By Amanda Litvinov
Teacher Emmalyn Long didn’t need an official state report to tell her that the students in her Broward County elementary school are subjected to way too many standardized tests.
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“With the demands of giving 36 tests in the 2nd half of the school year—a shorter time period due to the holidays—there is too little time left for teaching,” said Long. “My students are 8- and 9-year-olds.”
Florida Education Commissioner Pam Stewart has recommended a reduction in state-mandated tests for public schools following a Florida DOE investigation.
The recognition that Florida’s standardized test-based accountability system is detrimental to kids is significant, given that it has been replicated in other states, served as a model for the federal Race to the Top program, and is the legacy of presumed 2016 presidential candidate and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.
The findings prompted current Florida Gov. Rick Scott to suspend the 11th-grade English test by executive order.
But his action won’t affect the testing outlook for most students. And the rest of the DOE recommendations, even if they were all enacted, still don’t address the major problems and absurdities of to Florida’s testing regime, according to the Florida Education Association (FEA).
“[Stewart] suggested eliminating only a test most districts weren’t giving and a few tests given to select students, including Progress Monitoring tests,” explained National Board Certified biology teacher turned FEA staff member Cathy Boehme, adding that that decision would be left up to individual districts.
“I seriously doubt school districts will be willing to forgo a look at the progress of students who are struggling when they can still make changes to the curriculum to try to help those students further,” she said of the Progress Monitoring tests.
One of the greatest frustrations educators, parents and students in Florida and nationwide express about standardized tests is that all too often, results are not timely and detailed enough to help them tailor instruction and advance student progress. Data from the new statewide Florida Standards Assessments (FSA), for example, will be returned after school is out for the year.
That’s just one of the problems with the FSA, which replaces the FCAT or Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test this year. There was “no field test, no local validation, and no alignment of curricular materials,” said Boehme. Worse yet, without any implementation period, the results of this completely new high-stakes tests will still be used for purposes that hurt public schools, all of which were implemented by former Gov. Jeb Bush:
- An A-F grading system for schools, in which students in poorly ranked schools receive vouchers for private and religious schools (a way to pull taxpayer dollars from public schools and funnel them into private entities);
- Holding back 3rd graders who struggle on the reading test;
- Expanding online and charter schools, including those managed by for-profit companies.
Although Bush has been out of office since 2007, his Foundation for Excellence in Education continues to lobby Florida lawmakers to open the door to more school privatization and promotes the Bush agenda nationwide.
“I have taught students on the autism spectrum for 17 years and have always had high expectations for them, but I’m very frustrated with the hyper-testing during the second half of my career,” said Marion County teacher Kathryn Fanning.
“The testing takes away huge chunks of instructional time, leaving me with far less time to teach my students things they are capable of comprehending, things that will make a difference in their futures. One year I tracked all the days I had to administer any sort of testing and it totaled 55 out of 180 days,” Fanning said.
Schools also have to switch platforms with the FSA, from pencil-and-paper to computer—which could cause technical kinks that steal even more teaching and learning time.
Retired teacher Barbara Canning knows the conditions that Florida’s testing obsession has created in schools.
“After teaching elementary school for over 36 years, I decided to retire in 2012. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to teach anymore,” said Canning. “I loved my profession and educating children in Title I schools. It was the ridiculous expectations that are not age-appropriate, along with the emphasis on ‘The Test.’ I just didn’t believe in what they were forcing us to do to children.”
Even though years have passed since she had to administer all those tests, the topic upsets her.
“Why are those who have no background in education making these important decisions?” she asked. “Could it be that the companies who make ‘The Tests’ are backing it?”
“You know what they say—follow the money.”