ccurred because Florida “bought into the folly of “raising the bar” on standardized tests.” From Hays Free Press:

Almost nothing is good when policies are driven by the belief that standardization is education and competence is excellence.

The cult of standardization serves almost no one, except for companies like Pearson that make the tests.

Overemphasis on testing narrows the curriculum. Students above grade level are dragged into the monotony of test-prep drills they don’t need. Students below grade level find themselves imprisoned by a drumbeat on sore core subjects, at the expense of all else most of us consider to be education. Those in the middle are simply bored.

Floridians know this reality. They furthermore have come to realize when policy-makers are asked to justify the laws they passed, they respond with empty “raise the bar’ metaphors, vague “accountability”themes and buzzwords like “rigor.” More from Young:

The deceit behind “raising the bar” is the attempt to make criterion-based testing what it is not, something that can serve everyone’s needs. Norm-referenced tests like the Iowa Test of Basic Skills or SAT – challenging to everyone – can do that, because they truly stretch students in showing their respective aptitudes.

But, then, a state can’t build a test-based, fear-based curriculum around something that reaches out into the realm of academic possibility.

What states need to do, rather than “raising the bar,” is acknowledge the limits of testing. Instead of making the tests tougher, they should set reasonable basic thresholds, put the assessments online (in diagnostic formats that help with learning), let students test multiple times to show competency if necessary, and back off.

Education Commissioner Gerard Robinson has the floor right now in defending Florida’s rigorous, raise-the-bar, test-based accountability system.  This from his townhall meeting in Fort Myers yesterday:

“When we talk about tests most look at it as being punitive,” Robinson said. “I focus on progress. I want to know where we are.”

Robinson said it’s also important for adults to not reinforce the idea in students that the FCAT is “high-stakes.”

“As adults there is one thing we can do, when we say it’s a high-stakes test, the term is politically driven,” said Robinson. “Because the SAT is high stakes and we don’t say it’s high stakes. Just call them what they are. They’re assessments. We’ll do what we can to make them better and we’re moving in the right direction.”

Robinson continues to advance an argument that’s intellectually indefensible. Young points out why. Robinson bristles at “high-stakes-tests” because it’s what Floridians have come to know  his “assessments” to actually be. Simple assessments aren’t used to establish school grades, close schools and fire teachers. As it’s the same line he’s been advancing since the FCAT Writes debacle, its  clear he doesn’t have anything else. Floridians just aren’t talking about it in the right way, you see.


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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