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  1. Education

Romano: A teachable moment for those class clowns who botched school testing

It's an age-old question in education:

How do you deal with troublemakers in the classroom?

You know the type. The ones who refuse to listen, and the ones who are slow to learn. The ones who don't care about the disruptions they cause, or the hours they waste.

As another school year winds down, I have a humble suggestion for dealing with those schoolyard agitators who want to take over every classroom:

Stop electing them to the Legislature.

It's a radical thought, I know. It's a step up from sending a note home to their chiefs of staff, and it's more severe than banning them from extracurricular subcommittees.

But, good heavens, how else will these class clowns learn?

The past few months have brought one embarrassment after another to Florida schools. From computer glitches that paralyzed the state's largest school districts to certain test results that were discarded due to reliability issues, the accountability system took a beating.

Now, you might ask, were these testing glitches an issue of utter incompetence?

No.

In fact, many of the problems were to be expected for a state that was undergoing major changes in the types of tests and the way the tests were administered.

So why hold legislators responsible?

Because they knew the problems were inevitable, and many of them still fought to maintain the illusion that these tests were the only way to accurately determine whether students were learning and teachers were doing their jobs.

It was a foolish strategy, and yet there is no way lawmakers can claim to have been caught by surprise. They had been warned by teachers. By superintendents. By school boards. By parents.

A veritable parade of stakeholders came to Tallahassee in recent months to plead with politicians to take a more cautious approach in the introduction of these brand-new tests.

The Legislature did, eventually, ease some of the high stakes associated with the standardized tests, but the move came so late in the school year that teachers and students were already committed to devoting an outsized portion of time on curricula they weren't even sure were going to be part of these assessments.

Why did this happen?

Because too many politicians care more about slogans than students. Because they worry more about the legacy of Jeb Bush's education programs than the legitimacy of unproven tests. Because they want to sound like they are taking a stand for higher accountability even if no one is holding the testing conglomerates accountable.

This is not a question of believing in higher standards.

It is a question of zealotry.

Lawmakers are so enamored with the idea they have rescued education in Florida, they dismiss anyone who disagrees with them as heretics. They refuse to acknowledge that local school officials and parents might have a better grasp of the situation than they do.

And so now politicians have stepped in their own mess.

Instead of the leaders of Florida taking a smart, balanced, nuanced approach to the future of education, we look like we went screaming into classrooms with our hair ablaze.

I wouldn't expect legislators to actually apologize for screwing up a school year so badly, but I would hope they were at least paying attention to the results.

If you'll pardon the pun, this is a teachable moment.

The question is whether lawmakers are willing to shut up long enough to listen to what parents and education experts have been trying to tell them.

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