Category: schools and education

Jul 31

Florida School Testing Saga Continues

Learning should be the destination of education and testing merely a tool--not the other way around.

Learning should be the destination of education and testing merely a tool–not the other way around.

A real-life drama of ineffective high-stakes testing is playing out here in Florida. A modern-day David vs. Goliath, it’s led to the small but educationally powerful Seminole County Public Schools district standing up to the giant bureaucracy of the Florida Department of Education. What’s at stake in this fight? Nothing less than the well-being, real learning and true success of our kids.

In the spirit of accountability and measurement–something we all want–I’ve created my own little test:

TAKE THE TEST ABOUT THE TEST!

Take a test about the test! Learn why so many Florida parents are telling the state’s Department of Education to #LetUsOffThisCrazyTrain and allow the #SeminoleSolution!

Here’s the most recent development, from Channel 13 Orlando reporter Jeff Allen, following this week’s SCPS school board meeting:


And here’s a presentation that details some of the negative impact of this year’s FSA test in Seminole County alone:
7-28-15 FSA Solution

Bottom Line (in this mama grizzly bear’s humble opinion):
The State of Florida has spent a lot of money on an unverified test that caused massive disruptions to our children’s learning time during this past year. I understand why the FL Department of Education would want to save face and make the Florida Standards Assessment test continue–however deeply technologically, logistically and educationally flawed. So now the DOE is paying another company another $250,000 to verify the test (after the fact–yeah). Is that really to help our students? Or is that to help the DOE have a scape goat?

Message to FL DOE: Let us off this crazy (FSA testing) train. Let our teachers teach our kids again!

Message to FL DOE: Let us off this crazy (FSA testing) train. Let our teachers teach our kids again!

Why is the DOE so against letting its public school students take a well-tested national test in the first place? Is it afraid of being compared against other states? That’s the only answer I can come up with that makes any sense why far more money would be spent on a far less effective measurement tool.

At the front line of this crisis are our kids and their teachers, administrators and school district leaders. They’re the ones who’ve lived through the problem. And they’re the ones who understand the best answer, even if they’re too afraid to speak up. Our elected SCPS school board and non-elected superintendent, Dr. Walt Griffin, have unanimously shown that they are not afraid to do so. If you agree with their efforts and common sense solution, contact your own district school board members and superintendent, state legislators, Governor Rick Scott and DOE Commissioner Pam Stewart. Be sure to tell them to #LetUsOffThisCrazyTrain and support the #SeminoleSolution!

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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.

LET US OFF THIS CRAZY TRAIN

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.

[REFRAIN]

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.

RELATED ARTICLES
http://www.wesh.com/news/seminole-county-school-board-proposes-new-plan-for-student-testing/32504054

http://www.orlandosentinel.com/opinion/os-ed-school-assessments-myword-040515-20150406-story.html

http://www.orlandosentinel.com/features/education/school-zone/os-seminole-schools-skip-state-tests-fsa-post.html

http://www.ocala.com/article/20150423/ARTICLES/150429831/1412?p=2&tc=ar

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Feb 16

ONE Neighborhood – ONE School

Button

The desire: That children within one subdivision of homes bound together by geography (no major roads dividing), common recreational and meeting areas, and a Homeowners’ Association be zoned for the same school.

A Musical Plea to Florida’s Seminole County School Leadership and Board

As final plans for rezoning elementary schools here in Seminole County, Florida are being finalized, I wanted to help the hard-working Superintendent, his staff, and our elected school board to remember ONE Neighborhood – ONE School. More than a mantra, it’s a guiding principle, an overwhelmingly uniting one, too. It’s something on which all with whom I’ve spoken and heard speak in the East Zone seem to resoundingly agree.

So I thought, what better way to help us all remember something than to put it to music. Right? Here it is below, what I believe to be the first musical public postcard of its kind to a school board. Sing along with me!

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Jan 17

The Poetry of Politics

If our home is still zoned for Partin in 2014, my son could just as easily walk, bike, or swim to school!

Last night I attended a meeting regarding plans for rezoning Seminole County elementary schools. Indeed, it seemed there were as many proposed plans as committee members circled together inside the Winter Springs High School library.

Somewhere between my third and fourth Ghiradelli chocolate square, fortuitously strewn across our community table in the back, I heard the leaders agree to whittle down to five plans as a goal. And by the time I found the source of the flamingo-pink lemonade observers were holding, I had already gained a sweet appreciation for both the complexity of the problem and the impassioned individuals striving to solve it.

