Wednesday, December 13, 2017
Education

Romano: A stand against school testing is long overdue

The voice of the revolution is calm. It is kind. It is the voice of a 59-year-old kindergarten teacher who cares more about her students than her paycheck.

This is why Susan Bowles is refusing to give a standardized computer test to a class of 5-year-olds at a Gainesville school this month, a stance that violates her contract and puts her three-decade teaching career in serious jeopardy.

Meanwhile, a few hundred miles south, the Lee County School Board voted to stop giving state-mandated tests before it reversed a week later. School boards in Brevard and Palm Beach counties had similar discussions.

In the Miami-Dade School District, the largest in Florida, the board has asked the state for a delay in implementing a new high-stakes test.

And Opt Out Orlando, a grass roots group that helps parents navigate loopholes in the state's rigid standardized testing program, is expanding into other districts.

Miami-Dade superintendent Alberto Carvalho described these developments as a "tsunami of growing consciousness'' across the state.

"Tsunami" might be a little overstated. But it is safe to say that after years of grumbling about the state's fanatical devotion to testing, we are seeing tangible signs of protest. Of, dare we say, revolt.

The question now is this:

Will Tallahassee ever listen?

"How much more preposterous does this have to get,'' Bowles asked, "before the legislators stop and say, 'What have we done?' "

Bowles did not arrive late to this party. She's had concerns about the quantity and quality of state tests for years. This was just the tipping point.

The state Florida Assessments for Instruction in Reading, which is given to kindergarten students three times a year to help determine placement and progress, has to be administered one-on-one with a teacher using a computer. Bowles said the tests were supposed to take 35 minutes, a challenging enough duration for a 5-year-old attention span. Some students, however, needed an hour.

Bowles said it would take two weeks to test all of her students, meaning a loss of instruction time and less attention being paid to the other kids. Now multiply that by three FAIR tests a year.

She told Chiles Elementary School administrators about her concerns, then spent last weekend deciding whether it was worth risking her career.

"I realized I could lose my job, which I hold dear. I love teaching,'' Bowles said. "But throughout history, people have put themselves at much greater risk than I'm doing. So if I wasn't willing to risk my job to protect my students, then what does that say about me if a bigger issue came along? I decided it was my duty to speak out.''

The principal at Chiles de-escalated the potential showdown with the state by administering the tests while Bowles continued teaching her class.

The larger problem, however, remains.

Cindy Hamilton, Opt Out Orlando co-creator, says Florida's standardized tests are poorly designed, are assigned far too much weight, and have zero checks and balances because the state, in the name of test security, does not allow parents to review actual results.

Opt Out Orlando, which has 15 chapters, shows parents how to circumvent mandated tests by negotiating with schools to provide a portfolio of other work instead.

That is often a backup solution for students who don't score high enough on standardized tests. This way, students can avoid the stigma of a failing score, the threat of retention and remedial classes.

Hamilton says her oldest son had a reading disability in elementary school and didn't pass the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test . Back then, she said, failing the test did not have such dire consequences, and he was able to learn strategies to overcome his disability.

Today he is a computer science major at the University of Central Florida.

"He was already hyperaware of his reading disability, and if he had been held back or put in remedial courses, it would have affected him profoundly,'' she said. "His life would not be what it is today.

"What we're trying to do is make sure these big, life-changing decisions are made through a multiple of measures and not one test.''

So what would you call this? A tsunami? A revolution?

Me? I would call it necessary. And long overdue.

Comments
Merriam-Webster’s word of the year for 2017 is ‘Feminism’

Merriam-Webster’s word of the year for 2017 is ‘Feminism’

NEW YORK — This may or may not come as a surprise: Merriam-Webster’s word of the year for 2017 is "feminism." Yes, it’s been a big year or two or 100 for the word. In 2017, lookups for feminism increased 70 percent over 2016 on Mer...
Published: 12/12/17
‘It’s like an insane nightmare’: Parents question private company hired to drive special needs kids to school

‘It’s like an insane nightmare’: Parents question private company hired to drive special needs kids to school

RIVERVIEW — As a foster parent with two sons of her own, Kayla Storey has learned all the tricks to get her kids out of bed and off to school every morning. But this year, Storey says she’s the one waking up every school day with a knot i...
Published: 12/08/17
Updated: 12/11/17

University of Central Florida Greeks won’t hold social events, serve alcohol for 6 weeks this spring

ORLANDO — University of Central Florida fraternities and sororities won’t host social activities or any events with drinking for at least the first six weeks of the spring semester, up from the two-week ban on alcohol that has been in place in the pa...
Published: 12/08/17
Amid reports of rapes, beatings, cover-ups, grand jury to probe juvenile justice abuses

Amid reports of rapes, beatings, cover-ups, grand jury to probe juvenile justice abuses

Disturbed by stories about the rape of teens by supervisory staff, a pandemic of sometimes savage force, brutal beatdowns ordered by youth care workers and policies that permit the hiring of violent offenders, Miami-Dade’s state attorney wants to kno...
Published: 12/07/17
Henderson: Some basic facts about Hillsborough’s teacher pay imbroglio

Henderson: Some basic facts about Hillsborough’s teacher pay imbroglio

Hillsborough County’s public school teachers are horn-honking, voice-raising, sign-waving, foot-stomping mad, and I can’t blame them. They are paying for a problem they didn’t create. About one-third of the workforce was expecting to receive a $4,000...
Published: 12/07/17
In Watershed Ambassadors Program, Pasco students learn about natural Florida

In Watershed Ambassadors Program, Pasco students learn about natural Florida

SPRING HILL — On a small wooden dock at the Cross Bar Ranch, Cynthia Brinker gingerly pokes through the trappings in her fishing net, plucking out a tiny creature to examine close up. "What the heck is this?" the Weightman Middle School studen...
Published: 12/06/17
Updated: 12/07/17
Crognale named 2018 Hernando Principal of the Year

Crognale named 2018 Hernando Principal of the Year

BROOKSVILLE — For just a year and a half, Steve Crognale has been the principal at the Endeavor and Discovery Academies. But now, he’s been named the Hernando School District Principal of the Year for 2018. Endeavor serves students, most of them hig...
Published: 12/06/17
‘It’s like an insane nightmare’: Parents question private company hired to drive special needs kids to school

‘It’s like an insane nightmare’: Parents question private company hired to drive special needs kids to school

RIVERVIEW — As a foster parent with two sons of her own, Kayla Storey is skilled at calming first-day-of-school jitters. But this school year, Storey says she’s the one waking up every weekday with a knot in her stomach.It’s been there ever since th...
Published: 12/05/17
Updated: 12/11/17
Why do universities handle sexual assault cases, anyway?

Why do universities handle sexual assault cases, anyway?

News stories about campus sexual assault often get the question, "Why do schools handle these cases, anyway?"Readers often wonder how universities got tasked with handling these convoluted cases in the first place. Where, they ask, do the police come...
Published: 12/05/17
Updated: 12/11/17
Hillsborough teachers keep the heat on after $92 bonus offer

Hillsborough teachers keep the heat on after $92 bonus offer

TAMPA — The second Hillsborough County School Board meeting in less than a month took place Tuesday against a backdrop of honking car horns, cheering teachers and audience members moving through the room in shifts.Dressed in blue union-issued T-shirt...
Published: 12/05/17
Updated: 12/06/17