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FCAT starts and ends in the wrong place

Newspaper headlines proclaim the time for FCAT testing has arrived. It is long past time for the public to become better informed on the whole business of tests and testing. As complex as the matter is, educators should give parents and children an honest accounting of what education goals are and how well they accomplish them.

This must be done by measuring status of each and every learner at the beginning of the year and then track the progress for each student regularly. "One size fits all" doesn't cut it in working with children.

Basically, the whole business of testing is about concern for "status," which is where a particular child is at a particular time.

It is followed by the question, "Who cares?" The information on status is of great interest to the child and parents, who are often last on the list of people who have access to it. Often, the data are merely stored away in files.

That's when the troubles begin.

Status must be measured somehow so it can be communicated and compared. At present, the learner, who should be most concerned about it, is almost ignored. When measurement is reliable and professional, everyone benefits.

Because there are millions of different kinds of status _ academic, social, physical, etc. _ no child can be described accurately as being at a certain grade level.

What status is important? What gives any person the right to demand that another person change status? In schools, it is as if a doctor cared about the temperature of a sick person only once a year and simply recorded it in his files.

Adults and youth are never in agreement about status. The situation involving the FCAT is such a monstrosity because adults insist on priorities that boys and girls oftentimes reject.

Youth views adults' demands as attacks on personal dignity, which they are.

The value of education in the U.S. is now being trashed by adults who were humiliated as children in schools.

Only professionals understand how testing can improve educational services. When rank amateurs abuse tests, it is as if meat axes and hacksaws were used by doctors to perform operations that should not even take place. There are too few professional experts in measurement serving in school systems today.

The results are that needed data are abused or never obtained.

Worsestill, noneducators are demanding that tests force severely unqualified teachers into practices that defy every element of responsible stewardship.

Teachers are not generally trained in systematic testing. Somehow we have to upgrade the quality of objective measure, rather than rely on casual, subjective observations by teachers untrained in measurement.

In this regard there appears to be no way Florida can rise above the disgusting defensive attitude that its leaders take toward their own deficiencies.

Outdated methods

The educational enterprise is the only operation in the world that wastes billions of dollars trying to satisfy 20th century views of unqualified people who are out of touch with the possibilities of the 21st century.

Qualified educators desperately need expertise in accountability practices that provide parents and politicians with solid data from honest measurement of status.

Were Florida to undertake statewide workshops in measurement, some legitimacy would mark its programs. Would that our county could have some qualified leadership from its administration in this regard.

A previous administrator completed a popularity poll among residents when systematic measurement of school achievements was desperately needed. Public relations fools no one. Figures do not lie and liars are devastated by data they cannot evade.

What follows is an appeal for accountability of status that every school system should be providing for parents. It all starts with agreement on what performance, achievement, skill, or status is to be measured, preferably both at the beginning and at closure.

Suppose a young man wants to be a biologist. Suppose there are 10,000 facts he must know about amphibians. His status with these facts can be viewed in terms of facts his professor or teacher makes him learn, or what he learns from every source he can find. Who is supposed to care?

The young man can become a scholar, a student or a fool. Two different approaches to status make the difference. If his teacher makes a purely chance selection of 100 facts from the 10,000, tries them on the man and he knows 77, chances are he is about 77 percent on his way to becoming a scholar.

But if his teacher, or some idiot politician, selects a special hundred facts and makes our man think these are the only 100 facts that are important, the typical teacher is cruelly dishonest and the man is a typical student.

A fool tries some game like cheating. Faking status is a farce that disgraces a profession and sends cheated students on to higher education when they should be scholars.

The downside of equality

In testing, an outlandish and nasty belief among noneducators and incompetent educators holds that every child starts out equal and should remain equal, no matter what happens.

Should every runner should finish first in a foot race?

In a classroom, many individuals really do well for themselves, but are rejected as failures in trying to meet the demands of unrealistic adults. Far too many are taught as students that learning is an obligation to a teacher rather than an opportunity to enhance themselves. Many young people with potential are drop-outs in escape from such travesty. Florida's record of failure in educating half its youth is a disgrace.

Young people are kicked out because they are desperate to satisfy personal status somehow, and rebel when school administrators refuse to admit failure.

In closing what could be a much more revealing commentary here, attention needs to be paid the invasion of public education by people with personal agendas. They, including President George W. Bush, seize upon some mania like "reading" in totally nonprofessional ways. What status should be measured is "total management of ideas," of which "reading" is but a byproduct.

It is foolish to believe that morality is acquired by force from outside rather than by faith within. If responsible school systems tested youngsters for status in entering classes each year, their profiles would answer every critic.

The limitations, because of the absence of books and expression of ideas in homes, would be apparent. Status at entry times, properly managed processing, equals improved, but never perfect status at exit.

_ John A. Buelke, Ed.D., has lived in Citrus Springs since 1980. He is is a former public school administrator and also served as associate superintendent of research and planning for the state of Michigan, as well as a professor in several state universities. Guest columnists write their own views on subjects they choose, which do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this newspaper.

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