Hillsborough School Board members speak out against over-testing but will hold a workshop before taking a stand

TAMPA — It starts in kindergarten.

The fall formative reading test. The midyear formative reading test. End-of-year tests in reading, math and science.

Five standardized tests, and another for new English speakers. In kindergarten.

Earlier this year, Hillsborough County School Board chairwoman Candy Olson initiated a discussion on the preponderance of high-stakes tests.

She wondered if Hillsborough should join Palm Beach County and other districts in a nationwide appeal to ease up on a process that was intended to tighten accountability in the schools.

At the board's request, Hillsborough staff compiled a list, grade by grade, of tests students can expect to take.

Not all students take all tests, cautioned Samuel Whitten, assistant director of assessment and accountability. There's variation for learning disabilities, English proficiency, and participation in programs such as Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate.

Still, the numbers were impressive. Twenty-four tests were listed for eighth grade. For 10th grade: 26 including the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test in reading and math, which kids must pass before graduation.

"It's just glaring how much our students are asked to test," board member Carol Kurdell said, discussing the report at Tuesday's meeting.

Member Susan Valdes asked about the burden on new English speakers, who also are tested periodically on language proficiency.

Member Jack Lamb shared statistics he picked up from Wharton High School. More than 6,700 tests were administered this year in that school's media center, he said. "That media center was closed, for all practical purposes, for a month."

Freedom High School math teacher Michael Weston — who is running for Kurdell's at-large School Board seat — said that apart from the disruption of the tests, teachers contend with half-empty classes on days when some students are taking the PSAT, or various AP tests.

"I lost virtually the entire two weeks of my advanced math courses," he said.

Part of the issue stems from the trend toward taking tests on computers instead of paper. "To test the entire student population, we need to have computers for each student," Whitten said. "Not having that, we have to do it in groups."

A long-simmering backlash against excessive testing gained momentum this year in Florida when the state Department of Education struggled with the FCAT.

Scores required to show grade-level proficiency were increased, resulting in changes and recalculations to prevent the appearance that student achievement had dropped sharply.

Early this week, the National Center for Fair & Open Testing reported that 11 Florida school boards had endorsed a national resolution asking policymakers to reduce the use of tests as a sole factor in education decisions.

Pinellas County joined them on Tuesday with a 6-1 vote to sign on to the national resolution.

But the Hillsborough board took no action Tuesday. Instead, the board will hold a workshop July 17 to learn more about tests, and the district's computer needs.

The 9 a.m. workshop will be followed by a regular board meeting at 3 p.m.

In other business, the board:

• Discussed ongoing efforts to improve the student registration process in the aftermath of a football cheating scandal at Armwood High School.

Olson suggested the district revise its enrollment forms to include a warning that students will be removed from schools if their parents lie about where they live.

"I just think we've been mushing around with this for too long," she said.

The district already is fine-tuning the registration process as a result of the ongoing Florida High School Athletic Association case against Armwood, where students are accused of using fake documents to show they lived in the school's attendance area.

Olson's motion passed 4-1, with Valdes voting no.

• Approved the $300,000 purchase of more iPad tablets for Franklin Boys Preparatory School and Ferrell Girls Preparatory School. The two single-gender middle schools, which just completed their first year, provide iPads to all students, and enrollment is expected to increase.

• Named these new principals: Jennifer West to Lincoln Elementary School; Nicole Bennett to Foster Elementary; Cindy Dowdy to Cimino Elementary; William Woodland Johnson to Mort Elementary and Ken Hart to Monroe Middle School.

Marlene Sokol can be reached at (813) 226-3356 or sokol@tampabay.com.

Hillsborough School Board members speak out against over-testing but will hold a workshop before taking a stand 06/12/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, June 13, 2012 1:07am]

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