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Parents sign petition against use of FCAT – Schools – MiamiHerald.com

May 15, 2012

Parents sign petition against use of FCAT – Schools – MiamiHerald.com.

No time to post commentary tonight, I am working on a presentation and we have a big event at school tomorrow.  Add in Science CST/CMA tests, and typical end of year special education duties and you have one super-busy education blogger.  But, I had to post this story from the Miami Herald.  Parents who are unhappy with high-stakes testing are starting to let their voices be heard.  This is good news.  There are some awesome quotes below in the article, it is well worth a read:

For years, students and teachers have dreaded the FCAT, Florida’s standardized exam.

Parents like Dalia Blumstein of Miami Beach see their children worried and anxious because so much rides on their success or failure on the exam. Blumstein said the testing dictates her children’s schedules in school and believes it’s unfair when children with high passing scores are singled out for rewards.

Fed up, Blumstein recently signed a petition calling for less reliance on such exams.

The Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test affects a school’s state-issued letter grade, student graduation and, starting this year, teacher evaluations and ultimately, their pay.

The petition is gaining traction in parts of Florida and around the country, in particular Texas. It urges education administrators to rely less on standardized tests and use other measures to evaluate students, schools and teachers.

“We need to all get on the bandwagon. They’re not learning as much as they could. They’re learning for the test, and it strips the teachers from their ability to teach creatively,” said Blumstein, who has three children in Miami-Dade schools.

In April, the Palm Beach County School Board was the first Florida board to endorse the petition. Chairman Frank A. Barbieri Jr. has asked board members of other large urban districts to support it and the Florida School Board Association to consider it. Last week, St. Lucie’s school board passed the resolution, and Nora Rupert, a Broward School Board member, wants to bring it before her colleagues.

“It’s kind of like a tsunami at this point — a movement underway,” said Rita Solnet, a parent activist in Palm Beach County. Parents Across America, a grass-roots group Solnet helped found, is one of several groups that drafted the national petition. She is managing Barbieri’s re-election campaign.

“Primarily, we’re saying we know you wanted accountability, but the pendulum has swung too far. It’s gotten ridiculous where one test on one day determines everything for that one child,” Solnet said. “We are saying use the FCAT as a diagnostic tool — for what it’s meant to be used.”

Parent activists won a major battle in Tallahassee this year, defeating the controversial parent-trigger bill, which would’ve let parents in failing schools petition for them to be overhauled or converted into charters. And momentum has been building against the FCAT, along with headlines about its use. This year, The Miami Herald reported, longer testing periods to accommodate computerized testing increased the risk for cheating. Pearson, which administers Florida’s tests under a $250 million contract, has caught flak in New York for a test question about a race between a pineapple and a hare. (The pineapple doesn’t move, and the animals in the race end up eating the fruit.)

Miami-Dade School Board Member Raquel Regalado wants the board to discuss the FCAT at its meeting Wednesday. In particular: Explain to parents and students how state-issued letter grades are tied to student participation on the exam and the impact if students try to opt out. She noted there are some alternatives for students, for example high-schoolers can replace the FCAT graduation requirement with an adequate score on a college entrance exam, the SAT or ACT.

“I don’t think not talking about the issue and pretending somehow it doesn’t exist makes it better,” Regalado said at a board committee meeting last Wednesday.

Under state education rules, to earn an A state-issued letter grade, a school must test 95 percent of its students. A school can be docked a grade if less than 90 percent of the students sit for the test.

“There is no opting out,” said Superintendent Alberto Carvalho at the committee meeting.

In Miami-Dade, the fourth-largest school district in the country, 98-100 percent of the district’s 345,000 students take the exams. In 2011, in Broward County Public Schools, 99 percent of students participated in either FCAT or the Florida Alternate Assessment in 2011, said spokeswoman Nadine Drew.

Gisela Feild, administrative director for assessment, research and data analysis for Miami-Dade schools, said the state rules require the district to administer the test to students who attend school. Testing periods can stretch for several weeks and there are make-ups scheduled, making it hard for a student to skip a test by staying home.

“There is no way for us to exclude a child. If the child chooses not to participate, then the child can choose not to put anything on the booklet, other than their name, and their score will be invalidated,” she said.

Most students end up taking the exam, but growing numbers of parents and teachers don’t like it.

At a recent meeting in Miami Beach, Dorit Weintraub asked Carvalho about the stress the exam puts on kids. A former special education teacher and a mom of three, Weintraub is worried that because of the pressure on teachers and administration around the FCAT, her children are missing opportunities for quality learning experiences. She pointed to a recent science lesson on weather, including cloud formations, that her daughter studied. “Did you ever go outside to look at the clouds?” Weintraub asked her daughter. No was the reply. She said policy makers should listen more to teachers and work on structural changes to improve education.

“I don’t think politicians know what it’s like to sit in a classroom. I think we need to hear from the professionals, the people who know about education,” she said.

Several teachers and parents have asked Rupert to bring the petition on testing to the Broward board. She said she will. “We’re all sick of it. As a reading teacher, I’m done,” Rupert said. “It does not promote college-ready, career-ready skills for the 21st Century. It’s a drill and kill mentality.”

For teachers, the FCAT forces them to walk a fine line between accountability and classroom instruction. The long testing window required for computerized testing disrupts school schedules, and the emphasis on improving test scores can distort priorities, said Roxanna Elden, a National Board certified-teacher at Hialeah Senior High and author of the book See Me After Class, which gives tips to new teachers.

“Teachers know that what is best for test scores is often not best for students,” Elden said. “However, it can be difficult to express our concerns about testing without seeming like we don’t want to be held accountable for student learning.”

Meanwhile, the Florida Department of Education is implementing end-of-course exams in subjects, such as algebra, biology and geometry. The tests are different from the FCAT; they assess students’ knowledge about specific content. Critics of testing see those exams as just trading one test for another.

At the same time, some see Florida’s move to national core curriculum standards as a way to reduce the emphasis on state standardized exams.

“We are changing by implementing the core curriculum,” Rupert said. “I believe in two to three years, we’re going to get it right, when the core curriculum is going to catch up with the end-of-course exams. But we’re going to have a few bumpy years.”

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