The Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test and its ugly cousin, the No Child Left Behind Act, are contrived cookie-cutter creations that attempt to measure progress in a world where learning no longer has much to do with financial success or professional fulfillment. And tying funding to schools based on that ill-advised assessment method makes even less sense.
Feel free to disagree with that opinion; many do.
But until the brain trusts in Tallahassee and Washington, D.C., agree with me, which is increasingly improbable in most matters, the FCAT and NCLB are the laws of the land. As such, they have to be administered uniformly.
That respect for the rules is why I was annoyed to learn that FCAT tests had to be tossed out for 27 Hernando County students last week because they brought their cellular telephones into the testing room. They did so despite repeated warnings, written and verbal, not to do precisely that.
According to a report from Times colleague Tom Marshall, all students were warned that violating the state Department of Education's ban against such electronic gadgets would nullify their test results. The message on the school's Web site, which was reinforced frequently by teachers in the classroom, said "If your child is found with an electronic device that reproduces, transmits, calculates, or records (e.g., a cell phone, camera, or pager) in his or her pocket, at his or her desk, or within his or her reach during testing, the test will be invalidated." A similar caution was issued the day of the test as students walked into the testing rooms, according to district officials. Those who had forgotten were asked to put their name on their phone and leave it with the teacher until the testing session was complete.
Still, 27 students did not follow instructions. That may not seem like a lot, but compare it with Pasco County, where only six students were busted for the same offense. Pasco has three times as many students, yet Hernando County had four times as many violations. Go figure.
In Hernando, 12 of the 27 offenders attend Nature Coast Technical High School. That was three times as many as the next offending school, Hernando High, which had four students who wouldn't give up the opportunity to reach out and touch — or text — someone.
"So what?" you say. "What difference can a few defiant or absent-minded knuckleheads make?"
Truth is, the disobedience of a few can make a big difference when you're dealing with a purely collective undertaking like the misguided FCAT. One invalidated or uncompleted test could throw off the results, costing the school dearly in terms of resources and oversight. One test can alter a school's overall letter grade. For a school on the proverbial bubble, it might mean the difference between a D and an F, or an A and a B, or from being able to show improvement to showing none.
And, because funding is linked directly to results under this hyped system, that can have a negative affect on the entire school.
What more could have been done to prevent the forgetful/ insubordinate kids from skewing the results by possessing cell phones? Short of frisking them or using a metal-detecting wand as they enter the testing room, probably nothing.
But even though I may not have a serious answer for how to logistically prevent this from happening again, I have some very definite ideas about how to deter it.
There should be consequences — oh, let's just call it what it is, punishment — at school and at home. A written apology to their classmates and teachers might be a good starting point. Read it aloud in class or publish it in the school newspaper.
Better yet, suspend their cell phone privileges. If I were the principal at one of the schools where this happened, I would revoke the offending student's privilege to carry a cell phone on campus. Require them to turn it in at the office when they arrive at school, and pick it up on their way out.
Thirty days of that hassle might jog their memory next time around.
Jeff Webb can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 754-6123.