Saturday, April 21, 2018
Education

Pinellas, Hernando may vote on FCAT resolutions

As the stakes keep increasing in Florida's standardized testing system, teachers have protested and parents have complained about anxious students more fearful than ever of failing.

Now, some school leaders across the state are part of the growing backlash.

In yet another signal of the broadening distaste for using the FCAT as a do-or-die measure, two Tampa Bay school districts — Pinellas and Hernando — are considering resolutions urging the state to place less emphasis on the controversial test required for graduation.

Already, at least three other school districts have taken a stand on the issue, and a handful of others are considering similar measures. Hillsborough School Board chairwoman Candy Olson said the resolution has been brought up informally but is not scheduled for a vote.

"I think the FCAT puts too much pressure on all the children," said Cynthia Moore, chairwoman of the Hernando County School Board. "We have children doing FCAT, throwing up in the morning because they are so upset about it."

For three weeks now, state education officials have been releasing scores for the FCAT with final results set to come out today in reading and math for grades 4-8 and science scores for grades 5 and 8.

Roberto Martinez, vice chairman of the state Board of Education, said Monday he believes school boards like Pinellas and Hernando are responding to constituents in passing the resolutions, but questioned what he said were a lack of specifics.

"I don't hear anyone saying let's replace what we have with X, Y or Z," Martinez said.

• • •

Florida's aggressive testing program has been a model for other states like Indiana, which this year for the first time required third-graders to pass a reading test or be retained.

The resolutions, however, are part of a growing national debate about how much testing is too much — and what effect high-stakes accountability has had on the culture of schools throughout the country.

"Parents and students are the hardened veterans of the FCAT. They have brought their concerns forward to school boards and superintendents to the point where everyone's had enough," said Rita Solnet, co-founder of Parents Across America.

The nonprofit, along with a variety of other education groups, wrote the resolution Pinellas will consider on June 26. It was modeled after one passed by school boards in Texas.

In Florida, much of the recent sentiment is fallout from the state's FCAT writing results.

Scores dropped so dramatically for fourth-, eighth- and 10th-graders that it led the state Board of Education to lower the passing score. Martinez said the huge drop was a mistake, but that doesn't mean the whole system should be scrapped.

"I support, strongly, a system of accountability," he said.

For him, that means assessing students and then making sure that assessment is also given weight, such as by tying it to school grades, he said.

Jaryn Emhof, a spokeswoman for the nonprofit Foundation for Excellence in Education, said the group did not support the resolutions.

The foundation, founded by former Gov. Jeb Bush, supports annual assessments such as FCAT because they are objective measures of a student's learning and academic achievement and they are aligned to state standards, Emhof said.

"If you're not going to do an annual assessment, what are you going to do and how are you going to show what students know and what they don't know?" she said.

• • •

Several local school official already support the resolutions set to come before them.

"I think we need to adopt this resolution and sign it," said Pinellas County School Board member Janet Clark during a workshop on Monday. "I don't know what conversation needs to be had."

School Board members Linda Lerner called it "very good" and Robin Wikle said she particularly liked the "second to last paragraph."

Similar to the resolution being considered in Hernando, that paragraph calls on Gov. Rick Scott, the Florida Department of Education and state lawmakers to re-examine public school accountability.

It asks them "to develop a system based on multiple forms of assessment which does not require extensive standardized testing, more accurately reflects the broad range of student learning and is used to support students and improve schools."

Although Hernando's superintendent did not stake out a firm position, he had no shortage of problems with standardized testing in its current form.

"I think that there are obvious problems with high-stakes testing," said Bryan Blavatt. "That is, that it becomes the focus of the instruction.

"The initial implementation of the test was to help student performance. My problem is it has gotten so far away from that."

The "National Resolution Against High-Stakes Testing" was first adopted in Palm Beach County and has since been implemented in Broward and St. Lucie counties.

Laurie Rich Levinson, vice chairwoman of the Broward County School Board, said the FCAT tests are overemphasized.

Broward passed the resolution unanimously.

"Something has to be done," Levinson said.

Times researcher Natalie Watson and Times staff writer Cara Fitzpatrick contributed to this report. Danny Valentine can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1432.

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