1. Opinion

John Romano: State blinded by its devotion to school testing

Published Jul. 24, 2012

The state's devotion to standardized testing is admirable.

It is also foolish, political, expensive, dangerous, maniacal, shortsighted, suspicious, self-serving, arbitrary and unfair.

But, man, you got to admire the devotion.

It allows officials to look past their flaws. It permits them to ignore your complaints.

The state's Department of Education is on a three-month bender, and still acts as if it is everyone else who is unable to navigate a straight line.

You may recall they botched the writing portion of the FCAT in May and had to pull new standards out of thin air. Now they've admitted they screwed up the grades handed to more than 200 state schools, including 18 in Pinellas County and 17 in Hillsborough.

And Education Commissioner Gerard Robinson was so chagrined by this that he tried to spin it as if his office had done something magical by correcting its own mistake.

But that's not the worst of it.

The bigger issue is that for the past three months, the people who do the actual job of instructing our children have been crying for someone in Tallahassee to listen to them.

And Robinson has acted as if he is tone deaf.

Just in case you haven't been following:

The folks in Tallahassee love their standardized tests. (And love to give tens of millions of dollars to the companies that come up with these tests.) This allows legislators to talk tough when it comes to educational standards, and it gives them easy to follow measures.

Once upon a time, that wasn't such a bad thing. Florida lagged behind other states in producing college-ready students, and some kind of reform was necessary.

But then they got carried away. They started seeing standardized tests as the answer to every problem in every classroom. The tests became a cure-all for student curriculum, teacher evaluations, school funding and male pattern baldness.

So now parents, teachers and administrators have begun pushing back. They have pointed out flaws in policies and inconsistencies in execution.

More than 20 school boards have passed resolutions asking the state to reconsider its overemphasis on standardized tests.

And they've been greeted mostly by silence.

"None of us are afraid of accountability. Accountability is critical, and it must be measured to understand where we need help,'' said Hernando County school superintendent Bryan Blavatt. "But by the same token, we've lost sight of our mission statements. We're supposed to be here to help the students learn, and instead we're focused on school grades. How is that helping students?

"Measuring student progress is a good concept, but it's gotten lost along the way. The idea is to teach, not to penalize. You talk about a love for learning? They're killing it.''

Accountability is the mantra in the Department of Education, and yet officials there don't seem to understand the meaning of the word.

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For accountability suggests transparency. Consistency. Fairness. Trust. And those qualities are completely absent in recent decisions.

No one is asking to abandon the idea of accountability in our schools. But it would be nice if those who were pushing accountability were also embracing it.