Tagged: florida

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.






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.


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.


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.”