Governor Scott signed the controversial Competency Based Education/Testing (CBE) Pilot into law allowing Pinellas, Lake, Palm Beach and Seminole counties to participate over a five- year period. Pinellas ($2.5 M) and Lake ($7.3M) have been moving toward CBE since 2014, thanks to funding from the Gates Foundation.  CBE was heavily lobbied during Florida’s 2016 session by Jeb’s Foundations whose biggest donor is the Gates Foundation. 

There are growing concerns about CBE used in conjunction with computers. As children move at their own pace, learning from the computer and taking adaptive tests, two things happen. The vendor who owns the program is collecting continuous detailed personal student data without parental consent and the human teacher steps to the background to provide technical assistance. Teachers no longer devise tests, computers do. This makes the entire CBE process high stakes, able to move students forward skipping an entire grade or bump them backward for poor performance.

The Gates Foundation uses a synthesis study by VanLehn to sell the notion that that there is no difference between one-on-one tutoring from a human teacher and an intelligent computer. This is digital education with the goal of achieving an “economy of scale” by eventually removing the very expensive element of human teachers.

Citrus County School Board Member Thomas Kennedy fully understands the threat posed by CBE/Testing to public education, as this excellent piece published in the Citrus Chronicle proves:

Behind the curtain – Competency Based Testing: More trickery from the wizards of public school education

 Toward the end of the “Wizard of Oz,” while Dorothy and her friends are being addressed by the Great and Powerful Wizard of Oz, the dog Toto runs off to the side, pulls back the curtain, and reveals a man operating cranks and levers. The Wizard orders them to “pay the man no attention” but has to give up when he realizes he has been seen for what he really is.

In a similar manner, the wizards of education — the same entities that gave you Common Core — are now trying to convince parents, teachers and communities that they want to reduce testing and do away with testing as we know it by replacing it with something called “Competency Based Testing” (CBT). CBTs are being “sold” to the public as a better way to assess our students and their teachers. However, the public has looked behind the curtain and realized on their journey down education’s yellow brick road they have been tricked and are about to be tricked again.

Formative assessments are used by teachers to help determine where their students are at in understanding a concept; teachers also use data from formative assessments to help them adjust curriculum, assignments and content so they can better meet students’ needs. Who benefits from formative assessments? Teachers and students. There is no grade promotion or punitive consequence associated with the results of formative assessments. Data is used so teachers teach what is necessary and students have an opportunity to spend time only on what they need to learn. Legislators have decided to seize this valuable tool, relabel formative assessments CBTs and use them as high-stakes tests that will determine students’ promotion and teachers’ evaluations. Legislators, along with curriculum publishers (aka textbook companies), and lobbyists are selling these CBTs as the fix to high-stakes testing. These people — the same people that promoted high-stakes tests in the first place — are telling us they have the solution. Really?

Many parent groups are already lining up to voice their concern about CBTs. United for Florida Children founder Laura McCrary recently wrote, “I am going to be blunt here. If parents don’t wake up and take a stand right now, this year, we will only have ourselves to blame. Ask yourself this. How do you see education in four to six years? I can promise you it won’t be the friendly teacher-driven classrooms we are seeing today. Changes are being made from the top down right now as you are reading this, and it isn’t pretty. It is called Competency Based Education (also known as Competency Based Learning, Outcome Based Education, Personalized Learning, and Performance Based Education to name a few).” Please read the rest of her column which gives a great deal of background and information on CBTs.

Here are two recent articles regarding concerns of CBTs by  Dr. Diane Ravitch, Research Professor of Education at New York University and a historian of education. Florida Stop Common Core Coalition a statewide organization by parents, grandparents, teachers, small business owners, and concerned citizens voice their concerns about CBTs.

So how fast is this issue developing? On Friday, March 25, 2016, Florida Gov. Rick Scott signed into law The Competency-Based Education Pilot Program. The bill creates a Competency-Based Education Pilot Program through HB 1365 and sets up a five-year pilot program in certain Florida counties with the goal of letting students advance through school if they can prove they’ve mastered what they should be learning. This means these CBTs are replacing the Florida Standards Assessment (Common Core assessment) that the legislators themselves passed into law. Will CBTs be testing Common Core standards? Yes, the pilot Florida CBTs will test Florida Standards, which are Common Core standards. Again, the legislators are trying to mislead the public. They want to give an illusion they have done away with testing. They haven’t; they have done something worse. They are taking an excellent classroom tool — formative assessment — bastardizing it, and calling it Competency Based Testing.

What the legislators should be doing when it comes to Florida public education and state-mandated testing is stopping the regulation and over-regulation of public education. If the Legislature truly wants to reduce the number of mandated test students take then they need to do just that. Right now the Legislature claims they have reduced the number of mandated tests. Really what they have done is reduced state-mandated tests in some cases, but then required that teachers’ evaluations are based on their students’ test scores. The Legislature can claim they haven’t mandated the test, but they in reality did mandate a test be used. The Florida Legislature has for a number of years asserted for private businesses to grow more jobs and for businesses to be more successful, more deregulation of mandated laws needs occur. Yet these same legislators take the very opposite approach when it comes to public education. It is a testament to our public schools they have succeeded over and over operating under the most stringent of laws.

Many of the most successful countries in the world in math and sciences have learned that for education to be successful teachers (not politicians) need to be at the center of learning and assessments. It is time that Florida’s next generation of Legislators take this same approach. We have seen behind the curtain and are not impressed.

Thomas Kennedy is a School Board Member for Citrus County School District. Read his blog, Thomas Talks . Read this article, originally published by the Citrus Chronicle on April 9, 2016 here.