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Emphasis on FCAT overlooks education's larger goal

Regarding the controversy over the FCAT, there has been no mention of how it contributes to the classic educational objective of public education in a Democratic society: to create well-informed adults who recognize their obligation to be responsible citizens.

Over the past several days my wife and I viewed two outstanding documentaries, Paper Clips and Mad Hot Ballroom. The first one shows how students from a small, almost all-white rural community in Tennessee came to understand the significance of the Holocaust. The second traces the progress of inner city students as they participate in a dance contest.

They deal with two entirely different communities and provide entirely different educational experiences. Yet they have both contributed to the education of their students by helping them grow beyond the range of their own experiences. But they are also similar in they they were created by enterprising teachers who brought a whole range of new learning opportunities to their students.

We know there are many teachers in our own state who also have wonderful ideas for creating the same kind of learning environment for their students. Yet they are too busy preparing their students for the FCAT to try out their ideas. It is this "one size fits all" approach that stultifies individual initiative.

Perhaps the governor's plan does a good job of preparing students to be cashiers at the nearest "Big Box," but how well does it prepare them to be well-informed, knowledgeble citizens? Jeb Bush is so preoccupied with offering self-serving statements on the "benefits" of the FACT that he has overlooked the ramifications of this policy.

Jack Sandler, Tampa

A setback for education

Re: FCAT.

Here we go again! What a waste of time, energy and money. My heart goes out to the teachers who would rather be teaching the curriculum than teaching a test. Is it any wonder that Florida students are scoring lower on national tests such as ACT, and SAT because they have missed out on all the knowledge required for those tests because they are so narrowly focused on the FCAT?

Hopefully, the educational system will, somehow, be able to recover and go back to teaching the basics after Gov. Jeb Bush leaves office. If the FCAT is as wonderful as Gov. Bush would have us believe, why doesn't he require the private and parochial schools to take it and compare scores then? Because he knows that it is not a valid test for the students?

Gov. Bush has done everything possible to destroy our public schools with vouchers, taking badly needed money for public schools and giving it to private and parochial schools without any accountability on their part. I wonder if Florida will ever be able to get our public schools back on the ground after being run down for eight years by Gov. Bush.

Margaret Hyde, Clearwater

Stifling creativity, skewing rewards

There are at least two reasons that the FCAT is not a good means to a sound education and should not be used to reward teachers.

The first reason is that the FCAT doesn't inspire creative ideas, independent thinking or an innovative education, the tools we all need to compete in the evolving global economy. The FCAT is similar to memorizing a book and regurgitating the phrases on demand. The FCAT does not encourage external or internal questioning. If we rely solely on the FCAT, eventually the education system will stagnate and die of suffocation, students will become too bored to participate, and our competitive edge in the world economy will be dulled.

Second, if we must offer rewards for providing a quality education, rather than base rewards solely on FCAT scores, a better method is to base the rewards on multiple meaningful measures of student achievement. In addition, not only the teachers, but all the personnel involved in educating students, from the administration to the janitors, should receive a reward.

Rewarding everyone involved with educating our students will focus the entire school staff's attention on the primary goal of improving student achievement and help organize the community around helping students achieve an exemplary education.

Joel Gingery, St. Petersburg

What's the trick of the test?

What's the real FCAT agenda? Is it to squeeze the teachers into a box so their survival directly depends on how willing they are to comply with mandates?

Or is the government's intent to squeeze creativity out of the students by rewarding those who can copy, repeat, copy, repeat?

Is the FCAT's intent to distract, while the government performs its "magic trick" and those in the audience either sleep or are surprised as to how the "trick," now over, was was able to get past them?

Maureen Stearns, St. Petersburg

Looking beyond the basics

Re: No harm in teaching to the test, Feb. 22.

Teaching to a standardized test is, as Jay Mathews points out, not harmful. No student can be harmed by the constant stressing of the basics that constitute the FCAT. As far as Mathews' point goes, it is true.

However, no student benefits by this stressing of the basics either. Stressing the standard will provide a group of "standard" students, something no parents want for their children. Proof of mastery of the basics is certainly a goal to be sought by all students, but by no means should it be the final objective of a year of school.

Matthew Chesser, Tampa

A divisive plan

Re: Bonuses for teachers.

I cannot be still any longer! State legislators are pitting teacher against teacher with their ridiculous idea of giving money to teachers for performance pay based on students' FCAT tests.

Why not give teachers across the board an increase in salary? Most teachers work very hard at their jobs. Give college students going into education an incentive to stay in Florida and teach! A laptop computer is not the incentive!

Parents need to take some of the responsibility for their children. Teachers cannot do it alone. I know! I've been a teacher for 29 years. I am retiring at the end of this school year and I'm just ecstatic! I no longer want to teach in this kind of environment created by legislators who have too much time on their hands!

Marilyn Satinoff, Palm Harbor

Olympics were a super event

The 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy have ended. What a spectacular event - the opening session, the daily challenges, the closing ceremony. Maybe the committee that plans the Super Bowl halftime entertainment could take a page from the Olympic entertainment book. Real class!

Patricia Eckstein, St. Petersburg

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