Parents Lack Meaningful Say In Child’s Education

Oct 4, 2015 by

Parents of students in Florida’s public schools are frustrated and feel like their voices aren’t being heard.

They’re frustrated with high-stakes testing. They’re frustrated with the adoption of Common Core standards. They’re frustrated with the attempt to pass off the slightly tweaked Common Core standards as unique Florida standards.

They’re frustrated with the failed rollout of the Florida Standards Assessment (FSA), which lasted two months and was plagued with technical difficulties, test takers being kicked out of the test, and answers and essays disappearing.

They’re frustrated that this test was developed for Utah students and wasn’t validated for use in Florida before being given to their children. They’re frustrated that the “independent validity study,” conducted after the test was given, was less than validating.

The firm, Alpine Testing Solutions, concluded the aggregate test data was valid for use in evaluating teachers, schools and districts, although individual students’ scores were “suspect.”

High-stakes testing simply means using a test for a variety of high-stakes purposes.

For the students, it is used to determine promotion, retention and remediation. For teachers, the aggregate scores of their students is a factor in their employment status and salary. For schools, the aggregate scores determine a letter grade for the school that affects their ability to recruit and retain teachers. It could also affect funding from the state. For the school district, it affects the number of passing and failing schools in the county.

With so much at stake, stress levels are high, morale is low and all efforts at teaching are directed at passing the test.

The state calls this “accountability.” Educational professionals and parents have long warned high-stakes testing would have a detrimental effect on education. It’s becoming more and more evident they were correct.

If the state were so concerned with accountability and measureable outcomes, you would think they would be very cautious and judicious in developing a testing instrument that accurately measures learning gains against their standards. You would also think they would field test and validate the test before giving it to our students. And you would hope that they would have load tested the online assessment statewide to work out any kinks in the system. None of this was done.

Where is the state’s accountability?

Instead of issuing mea culpas, they press on as though all is fine in their increasingly fragile and crumbling accountability system.

The Department of Education reviewed the independent study before it was publicly released, put a spin on the report touting the validity of the new standardized test and blamed the computer testing woes on a cyber attack.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement released a lukewarm report backing the notion of a cyber attack without being able to identify those responsible.

The Florida Senate showed some skepticism on the test validity, the testing problems and the ability to use the test for accountability. Leadership, not wanting to show a crack in their accountability system, said it’s time to move on.

The Florida House fell all over itself to praise, not question, the education commissioner. The Speaker praised the validity study and the Legislature’s efforts.

Meanwhile, frustrated parents seethed. They took to social media, talked to teachers, principals, school board members and school superintendents.

One frustrated parent on Facebook commenting on the absurdity of the test lamented that her child can solve a word subtraction problem in two seconds but is at a total loss when given fancy boxes, squares and brackets to insert numbers. The distraught child bawled her eyes out and the parent was unable to help despite being a previous math whiz with an engineering degree from MIT.

This past week the “all is fine with our accountability system” façade continued to crumble.

The Florida Association of District School Superintendents issued a blunt statement saying it has lost confidence in the state’s public school accountability system and offered recommendations. The superintendents noted an erosion of public support and stated, “In the high-stakes environment, students, teachers and schools should not be impacted by a rushed and flawed administration of new, untried assessments.”

The Florida Education Association, representing Florida teachers, issued a similar statement saying, “Let’s be honest, the collapse of the testing system this spring proved that Florida’s accountability system is a house of cards.”

And the Florida PTA, representing parents, joined both groups to urge the state to refrain from using FSA test scores in determining school grades and evaluating teachers’ performance.

Sandy Stenoff, a concerned parent with the Opt Out Florida Network, said that heightened public awareness surrounding Florida’s validity calamity presents an opportunity for Florida to explore truly valid and reliable options to its test and punish system. Our kids deserve that.

Isn’t it time to listen to our superintendents, teachers and parents?

Paula Dockery is a syndicated columnist who served in the Florida Legislature for 16 years as a Republican from Lakeland. She can be reached at PBDockery@gmail.com.



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