In “Denial” About Florida’s Test-Based Accountability System and “Acting As If” Nothing’s Wrong

From the editors of Bradenton Herald:

The state’s top education officials are in deep denial about the flaws in the system, with one suggesting the discovery of the school grading errors is proof the accountability system works.

That sort of spin boggles the mind. The state should have reviewed the scores for errors before releasing them to the public, not afterward.

And according to Miami Herald reporter Mary Ellen Klas, the investigation only took place because of intervention by Governor Rick Scott’s chief of staff.  Test-dependent school grades weren’t the only disaster. Another test trauma occurred last spring with FCAT Writes.

Even before the school grades came out in early July, state Education Commissioner Gerard Robinson sounded a warning that the marks would fall because of this year’s rapid changes in the accountability system — complete with a more difficult FCAT. (In late July, he abruptly resigned his post, citing family reasons.)

And fall they did. Almost 950 schools across the state dropped a grade level. Of those, almost 400 would have fallen another grade level had the state not quickly instituted a new rule in May that no school would drop by more than one letter grade.

That new rule came in the wake of the state’s bungling of the writing portion of the FCAT. With the state failing to prepare students and teachers for the tougher test and higher scores required for passage, the predictable disaster occurred.

Scores plunged precipitously, with the number of fourth-graders scoring at grade level falling from 87 percent last year to only 27 percent this year.

In a panic over public anger, the state lowered the passing grade.

Some of those same policymakers the Herald is calling out got caught with their pants down. The political cronies on the state board of education got caught trying to spin their way out of the fiasco. More from the Herald:

This is a comedy of errors on par with the hapless Keystone Kops rushing around and never reaching its goal.

The backlash against high-stakes comprehensive testing from parents, teachers and schools will continue to mount with this latest blunder.

The outrage culminated with a resolution adopted by more than 20 school boards — including Manatee’s — urging, among other actions, the state to “contract with a qualified, independent entity to conduct a thorough and fully transparent independent review and evaluation of Florida’s accountability system …”

Nobody’s arguing against accountability. Here, though, schools are not failing, the state is.

School letter grades are extremely important. Top schools reap financial rewards. Sanctions hit failing schools. Test scores weigh heavily on teacher evaluations and salaries. And student promotion depends on passage.

The state’s mad dash into change to prepare schools for the 2014 implementation of common core standards has been ill-conceived and executed.

The state should follow the school boards’ resolution immediately. Florida’s education officials must be held to higher standards, too, as they push schools and students in that same direction.

Looks like Florida’s education power brokers have been attending positive-thinking guru Tony Robbins’ seminars and are “acting as if” fatal flaws don’t exist in their test-dominated accountability system. They want to use it as  fuel to run the state’s entire education apparatus. Moreover, they want the same system to prompt additional shifts to profit-based private schools and charter schools via parent trigger and the Amendment 8 voucher ballot initiative. Like Robbins, the powers that be who drive education policy, want Floridians to walk on their hot coals and “act as if” they won’t get burned.




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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