Retired Florida Principal on the Barricades Against Phony Florida “Reforms”.
High-Stakes Testing Overload about to Sink our Public Schools!
Children are stressed out and parents are m ad enough to want their children to “Opt-Out” of all high-stakes testing. Frustrated teachers are leaving the profession and superintendents are demanding real change. Lawmakers: how about some real relief?
Florida schools are about to hit the big testing/school grades accountability iceberg this spring. Why? This year, instead of FCAT, all 3rd-11th grade students will be taking brand new tests on the extremely challenging Florida Standards Assessment (FSA), aka, Common Core Standards. Third graders who don’t score well on reading will be retained and high school students who don’t pass will not graduate. Schools will receive A-F school grades based on these scores.
Not to worry—districts have been assured by DOE that the scores will be “normed” (manipulated) to match last year’s scores. Somehow, that gives little comfort
Here’s a sample 3rd grade math problem— A bakery uses 48 pounds of flour each day. It orders flour every 28 days. Create an equation that shows how many pounds of flour the bakery
needs to order every 28 days.
Any wonder many parents are having trouble helping their children with homework?
There are now 154 of the 180 days on the Florida State Testing Calendar devoted to a variety of required state assessments in grades K-12 that effect schools’ grades. Any wonder that schools are spending more and more time prepping and practicing for these tests?
Some in the Florida Legislature claim that school districts are at fault for so much testing. I find it incredible that the very folks who built the iceberg are seeking to blame the looming shipwreck on the victims.
To make matters worse, schools also have to implement Florida Statute 1012.34– requiring 50% of a teacher’s evaluation be based on “rigorous” tests for every subject/course taught. So, at great expense, school districts have been scrambling to create over 1200 tests on courses not covered by the required Florida Standards Assessments, FSA. These district assessments must cover quite the spectrum including art, physical ed., drama and guidance counselors. By law, elementary students must take 6-7 end-of-course tests to prove their teachers did a good enough job to be eligible for a performance bonus.
The Legislature should deep-six the teacher performance pay law, NOW, and let principals do their jobs. What if FSU’s President Thrasher called the plays and picked the players from the sky-box instead of Jimbo Fisher on the field?
The fans would never stand for it. Neither should we.
Those closest to the action (principals) should pick their team (teachers), evaluate their contributions and be held accountable for their performance by Superintendents. No federal or state interference (or high paid testing companies) needed—please.
The Florida Senate recently asked for a full accounting of how much testing is going on in Florida’s public schools. (Didn’t they know?) It reminds me of Captain Renault’s line in Casablanca, “Rick, I’m shocked, shocked that there’s gambling going on in this place.”
Jeb Bush’s Foundation of “‘Excellence” now wants “fewer better” tests while maintaining the same basic framework of school grades and teacher performance pay. These are the very “reforms” that have disrupted meaningful teaching and learning under the guise of accountability. Placating the parents without drastic changes to the high-stakes accountability system is merely rearranging the chairs on the deck of the Titanic. The iceberg cometh!
Seriously, if we want our public schools to be beehives of joy and learning, where teachers support each other to make sure that every student is challenged and honored, we need drastic changes in our laws and accountability system.
Meanwhile, the Legislature should at least listen to the state superintendents. As Escambia Superintendent Malcolm Thomas said, “The state of Florida is over-testing our students and it is too soon to use the new Florida Standards Assessment as an accountability tool. The state needs to use common sense and not use an assessment system that has so many unknown aspects in a way that could hurt our students, our teachers, or our schools.”
Amen and pass the biscuits.
Same article (shortened) published on 2/12/15 in the Tallahassee Democrat.
It’s Gonna Be HOT!
Today is the deadline to register for my Hot Topics “debate” with Patricia Levesque, mentioned in the article below.
January 28, 2015 Wednesday
11:30 a.m. – 1:00 p.m Hot Topic Luncheon on the Overuse of Standardized Testing in our schools
Capital City Country Club, 1601 Golf Terrace Drive
$17 Nonmembers – $20
FOR RESERVATIONS: Please RSVP by Saturday morning, January 24.
Call 850-309-3005 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Remembering A Magnificent Teacher and Human Being-Brother Rodderick Moorer
Rodderick Moorer was a magnificent human being and a transformational teacher. He loved his students and challenged them to think, question and learn about American History, Government and Economics. As parent Sue Wiley said, “He was respectful of his students, had high expectations of them and was willing to wait for them to kick into gear without harassing them, yet giving them the idea that they could do it.”
Rodd arrived at SAIL in 1982. I couldn’t believe our good fortune that this charismatic, intelligent man with two Master’s degrees from Florida State University wanted to leave his higher paying job in the Governor’s office to come work at our educational experiment called SAIL, The School for Applied Individualized Learning.
