Monday, April 23, 2018
Education

Romano: Rick Scott gets it all wrong about student testing

It sounds really, really good. Sounds decisive. Sounds American.

Gov. Rick Scott on Monday put out a campaign brochure disguised as an educational policy statement that blasted federal government intrusion in schools and hinted that local districts have gone overboard testing your children.

Like I said, it sounds good.

If only it wasn't misguided.

The governor deserves credit and praise for his request to increase school funding to record levels next year, but the rest of his proposal is little more than pandering.

He correctly surmises that parents have grown weary with high-stakes testing, and says he wants the commissioner of education to conduct a "comprehensive investigation" of all standardized tests being given to students.

The implication is that the world would be a better place if we based everything on the state-mandated test, formerly known as the FCAT, and scrapped standardized assessments that local school districts might pile on. On this, he could not be more wrong.

The problem is not the number of tests, it is the enormous stakes placed upon the FCAT. School funding, teacher evaluations, student promotions, even proposals like the parent trigger law are all tied to one end-of-year exam.

That's what is upsetting to parents — the idea that entire schools have become beholden to the results of a single test conceived by some out-of-state corporation.

"I would argue with anybody that local district assessments are much more important than the statewide assessment," said Pasco County school superintendent Kurt Browning. "Local tests help teachers guide instruction and target areas of need. All the state test does is take a snapshot of what a student knows on one particular day.

"If he is so concerned and committed to local control, why do we put so much emphasis on the state's high-stakes assessments? Why not look at local assessments?"

Any suggestion that we limit tests is actually counter-intuitive. If assessments are so valuable that we build the entire school year around one, then how can it possibly hurt to gauge progress with additional tests?

In other words, do you want to wait until the FCAT to find out your child is behind the curve in math or reading?

"These assessments are being made out to be some sort of boogeyman," said Hills­borough County superintendent Mary Ellen Elia. "Tests have always been a part of education. Unit tests, spelling tests, we've taken them all of our lives. Tests inform a teacher of what's going on with each student, and that's a good thing.

"Where it becomes a problem is when a test is the be-all and end-all of education."

Scott does not want the federal government meddling in Florida schools. I couldn't agree more. Unfortunately, the bigger problem is the state government keeps sticking its nose in local schools.

Lawmakers in Tallahassee are responsible for our current mess. They have spent so much time trying to legislate accountability, they have sapped the creativity, individuality and distinctiveness from our schools. Public schools have become factories designed to produce students capable of passing the FCAT.

No, Gov. Scott, local tests are not the problem.

The issue is the atomic-level stakes assigned to your beloved state test. That's what is causing so much disruption and destruction in Florida.

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