Sharing the precious scavenged provisions with my eleven-year-old daughter (who hadn’t had dinner either as we had raced from a dentist appointment), I realized something important about myself. You’ve heard, I’m a lover, not a fighter? Well, I’m a poet, not a politician. Now I know.

http://www.nps.gov/inde/independence-hall-1.htm

The inspiring Rising Sun Chair at Independence Hall in Boston

As I watched the panoply of the technical proceedings unfold, I thought of George Washington’s famous chair at Independence Hall. I had seen it up close in Boston when I was pregnant with Cassidy. Near the end of the Constitutional Convention’s historic debates in 1787, Benjamin Franklin had made his immortalized observation:

I have, he said to his founding friends, often and often, in the course of the session, and the vicissitudes of my hopes and fears as to its issue, looked at that behind the President, without being able to tell whether it was rising or setting; but now at length, I have the happiness to know, that it is a rising, and not a setting sun.

What a memorable metaphor. Maybe poetry has a place in politics after all. Before rhetoric took on a negative connotation for being used without conviction, the graceful use of words was actually part of the process. Watching C-SPAN today, I’m not feeling the love of language, or anything else for that matter.

But last night was different. Of the many PTA moms, principals, school board members, public servants and other impassioned volunteers whom I witnessed, none lacked for sincerity or commitment. I tip my half-full styrofoam cup to them all.

Returning home, inspired by the evening’s information and sugar, I did the only thing I could think to do. I wrote. Below is what came out: sixteen haiku poems, one for each of the villages within our diverse yet richly woven community of Live Oak Reserve here in Oviedo. Politics or poetry? Maybe they can still co-exist.

16 REZONING HAIKUS

Seminole rezone

Redistribute don’t divide

Live Oak Reserve homes

Sixteen villages

Standing together as one

Supporting Partin

One community

Defined by geography

Involved at Partin

Think transportation

Model green choices for them

Let Live Oak kids walk

Live Oak Reserve is

A walking community

Don’t take that away

The law appears clear

Proximity is foremost

Factor in rezone

Follow the statute

Strive to maximize locals

Minimize buses

Transportation law

Reasonable distance test

Live Oak all within

Spend increased taxes

On better education

Not gas for buses

Support childhood health

Not with empty words but votes

That reward walkers

We teach save the world

This choice must be consistent

Cut carbon footprint

Never on big streets

By foot and bike together

Live Oak kids go home

Parent involvement

Naturally higher when close

Made harder when far

Diverse families joined

Each working hard to live here

Growing with Partin

Live Oak Reserve: sixteen branches of one tree. Our goal: to stay together in the Partin Elementary school zone.

Live Oak Reserve: sixteen branches of one tree. Our goal: to stay together in the Partin Elementary school zone.

These sixteen branches

Filled with children as green leaves

Cherished every one

Branches of one tree

No matter how divided

Cannot thrive apart

Visit Live Oak Reserve HOA for current news on “One Community. One School.”
http://liveoakreservehoa.us/

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Apr 16

The Real Test

It’s been said that Florida only has two seasons: January and summer. While that’s mostly true, I’d add a third season, one which children and their parents here share with so many throughout the country. Yes, it’s the highly anticipated season of standardized test-taking. And if it were a movie, it could be categorized as a thriller, horror or comedy, depending on one’s experience.

A recent article about some powerful psychology around testing kids really hit home with me. It underlined the dramatic results of emphasizing effort over ability. In short, the control group who were told they did well because they were smart did worse on future tests and took less risks than those who were told they did well because they worked hard.

Surprised and shocked by this clear principle, I applied it to my own life. Had I passed the test? As an aspiring writer, had I too (like the subject 5th graders) been caught in a fundamental trap of believing that what I may be–or rather, all I may NOT be–is more important than what I do? Effort results in learning, which ultimately leads to success.

When my daughter’s teacher sent out a request for pencils, I penned these few short lines to remind the kids, and myself, of this simple truth. Feel free to share with your own students, citing my website if possible. Whether they’re facing a national benchmark such as the Stanford or Iowa achievement tests, or a state-customized version, like the Florida Comprehensive Achievement Test (FCAT) our public schools take here, my hope is that young test-takers everywhere might be encouraged just knowing that their hard work has already paid off.

THE PENCIL POEM

Sharpen these tools like you’ve sharpened your mind,

And the answers you seek you’re sure to soon find.

For when you work hard and just do your best,

You’ve already passed life’s most challenging test.

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