“I’m here because I want to make a real difference, I want to lift people up,” he explained. That is exactly what he did for the next 31 years before retiring in December of 2013. Thousands of students, parents and colleagues are grateful that he did.
Rodd shouldered his share of burdens. His father died of cancer when he was nine years old. His brother died of cancer in his forties and his best friend recently died of lymphoma. At the age of thirteen Rodd was one of the first African American students to integrate an all-white Pensacola middle school in the early 60s. He never shrank from challenges.
“Brother Rodd” was a people connector. He made everyone feel like they were the most interesting person he knew. If two people were in the same room, he found a way to help them understand why they needed to know and benefit from each other. No matter how busy he was, he always had time for you.
A born Social Studies teacher, he exposed students to viewpoints that matched and didn’t match his own. They never knew which one he believed in because he wanted them to find truth for themselves.
I’ve never met anyone who transcended the boundaries of race, creed and culture the way Rodd did. He addressed each student as “Sister or Brother”, hence his nickname, “Brother Rodd.” He was a strict vegan, avoided sugar and was famous for enticing everyone he knew to try a shot of wheatgrass or perhaps some fresh carrot juice infused with garlic. When he got his diagnosis of stage four pancreatic cancer in late June, his first concern was that people would conclude that living a healthy life was not worth the effort. He did not want them to draw that conclusion. His doctor assured him that his diet, daily swims and walks in Cascades Park were partly the reason he was so healthy and vibrant until a few weeks before he “transitioned”, Rodd’s synonym for “crossing over”.
When the news of his passing spread on Tuesday, former students and staff found themselves magnetically drawn to SAIL, tears and hugs were shared like the extended family we are. Alumni flooded Facebook with memories of their ”most inspiring, life-changing teacher ever”. Principal Tiffany Thomas reflected, “What a passionate teacher, dedicated mentor and faithful friend he was. Brother Rodd was our rock.”
Jena Diaz, SAIL graduate who is going back to college to be a teacher wrote, “There are people in this world who are lights, beacons for us to follow. Brother Rodd has been my light since I was fifteen years old. He will forever remain one of my greatest influences. I will continue to follow his light, and perhaps in doing so, I will become a light.”
On our last walk together he looked out at the clear blue sky and waterfalls at Cascades Park and exclaimed, “Isn’t life just beautiful!” He reminded me that although we all just have a short time here on earth, we are forever part of the universe, we are forever bound together by love.
At the end of our walk, he urged me to come sit in his vintage Honda to hear a song by Rickie Byars , called “New Territory.” Tears rolling down our cheeks, holding hands, we smiled and sang her refrain, ” Wake up, Let go, Say yes, Forgive, Stand up–I pray that you will see the best of life, the best of love, the best of everything.” He embodied all of that, and much, much more.
Rosanne Wood, SAIL Principal from 1978-2010
Friday- November 7 -A Celebration of Brother Rodd’s life will be held from 7:00-9:00 p.m. at SAIL HS, 2006 Jackson Bluff Road
SATURDAY – November 8th— Roddrick Moorer’s Homegoing Celebration will be held at 11:00 a.m. at the Enrichment Center of Old West Florida / 2344 Lake Bradford Rd Tallahassee, FL 32310
Standing Up Against the Testing Tsunami
Rosanne Wood: A brief stand against testing
When the Lee County School Board voted last week to ban state-required high-stakes testing in its schools, shockwaves were felt in every corner of the state. The earth especially shook at the Foundation for Excellence in Education, Jeb Bush’s mouthpiece and lobbying group that has shoved 15 years of high-stakes tests down the throats of every Florida school child. Imagine having the chutzpah to just say, “We’re mad as hell and we’re not going to take it anymore.”
The pressure to comply is enormous. One member on the school board already changed her mind, as the board rescinded its vote. Her first instinct was right — but it’s hard to stand and fight the tsunami of political and financial interests that have gotten our schools and children into this mess. The immediate response from the foundation’s Patricia Levesque: “We are deeply disappointed by the Lee County School Board’s vote to abandon Florida’s academic tests. The Lee County School Board is neglecting its duty to ensure a meaningful education for their students and uphold state law.”
Hold up! Meaningful education is exactly what has been sacrificed at the altar of bubble-sheet mania. Taxpayer dollars and teaching time have been squandered in the pursuit of school grades in Florida’s overrated accountability system. Statistics can be produced to show the so-called marvelous results of this system; what can’t be measured so easily is who has been hurt and what has been lost.
