Flagler county school board member, Colleen Conklin, has been one voices Floridians have been hearing from longest who raised warnings on the direction Florida lawmakers were taking the state’s schools.
With the Flagler board’s cost-saving decision to cut the school day by 45 minutes on her mind last summer, Conklin urged her fellow board members to consider a lawsuit against the legislature for failing to fund education. In a lawsuit driven by parent advocates Fund Education Now and Citizens for Strong Schools, Conklin got her wish as a state appeals court ruled in November 2011 that lawsuit should go to the state’s Supreme Court. In response to pressure from public figures like Conklin, Governor Rick Scott was compelled to return $1 billion in education funding to schools.
This spring, Conklin joined school board members across the state in urging passage of Resolution On High Stakes Testing. It is here where Conklin will be receiving a challenge from someone vying for here seat. Reports Annie Martin in the Daytona Beach News-Journal:
The two candidates disagree, however, about a resolution the School Board approved in June. Conklin proposed to her colleagues that they pass the National Resolution on High-Stakes Testing, which asked state officials to “re-examine public school accountability systems in the state, and to develop a system based on multiple forms of assessment which does not require extensive standardized testing, more accurately reflects the broad range of student learning and is used to support students and improve schools.”
Conklin said she’s not against holding schools accountable for student learning, but standardized tests are supposed to assess students’ strengths and weaknesses, not be used as “a political bully club.”
“The amount of time our students spend testing instead of learning is ridiculous,” she said.
But (Deborah) Laury said school officials must focus on preparing children for standardized tests. For example, about 86 percent of Flagler County fourth-graders passed the writing portion of the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test. Children across the state struggled with the test, partly because there was greater emphasis on grammar, spelling and punctuation. State officials decided to lower the passing mark, but if they hadn’t done that, less than 40 percent of Flagler’s fourth-graders would have passed. Instead, teachers should focus on helping children learn the skills needed to perform well, Laury said.
“I understand there’s a good deal of controversy about that test,” Laury said. “Until that situation is changed, we’ve got to help the children cope with that test.”
Is candidate Laury in the small minority whom are choosing to advocate more for tests than they do children? If she is saying that “school officials must focus on preparing children for standardized tests,” Laury is vulnerable to being accused of wanting Flagler’s teachers to “teach to the test.” By emphasizing the now-discredited FCAT Writes results, Laury is signalling that she buys into the argument that tests like these are an effective and fair measure of student capabilities.
Will Flagler voters support a candidate who advances the tortured nuance of Florida’s test-based accountability system like Laury? Or will they choose a brave leader like Conklin who’s already demonstrated a willingness to take on bullies and whom will advocate for her district’s students and taxpayers? It may well turn out that the race for Flagler County School Board Seat 3 turns out to be a referendum on the Resolution on High-Stakes Testing.