Kathleen Oropeza

Everyone knows high-stakes poker is dangerous. Gamblers lose their homes and cars in the blink of an eye to satisfy a bad bet. It’s a serious crime to use a child as collateral in a wager. Yet politicians use Florida’s 2.74 million public school children like a stack of living poker chips in the most punitive high-stakes testing game the nation has ever known.

This month’s FCAT Writes scoring debacle forced Florida’s hand. Once the cards were on the table, everyone saw the harried DOE staffers and confused Board of Education members struggling to explain how 81 percent of all students passing could be reduced to 27 percent passing in a single year. In a rare moment of clarity, the public witnessed blatant data manipulation as Commissioner Robinson and the Board of Education made the self-preserving move on an open phone call to alter the FCAT Writes passing score and magically move the grades around for a more pleasing outcome.

The die is cast. Doubt has set in. No parent will ever accept that their child can go from being a good writer to a bad writer and back again in 72 hours. People are waking up to the realization that there is very little proof of the authenticity of these high-stakes tests.

Why should any parent or educator allow a single one test/one day high-stakes test thrust a child into a cruel cycle of retention and failure, regardless of GPA or 180 days of school work? Why should we allow the state to bet school grades, funding, teacher evaluations, pay increases and property values on the performance of Florida’s children?

Politicians use the high-stakes FCAT gamble to force children to take the unwitting lead in justifying the billions of taxpayer dollars they spend on no-bid Pearson testing services. Winners deliver the grades to save themselves, their schools and their teachers. Losers see their hopes and dreams instantly diminished. Retention for an 8-year-old destroys self esteem and decreases his chances of earning a high school diploma by 50 percent. How is this acceptable?

This week, 18 percent or just over 36,000 third-graders will likely be retained for scoring a 1. That’s over 2,000 new classes of repeating thirrd-graders. There were almost 53,000 third-graders who scored a 2. The state mandates intensive remediation for these children and the loss of specials like music and art. Cash-strapped districts face providing almost 3,000 new unfunded remediation classes for these children.

Fourteen years of unproven, expensive “reforms” have not produced the rumored “Florida Miracle.”

Constant legislative changes mean that ninth, 10th, 11th, and 12th graders will each graduate under different standards. While cutting $4 billion from classrooms in three years, Florida politicians wasted billions of taxpayer dollars on the testing industry re-purposing a failed product.

It’s time for parents and educators to stop politicians from gambling with our children’s future. It’s time to end this dangerous high-stakes testing game. It’s time to renew the promise of high-quality learning and embrace examinations based on teacher-driven classroom content, that encourages critical thought and measures a level of mastery that cannot ever be “bubbled in.”

All children deserve to leave third grade with a bounce in their step, a thirst for knowledge and a hopeful vision of his or her future. We must give this back to them.