A remarkable press conference was called by an influential Florida state senator yesterday to highlight contradictions in its accountability system. Bill Cotterell writes in the Florida Current:
A state senator, a civil rights attorney and the mother of a young student said Wednesday the Florida Department of Education is sending a bad message to public school children and their teachers by having lower achievement goals in reading and math for minority students.
A school board member and administrator joined in a call for the Legislature and state policymakers to end what they termed an over-reliance on standardized testing for students. Participants in a news conference called by state Sen. Dwight Bullard, D-Miami, in front of the Senate chamber said they support high standards and measurement of student achievement — but not a lone test with frequently changing rules for grading schools and evaluating teachers as well as students.
“You have to fund success; you have to look at every child,” Bullard said. He quoted former President George W. Bush‘s dictum about “the soft bigotry of low expectations” in criticizing the DOE goals for raising student achievement on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Tests.
Stephanie Langer of the Southern Poverty Law Center in Miami said the State Board of Education in 2012 adopted goals for 2018 to have 90 percent of Asian-American, 88 percent of white, 81 percent of Hispanic and 74 percent of black students passing the reading portion of the standardized test. In math, she said, the goals were 92 percent for Asian-American, 86 percent for white, 80 percent for Hispanic kids and 74 percent for black students.
“Florida has changed the definition of success for African-American and Hispanic children,” she said. “When you set lower goals for someone, you will get lower outcomes.”
Langer said her organization has set up an online petition at www.splcenter.org for citizens to sign a demand that Gov. Rick Scott and DOE officials set the same goal for all students.
This was always a slippery slope for education reformers who marched to the “no excuses” meme and denied that poverty played any role in student achievement. What was the motivation to establish such creepy goals in the first place? To get around the “failing schools” label of Non Child Left Behind? Or to somehow maintain the myth of Jeb Bush’s Florida miracle.
The outing of the creepy goals got an equally creepy denial from the FDOE spokesman Joe Follick who retorted that “any accusation that Florida has lowered goals for any children regardless of their socio-economic status is flatly, clearly wrong.”
And about those “goals” and the high-stakes tests which the FDOE has been tasked with relying on by the Florida republican legislature:
On another topic, Orange County School Board member Rick Roach and Scotty Crowe, deputy superintendent for learning in the Leon County school system, said the state relies too heavily on the FCAT to determine measure reading and math progress.
“There are all kinds of ways to measure student achievement, and that represents 179 school days in the year — not one day of testing,” said Roach, citing legal disclaimers in the testing materials that say they are not meant to be the sole yardstick of learning. “It’s not an accurate way to measure not only what students do, but teacher evaluations and school grades, everything that goes along with it.”
Crowe said schools have to deal with numerous changes in grading systems every year. He said they don’t have time to work toward one set of goals, before the goal is moved.
“The public doesn’t trust the current grading system that you have in place at this point and our community — including our students, parents, teachers and principals — are confused with the many, many changes,” said Crowe, representing Leon County School Superintendent Jackie Pons at the news conference. “We probably need to say enough is enough. How about a three-year moratorium on how school grades are calculated? During that time, let’s have a comprehensive review.”
It’s really not right that the professionals at the FDOE have to always take the heat for the failed and flawed policies that Tallahassee legislators and political cronies on the state board have been imposing. The Bullard – Roach presser won’t be the last of its kind, either. The days of rubber-stamping everything that Jeb Bush supports are over.