All across the nation anti-standardized tests movements and prominent individuals are saying no to high stakes tests. The Bartleby project in New York, Governor Jerry Browne in California and Superintendent John Kuhn in Texas are just a few examples. Parents in Florida, which has been ground zero for standardized tests, should push back too. If you have a son or daughter preparing to take one of the tests next week do them a favor and keep them home.
Now there is no official opt out process for parents in Florida which is surprising because of how much the legislature screams about wanting to give parents choice but what would happen if you kept your child home or they refused to take the test? For the most part nothing because there are only two FCAT tests that are used to determine promotion, the third grade and tenth grade tests. Even then third graders can use a portfolio to make up the test and tenth graders can take the ACT.
So why have we spent months drilling, curtailed the arts and stressed kids out? So the adults can feel like they are doing something, well that and so corporations can make a lot of money off education. Testing giant Pearson, has a three hundred million dollar contract in Florida alone and they are branching out everywhere. They have become the Halliburton of the education world, they provide the tests they grade the tests and they provide supplemental testing to kids who don’t do well on the test. Their long fingers are felt everywhere.
Parents and educators need to draw a line in the sand and tell legislators who want to privatize our schools and big businesses that want to profit off our children that we aren’t going to have it. That we aren’t going to play your game anymore and it starts with just a little bit of civil disobedience. It starts with us saying, no, our kids are not going to take your little test.
The problems with the FCAT are many and whatever noble purpose it may have once had, has since been perverted. What was originally designed to let schools know how kids were doing has become the end all be all of Florida’s education system. We don’t even pretend not to teach to it anymore. We have become a state where learning is not important, just drilling kids to the point where they can get a 3 or better on the FCAT is.
If kids don’t pass the third grade test they can be retained and if they don’t pass the tenth grade test they eventually graduate without a diploma, just a certificate of completion not worth the paper it is printed on. Schools can be taken over or closed if not enough kids pass it as well and issues like living in poverty, absentee parents and slashed school budgets don’t matter. There is no level of difficulty depending on a kid’s ability or surroundings, like our curriculum has become, it is one size fits all test and aptitude, desire and if the kid eats regularly or not, be damned.
Kids and schools aren’t the only ones being handicapped by the test; teachers and society in general are as well. Teachers will now have their evaluations based on how kids in their classes do on the test and where intuitively that sounds right when critical thinking is applied it is fraught with peril. Studies where merit pay is based on high stakes testing indicate it is the quality of kids not the quality of instruction that determines how well they do on the test. Then society is now filled with recent graduates taking remedial classes in college or unemployed because all the school system has taught them to do is to take the FCAT.
If we are serious about having a standardized test that does some good, why don’t we give the test the first week of school? That way we can see what kids need and then get it to them. Then we can give them the same test the last week to see if they got it. If they didn’t they would have to attend summer school or be held back. That would give them plenty of incentive to do well and it would make the test just a component of education which is all it was originally designed to be anyway.
Also right now the FCAT tells what the kids don’t know and passes the buck to the next year and their next set of teachers, it does nothing to help them catch up and once a kid starts falling behind they very rarely do catch up. Furthermore this would also help us see which teachers were more effective, right now the FCAT measures years of learning and holds teachers who have kids just a few months accountable.
However if enough families said enough and had their children opt out of the test, the state couldn’t possibly punish, children, teachers and schools but if thy tried can you imagine the outrage. Many people are simmering about the state of education here in Florida and are just looking for the right catalyst to inspire action.
What’s perhaps even more pervasive than just fundamentally changing the landscape of education is the fact that the FCAT has become big business. The state pays hundreds of millions to for profit testing companies that grade and administer the test. They have a vested interest in making sure we propagate this failed mess and have no problem hiring lobbyists or making contributions to see that this happens. As do their cousins the for profit charter school companies and the for profit education management organizations. This is money, money, money not going into our schools to be used to help our children, instead it is lining the pockets of far off hedge fund operators more concerned with the bottom line than what is best for our children.
Then there is the data. It is amazing that the powers-that-be scream that they want data driven instruction but then ignore data when it goes against something they support. Dianne Huafmann reported in Education Next that in 2002 when the FCAT was just getting started, 32 percent of tenth graders received a one on the reading FCAT. Fast-forward to 2010 when a generation of kids have grown up with the FCAT and 32 percent of tenth graders relieved a one on the reading FCAT. There was no change in the percentage of kids scoring the lowest grade.
We completely redid they way we did things and it resulted in a zero percent change in the percentage of kids scoring a one! Level 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, grade 10, 2010, 32, 29, 18, 8, 14, GRADE 10, 2002, 32, 33, 21, 8, 7. Where would we be now if we had done nothing? Well ask yourself do you think our schools were better off in 2002 or better off now?
It’s unfortunate that the state doesn’t completely opt out of high stakes standardized tests but at this point they are not going to do it, too many people are making to much money for them to turn back now and that is why it has to be our parents that opt us out. It has to be them that take back our schools from bad policies and from corporate greed.
I watched the school board meeting and one by one all the board members wished Jacksonville’s children luck on their upcoming FCAT tests. I wish one would have had the guts to say, little Johnny refuse to take it, and little Suzie stay home, in the long run they and education will be better off.