My Word by Kathleen Oropeza, The Orlando Sentinel
Real heroes don’t seek glory. Seldom rich, they’re the first to give. They see potential in the most challenging personality. They heal hearts and inspire greatness. They move silently among us, putting others first. That’s what Alachua County kindergarten teacher Susan Bowles did when she told parents she would not administer the Florida Assessments for Instruction in Reading test, stress out her 5-year-old students or lose three precious weeks of instruction time.
All eyes turned to see Bowles, a 26-year veteran, standing tall for teaching, willing to be fired for the sake of the children she loves. No snarky comebacks from the testing lobby this time. Frozen by truth, the Florida Department of Education suspended the K-2 FAIR test for the year, blaming computer glitches.
Seizing opportunity, Gov. Rick Scott called for a “thorough investigation of all standardized tests,” forgetting that he’s the one who signed SB 736 into a law mandating assessment tests for every K-12 course. Scott did not attend his own 2013 Education Accountability Summit on standardized testing. The result was that no new input was considered. Instead reformers stood in line to stridently oppose any change to Florida’s high-stakes misery. No heroes there.
The truth is that Bowles shut the FAIR test down by putting children first. She explained her decision to refuse to administer the test, stating that it “provides nothing significantly superior to what a typical kindergarten teacher would observe in her students.”
Deferring to Bowles, Florida Commissioner of Education Pam Stewart decided that in lieu of the suspended FAIR test, basic observations would suffice.
Florida politicians have spent 15 years denigrating professional educators by telling anyone who would listen that they weren’t fit to run their classrooms, let alone construct effective assessments. Now Stewart has agreed to teacher observations to replace the FAIR test.
Until now, the state did not consider teachers capable of observing K-2 student progress. Through the miracle of bureaucratic hypocrisy, teachers are now qualified to stand in place of a multimillion-dollar standardized test.
We have a hero to thank for that. Bowles reminds us that our voices have power. Surely her words will inspire others to work to end Florida’s high-stakes abuse of our children and their teachers once and for all. Given the status of Florida’s crumbling reform agenda, this is just the beginning.