Opinion by Kathleen Oropeza, The Gainesville Sun
The politics of extreme ideology has turned Florida Public Education into a testing factory. Unwilling to accept any responsibility for hyper-testing, politicians and reformers blame school districts. A prominent education reformer recently told the press, “They really need to look inward,” insinuating that districts are the reason for too many tests. If our school districts had the authority to “look inward” and alter state laws they’d surely bring a swift end to Florida’s shameful era of testing abuse.
The Florida Legislature alone is responsible for the statewide public backlash against the expensive and often high-stakes tests plaguing our children. They built Florida’s flawed A-F School Accountability scheme by passing a hodgepodge of laws meant to discredit public education in favor of for profit charters and private school vouchers. Thanks to these politicians, many districts are testing 80 out of 180 school days to satisfy a state manufactured hunger for data.
District testing calendars reveal that in addition to the new Florida State Assessments (FSA) there are months of state required benchmark, formative and progress monitoring tests. In certain schools designated as low performing the state requires twelve additional tests per student which means three each in reading, writing, mathematics and science. Testing windows can be weeks in length and are often expanded by make-up weeks. The result is a profound loss of classroom instruction time made worse by repeated interruptions as students are pulled for make-up testing.
All of this is required and imposed on school districts, teachers and our children by the state of Florida. In 2011 Governor Scott made a media show of signing SB 736 thereby triggering this spring’s avalanche of thousands of new unfunded state required end of course exams for every K-12 subject. Even Kindergartners will face seven high stakes tests.
Assessments are no longer helpful diagnostic tools. The state has monetized testing to create a sort of transactional political currency. More testing means even more data which is used for political cover to justify spending enormous sums on testing vendors, test prep, test security and remediation.
The past 15 years foreshadows how Florida will continue to use data to hurt, sort and label children, deny diplomas, punish teachers, and enrich vendors through manipulated outcomes.
Those who wrote and pushed Florida’s abusive testing policies must stop blaming districts. What’s the motive? Is the state hoping that all this misery will send parents to their knees begging for the privatization of public education?
That’s naive. Parents are working to end the status quo and reclaim public education by collaborating with teachers and districts to restore the joy of learning, put testing in perspective, respect professional educators and celebrate the unique value of every child.