May 19

“Let Us Off This Crazy Train”

Standardized testing in Florida (if not the country) is out of control. If you’re a student, parent or teacher in the K-12 system, you know this to be an understatement. It’s why a friend of mine recently vented on Facebook about FSA–Florida Standards Assessment a.k.a. the new FCAT–comparing it to a runaway train taking our schools off a cliff.

It’s the perfect metaphor. New, unproven testing engines burn through taxpayer money, while trapping our kids and their teachers on board a dangerous ride. To make matters worse, all the passengers are blindfolded, so they have no idea what’s really coming around the next bend of tests.

“Who’s the conductor anyway?” asked my friend rhetorically. Follow the money, and the answer is clear. It’s those companies that develop and sell (key word) costly, ongoing, labor-intensive materials and services, flourishing organizations like American Institutes of Research (AIR) and Pearson. Launching frequently updated and non-reusable curricula and tests creates a financial boon for these groups but a disaster for everyone else.

This crazy train has many cars. The administrative chaos alone created by unreliable, inefficient technology this spring put Florida students in unproductive holding patterns for hours, days, weeks. Even when the technology does work, the massive time spent for testing–or doing nothing while other students test and take turns on limited numbers of computers–takes away from actual learning time.

Ah, learning…remember that? Learning is supposed to be the destination of education, not testing. Right? Right??

Untested, unverified tests make OUR KIDS the guinea pigs for testing companies.

Untested, unverified tests make our kids and their teachers the unwitting guinea pigs for testing companies.

The tests themselves are highly questionable. Except that no one’s allowed to either see or question the questions. This includes the front-line experts, our children’s teachers, whose very livelihoods are almost exclusively tethered to how their students perform on said questions. Between the state-mandated FSA and EOCs introduced this year, our kids have essentially become guinea pigs for the testing companies, who themselves seem to be held to no objective standard of validity or accountability. The failure of their technology could be seen. Unclear, poorly written computer-based test questions, however, are conveniently hidden from public consumption and known only by the confused, frustrated test-takers from Kindergarteners to high school seniors.

Seminole County Public Schools gets it. Thanks to the reassuring common sense of the elected school board here led by Chairwoman Tina Calderone, Superintendent Dr. Walt Griffin last month requested a waiver out of next year’s FSA. Against the presumption of the Florida Legislature to just ‘get with the program,’ if you will, SCPS has come up with a sensible alternative. Griffin proposes the district utilize proven paper tests like SAT and PSAT that not only cost less and take FAR less time to administer but offer the added (in my mind crucial) benefit of actually providing national comparison.

These are the same tests that many private schools use to benchmark students’ progress each year. Ironically, these are the same tests that most Florida lawmakers’ children take (Florida testing mania: Politicians demand it but don’t subject their own kids to it). I myself administered the Stanford Achievement Test to my daughter as a third and fourth grader when we homeschooled some years ago. It was a concise yet effective tool for seeing where she was at with each skill. It helped me identify relative strengths and weaknesses, while comparing my child’s progress with others her age and above.

“We’re getting off your crazy train.” When I read SCPS board member Amy Lockhart quoted saying this (Seminole schools to state: Let us skip FSA, use national exams), I had to laugh, remembering my friend’s online rant. Then I went over to my piano and started singing the words that quickly became a musical refrain.

My hope is that this video gets the attention of the Florida Legislature and that they will vote to grant SCPS its requested waiver. Beyond that, I hope the song helps support impassioned school district leaders around the state who are advocating for a transformation of Florida’s statewide testing program into an academically sound and fiscally responsible accountability system.


Learning is a journey; it’s not always A to B.
If you try to measure every mile, there’s a world you’ll never see.
This train we’ve put our children on is running off the track,
And the man who sold the ticket says there’s no turning back.


So let us off this crazy train, let our teachers teach our kids again,
‘Cause we don’t want this high-stakes ride.
Not every test is good, not every child’s the same,
So let us off this crazy train.

No test should be a destination or take up so much time.
Instead of making more frustration, just give them a chance to shine.
We all want to see wheels turning and have accountability,
But let’s not kill the joy of learning and creativity.

Who is the conductor anyway? We’re the ones who ultimately pay.