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My Turn
Other Views from Those in the Know
Rosanne Wood
former principal of Tallahassee's SAIL High School
Testing Students and Destroying Education

The Florida Legislature, “Race to the Top” and the Florida Department of Education seem to be following the questionable advice of “if it’s worth doing, it’s worth overdoing.”

They certainly have gone on a binge when it comes to standardized testing. Never in my 37 years as an educator have I seen such a misguided waste of time, energy and resources as the current Florida “accountability” system.

Teachers and support staff haven’t gotten a raise in six years, yet companies such as NCS Pearson have gotten lucrative contracts to make and score these tests and then sell programs to the schools to remediate their students ($7 billion in sales nationally in 2011). Principals and teachers spend their time and energy chasing the “school grade A-F rabbit,” which is intentionally programmed to go faster and faster so that it never can be caught.

Too many kids passing the FCAT? Just tweak the scores so that thousands will fail. Need more resources? Quit whining. Too many failures? Oops, tweak the scores again. It’s confusing to parents and students; it’s demoralizing to hard-working teachers and principals. Superintendent Jackie Pons was right when he said, “We have been working hard to get the wrong model right.”

Yes, we should have high standards and, yes, we should have standardized tests as one form of assessing progress. Why not pick a nationally comparable test that measures the new national common core standards, like the Stanford-10 for K-12, and ditch the rest? Unlike the FCAT, at least you could see real progress across time instead of a constantly moving target. The binge we’re on now has resulted in a micromanaged, test-driven school environment that hardly leaves time to teach.

This year at Leon County high schools, 88 of 180 of school days were scheduled for some sort of out-of-class testing or makeup test. Teachers constantly had their classes interrupted to stream various students down to the computer lab to take these tests. End of Course exams began in mid-April, and the only feedback teachers got was a vague Level 1-3 description of how their students did, five weeks later. What can teachers do with that? How do they know what their students need to learn ?

How much motivation do high-school students have for the last six weeks of school when their final exam is already over? (Believe me, not much.)

The disruption to teaching and learning is incalculable; and there is no research that shows it works. The problem is not with one particular test over the other; the problem is that the power brokers do not trust teachers and school leaders to do their jobs and educate their students. It seems the only tool they trust is a standardized test, and when the only tool you have is a hammer – everything looks like a nail.

When you add high-stakes rewards and penalties to a flawed accountability and teacher evaluation system, you get the mess we’re in right now. Florida is spending millions to create more tests for every high-school course because teachers can’t be trusted to follow the standards and give and grade their own tests. Students will soon take more and more tests to determine if their teachers get fired or get a raise. (I can’t wait to see the art and drama tests!) Security alone will require a small army of administrators to guard these tests. Plan to completely call off instruction for the last two months of school. Forget coaching and collegiality; there must be winners and losers in this race. Unfortunately, the winners are the testing corporations; the losers are our students.

We can do better than this; we know what works.

We can create learning environments at every school where all students are cherished and pushed to their maximum capabilities. We can encourage and reward teachers to “go deep” and engage students in projects that result in meaningful learning. We can foster collegiality where schools work together for the betterment of every child and no child is seen as a “drag” on the school’s grade or reputation.

Use standardized testing results as benchmarks for improvement, not sledgehammers that scare students and derail good teaching. Let’s work harder to get the right model right.

Rosanne Wood is the former principal at SAIL High School and an education consultant for Leon County Schools. Contact her at [email protected].

by Dr. Radut.