There is a growing parental movement to boycott the tests, which has all kinds of ramifications. But, when things get as out of hand as they are now, when students and teachers spend more of their time worrying about standardized tests and less teaching and learning real content, someone has to say “No more!” At least for a moment, the Lee County School Board did that.
My hope is that common sense will prevail and the Legislature will bring things back into balance. Standardized tests, used appropriately, can provide important feedback to parents and schools. But it’s gone too far. When the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. It doesn’t take a standardized test to tell me if the drama teacher is doing a good job; I just need to go to the school play. Kindergartners don’t need to take seven high-stakes tests to prove that their teacher is doing a good job. That’s the primary responsibility of the principal, who then answers to the superintendent and school board. We have a well-established, democratic and local method of accountability that requires no tests — it’s called an election.
Educators have come a long way in understanding how different students learn. Let teachers and principals do what they’re trained to do — help develop the skills and talents of each of our very individual children.
Quit wasting so much money on these big testing companies and divert the resources back into the classroom, where they’re really needed. As Lee County School Board member Don Armstrong said, “We cannot let fear hold us back. Sometimes it takes an act of civil disobedience to move forward.” Right on, Brother.
Rosanne Wood is a retired Leon County Schools principal. Contact her at email@example.com.
Accountability–YES! School Grades–NO!
Accountability–YES! School Grades–NO!
At Governor Scott’s recent School Grading Summit, there was much discussion about extending safety nets to schools which would otherwise drop two letter grades caused by the significant changes to the grading rules. They might as well have debated whether or not to throw safety nets off the Titanic.
The Florida A-F school grading system has been touted by its advocates as a fair, objective ranking system that has done wonders for our children.
I beg to differ.
Until the recent pulling back of the curtain on the obvious manipulation of “proficiency” scores, few questioned the validity of school grades. (Think, Wizard of Oz). When the grades came tumbling down, the public finally realized how arbitrary and politically driven this system is. There are many ways to skin a cat; school grades take too much skin.
While these grades may provide an easy code to sell houses near the “good” schools, they do not provide clear information about schools for parents and students. Instead, they reinforce and perpetuate stereotypes of this universally mis-understood A-F system.
Let me explain why.
It’s true that 50% of the points used to grade schools are based on student growth and improvement. However, since the other 50% are based on attainment of high proficiency standards , those schools with few “proficient” students in their school zones are enormously handicapped when it comes to earning a good school grade. I heard a principal of a “D” school jokingly offer to trade the school’s star quarterback for 10 students with a Level 3 score. Really! That’s how much pressure there is on schools to get “good grades.” The system breeds gamesmanship, is unfair and every insider knows it.
The devil really is in the details, and this is why schools should not be compared to each other using simplistic school grades. For example, if you have a school where 90% of the students enter far below proficiency, it is next to impossible to earn an A or B. By design, the points just won’t add up. This might be a terrific school that helps improve the lives and achievement of its students, but the public will see a low grade and regard it as an inferior school.
Even in the categories that are supposed to level the playing field, such as improving the bottom 25%, it’s much easier to accomplish if most of the students arrive already on grade level and above. Generally, these are the schools which have consistently earned A’s and years of bonus money. It’s not that they don’t work hard; the grading rules are just stacked in their favor.
The dilemma is that it wouldn’t make sense to the public’s common understanding of what an A grade should be if most of the students in a school were still reading below grade level. In fact, when some low performing schools earned enough improvement points for a B or C, the rules were changed to require that schools drop a letter grade if at least 25% don’t meet proficiency standards in reading, no matter how many students achieved measurable gains. They just can’t win.
For the most part, high poverty schools are where the biggest challenges are. Everyone knows that. It’s statistically proven that when students start out behind, it’s extremely hard for them to catch up. Low school grades shame students and parents and embarrass the very schools that are often doing the hardest work. Instead of enticing top teachers and administrators to these schools, school grades do the opposite. Who would volunteer for a C, D, or F school with these rules?
For our most disadvantaged students and schools, school grades are reminiscent of the scarlet letter stigma of years gone by. Worst of all, it has made the lowest performing students the least desirable ones to enroll in any school. The big winners in this school grading scheme are the for-profit charter school companies and the standardized testing and software giants.
We can change this.
Yes, the state should set high standards and demand open, transparent accountability. School districts should analyze student test data to understand where weaknesses reside and where improvements need to be made. Accountability, when done with a helping hand, is valuable. I’ve never known principals or superintendents who didn’t want their schools and students to be the best they can be.
Let’s end the “shame game” and dump these ill-conceived A-F school grades. Instead, reward principals and teachers who make gains with our hardest to reach students, even when they don’t match the achievements of the advantaged schools. Construct a fair, clear accountability system that tells the truth and rewards progress, wherever it’s achieved.
