Perhaps it is because the state is governed by a walking motherboard that so many apparatchiks in Tallahassee's bureaucracy seem to think of the populace as automatons who bleed algorithms.
How else to explain the indifference to Florida's schoolchildren and the unemployed who have been treated as if they were Orwellian cogs doing the bidding of Tallahassee's grand and glorious sigh tech wizards of faux pas.
In recent years, Florida's high priests of education have hammered away about how our little dickens need to be repeatedly tested to make sure they are reaching Socraticesque heights of brilliance and classroom accountability.
But that same degree of accountability doesn't extend to the very agency responsible for the assessment — the Florida Department of Education, which deserves a dunce cap for its ineptitude in ensuring that if you are going to subject school children high-stakes testing, you darn well better make sure the kiddos can actually take the exam.
Last week, eighth-, ninth- and tenth-graders were supposed to take an online state-mandated writing test. But when many of the little munchkins attempted to log on to school computers to begin the exam, their gizmos locked up. Some students were kicked off the system in the middle of the test, answers were lost and still other pupils received inexplicable error messages.
Widespread technical problems plagued at least 36 counties around the state, including Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco. Who cooked up this cyber practical joke? Hackers Without Borders?
It all could have been easily avoided, had only a tone-deaf Tallahassee not decided to go all "Harry Potter's" Severus Snape. For months the state's school superintendents had warned Education Commissioner Pam Stewart that her department's transition to a new testing regimen was too rushed, that the state's schools had not had time to properly implement the software for the computerized testing system. And they were ignored.
While Stewart claimed everything would be fixed, the glitches persisted.
If Tallahassee's geniuses were truly interested in measuring student achievement rather than merely crunching numbers to create a false sense of classroom accomplishments, the Parris Island of testing would be suspended until students were assured they don't have to worry about also having to contend with the cyber gremlins plotting against them. Fat chance.
"You're always going to have implementation issues," Senate Education Committee Chairman John Legg, R-Trinity, sniffed. But Legg and Stewart are ignoring the disservice they are imposing on the state's students, whom they expect to academically and emotionally prepare for high-stakes testing, only to be told, "Sorry, the computer crashed. Come back tomorrow, or the day after that, and be prepared to go through this all over again."
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How fair is that? How can test scores from students under the additional pressure of being jerked around by state computers remotely be regarded as a reliable academic measurement? If students are expected to arrive for a test fully prepared, why isn't the Florida Department of Education under the same mandate to have a test ready to take? Too much to ask?
At the same time the Department of Education's hamster was working overtime on the treadmill to keep its computers running, over at the oxymoronically titled Department of Economic Opportunity, out of work Floridians would be better off filing for unemployment benefits from a loan shark than expect much help from Tallahassee.
A state auditor general's report has issued a damning indictment of DEO's computer problems associated with its $77 million CONNECT website, which is supposed to help unemployed Floridians file for benefits.
The auditor general lambasted DEO for: requiring applicants to use their Social Security numbers to log on to the CONNECT system; mishandling some 408,356 claims; permitting 20,535 potentially ineligible claims to be paid because of dubious safeguards; consistently entering wrong data into the system; overpaying some claims; and having almost zero accountability controls in place.
Other than that, everything was fine.
But that didn't stop DEO's executive director Jesse Panuccio from sitting on the scathing report for weeks until he could release it in a late Friday afternoon document dump in the vain hope no one would notice he oversees Tallahassee's answer to a Third World bus system.
What do these two stories share? When Florida's most vulnerable populations — its schoolchildren and the unemployed in dire need of assistance — turn to their state government for help, all they get in return is, "Error Message: Invalid Proper Value."