1. Archive

Schools must play game, like it or not

The A in Gov. Jeb Bush's A+ plan for education is taking on a new meaning _ acceleration. Pasco school officials most likely will advance the start of the school year by one week beginning in 2000 and again another week the following year to better prepare students for midyear standardized achievement tests.

It is one of the consequences of the accountability standards established in Tallahassee. With so much emphasis on test scores, school districts want as many pretest teaching days as possible. That means they will begin and end the school year earlier.

Time on task is a fact of life for educators. The more time children spend reading, writing and working on mathematics skills, the better they learn to read, write and do math. With the measurement of how well children are learning slated for midyear, districts want any edge they can gain.

While summer school scheduling also accounts for a desire to alter the school calendar, achievement test scores are the dominant motivation.

Some counties in the Panhandle began school Monday, three weeks before Pasco schoolchildren return to the classroom Aug. 23. Hernando begins Aug. 18, and some parents and school officials want to push the start date there to the first week in August. The school calendar is established by local school boards, but there is no flexibility as to when students take the achievement tests in January and February.

The change will be an initial inconvenience _ shorter summer vacations for teachers and students until the final calendar is set. It also means other programs tied to the school district's summer vacation, such as the county recreation department's summer camp schedule, most likely will need adjusting.

But, such concerns are trivial considering the potential consequences _ low-rated schools and the accompanying stigma, plus the long-term possibility of vouchers taking students, and state aid, to the private sector from chronically failing schools.

The accountability standards, which, for most schools, fail to consider student mobility rates, children living in poverty and other demographic information, are flawed. But it is futile for districts to disregard the emphasis on test scores.

"The consequences of ignoring it is we get low-rated schools, and, like it or not, they become headlines and we don't want those headlines," said Pasco school superintendent John Long. "We're going to play the game as best we can."

It is an accurate description. It is a game, but with skewed rules. And not playing is an unrealistic alternative.