And you thought your child was taking a lot of tests now . . .
Bill Gates is finally admitting what people who actually work in schools have been saying for the past 10 years. Trying to hastily evaluate teachers by over-reliance on standardized test results is a fool’s errand.
Many of the most important things counselors, social workers and many teachers do (think art, music, drama, PE) for our kids cannot be measured by standardized tests; yet, the current law insists that 50% of their evaluation, which is now tied to possible termination, should rely on them. Before you know it, PE teachers will be balking when an overweight child (who might not pass the physical fitness test), is put into their class and AP Physics teachers will only want to teach the top test scorers.
PLEASE- schools don’t need the added distraction of pitting teachers against each other (my test is harder than your test) and more tragically, vying for the “best and brightest” to help them keep their job. Their job is to educate every kid who walks in the door, rich or poor, fat or skinny, gifted or not. You will hear that the “value-added” scores will take care of that, but with all the variability in teaching assignments, expense of scoring and lack of valid assessments, it’s just not going to happen. The Florida statistical Value added formula is so complicated (see above) that tests must be sent out of state to be analyzed for accuracy. Is that really where we want to spend our tax dollars?
Furthermore, the higher the stakes (think Atlanta) the more security that is required to prevent cheating and I’m not talking about the kids. When test scores become the most valued indicator of what makes a good school, teachers and administrators will spend all of their time focusing on that. Our children are the real losers.
If you are a high school parent in Florida, you recently received a notice that looked something like this-Upcoming Testing Schedule:
April 8 – FCAT Math Retakes
April 9 & 10 – FCAT Reading Retakes (Testing Session allowed from 9:00 to 12:25 unless they have extended time).
April 15 & 16 – FCAT 10th Graders (Two 70 minute sessions unless they have extended time)
April 22 & 23 – FCAT 9th Graders (Two 70 minute sessions unless they have extended time)
April 29 – US HISTORY EOC (160 minute session)
May 1 & 2 – PERT for Seniors (untimed test)
May 6 – Biology EOC (160 minute session)
May 13 – Algebra EOC (160 minute session)
May 20 – Geometry EOC (160 minute session)
*This does not include required practice tests or make-up dates or Advanced Placement tests.
Think about the logistics for a minute. For each of these tests, students have to be pulled out of their current classes in other subjects and go down to the media center or computer labs (and kick out the students who were in there learning) to take the tests. And guess what–this is only the tip of the iceberg! The tests above only cover about 20% of the classes taught in a typical high school. This is why so many Florida teachers at all grade levels (over 50%?) had to use scores of kids or subjects they didn’t teach in order to have a test score assigned to them to meet the law!
As soon as all the EOCs (end of course exams) are developed for the 400 high school course offerings that aren’t included above, there will not be a moment during the last 3 months of school when some type of high stakes/high security test is being administered at your child’s school. None of these tests are necessary for a student to graduate, only to satisfy this misguided law to tie teachers’ pay to standardized tests! Ah, remember the “good old days” when teachers could give and grade their own final exams at the end of the school year and students could see what they missed? Those days are coming to an end. Do the folks who are dreaming these laws up have any idea of the disruption and wasted learning time that results?
Almost every teacher I know wants to do a good job. After much research we know which teacher practices are the most effective; the challenge is to help weaker teachers learn to incorporate them. This can only come about in a coaching and collaborative school approach. We don’t need an out-of-control bulldozer to weed the garden. School districts in collaboration with teachers can do this. Here’s what I recommend we get started with:
- School Boards, superintendents and principals- roll up your sleeves and do what it takes to help the teachers who need it, get rid of the ones who can’t or don’t want to do a good job and give tons of support to the ones who are in there doing a good job every day.
- Teachers unions- fight for teacher’s rights, but don’t protect the few “bad apples” that are spoiling the barrel. The majority of teachers will thank you.
- Parents- get involved with your school and your child. Ask how you can help. Speak up if your child’s teacher is not doing a good job. Don’t forget to thank them when they do!
- Legislature – quit thinking you know how to best evaluate teachers. You don’t. Back off.
- Citizens: Make funding our schools, pre-K-20, your top priority. Boost salaries and working conditions so principals can attract and hire the BEST qualified teachers in the country. Recognize that all schools are not created equal and give the most support to schools and teachers who are serving our neediest families. Don’t blame them– help them.
More trails to blaze!
Thank you Kelly Otte for such a nice article. I’m so glad your son was one of the many students SAIL was able to help along the way.
Don’t sell our kids private information!
Don’t sell our kids private information!
Pete Kreis tells it like it is in today’s Tallahassee Democrat.