I am faceless. I am nameless. I am the scorer for FCAT writing essays.
A school's grade, and subsequent funding, is in my hands. Teacher evaluations, and ultimately salary increases, are based on my work. Your child's academic future, at least in terms of remedial writing courses, is at my discretion.
That's a lot of influence for a relatively low-paid, nondescript worker to wield.
Wouldn't it be interesting if education officials were also subject to my scrutiny?
If their pay hinged on a single snapshot of their work? If their promotions were tied to a pass-or-fail test? If, like FCAT essays, they were judged on their focus, organization and support?
Considering the news of the past week — the embarrassingly low writing scores and the subsequent retreat by state officials — it might even be prudent to have someone like me judge the Board of Education's recent performance when it comes to the handling of FCAT revisions.
You know, just to see how state education officials fared when it came to focus, organization and support.
Focus: Was there a main idea, theme or unifying point to recent changes?
Education Commissioner Gerard Robinson has consistently championed the idea of raising the academic bar and ensuring Florida's students are prepared for college and/or post-school careers.
Methods and motivations may be up for debate, but there is no arguing the potential benefits of these goals. Students should be held to the highest reasonable standards.
The state gets a favorable score for focus.
Organization: Is there a structure or plan of development in place?
Last fall, two different advisory panels suggested an incremental increase in cut-off scores for the FCAT. Robinson ignored the recommendations and pushed for a larger increase.
By itself, that may not have been a disaster. But then Robinson also demanded tougher standards for the actual grading of essays. So not only did he raise the threshold for passing the test, at the same time he made the test itself more difficult.
To put that in track and field terms, instead of lifting the bar for the pole vault by a couple of inches, he jacked it up a couple of feet. To top it off, the final decision for this double whammy was made in the middle of the school year.
Organization was horribly botched by the state.
Support: Were FCAT changes clarified, explained and defined?
If you listened to a board conference call on Tuesday, you heard educator after educator decry the lack of instruction and direction regarding new FCAT standards.
Robinson appeared almost dismissive of these complaints. He often seemed to place the blame with individual school districts. And while it may be true that district administrators dropped the ball, it was still the state's responsibility to monitor this.
The state demonstrated a serious lack of support.
So to recap, state officials did well on goals but failed miserably on organization and support. On FCAT's 1-to-6 scoring scale, the final score can be no higher than a 2.
In other words, the education commissioner and Board of Education failed.
Remedial governing is required.