Why Hillsborough School Board’s Passage of Resolution on High-Stakes Testing Means More

From the Tampa Bay Times Marlene Sokol:

Testing — the subject of school board resolutions around the nation and state — has troubled (Board Chairwoman Candy) Olson for months.

At the board workshop on the issue, members spent more than an hour learning about state-ordered tests, national tests and the end-of-course exams that have existed in Hillsborough since 1984.

Asked if some tests could be eliminated, assessment director Samuel Whitten told members, “When you take something out, you provide less information for the teacher.”

But as in other districts, problems this year with the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test fueled members’ determination to take action.

The state can’t get it right,” member Carol Kurdell said at the workshop.

The National Center for Fair and Open Testing reports that 23 Florida districts have signed either a national antitesting resolution, one from the Florida School Boards Association or their own.

Not including Hillsborough, these counties represent more than half the state’s 2.6 million public school students.

At the workshop, superintendent MaryEllen Elia reminded the board that in two years, Hillsborough will come under Common Core, a state-led effort to develop national academic standards. The transition will require a multitude of changes in how the district teaches and test

“We need to look forward,” Elia said. “There have been issues. I think we can all face those issues. But we’ve got to move forward and 2014-2015 is looming in front of us with a test that is going to be very different.”

Elia has to advance the company line and remind the board of the looming common core monster which education writer Lisa Nielson aptly refers to as “a presursor for testing the crap out of kids.” Many district level administrators across the state are doing the same thing, but Elia is a little different as her personal investment is unique. Elia, the only public school official to be part of Rick Scott’s transition team, is being mentioned as a possible replacement for Gerard Robinson as state education commissioner.  And Elia’s company line is more nuanced.

Sokol didn’t mention the billionaire on the throne in the corner at yesterday’s board meeting. Bill Gates has invested in a pilot merit pay program which evaluates teachers largely based on test scores of their students. Hillsborough is two years into the pilot, both under Elia’s watch. She’s had a good seat to take in the show. Hillsborough  school board members have had a good vantage point too. Their resolution which calls for three-year freeze on testing is a subtle rebuke of Gates’ system.

Elia could emerge as a consensus candidate as an educator already known throughout the state. She’s measured in her words and wouldn’t  end up as a lightening rod like Robinson. But she’ll run into some of the same Catch-22’s that he  did. Elia is already aware of the realities and knows she’d  be doing someone else’s  bidding.  Someone as close to the heartbeat of Florida’s test-obsessed accountability system as is Elia, might also see it as collapsing and wont jump on board a sinking ship.



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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