I am absolutely elated with the Lee County School Board decision to opt out of “all state mandated tests effective immediately.” After all, I live and teach here. Lee County is the first district in Florida to opt out of state mandated testing. It is also the 38th largest school district in the country. As Lee County goes, so goes the country…
…well, let’s not get too carried away.
The consequent political turnoil is not lost in the euphoria. We should have no delusions that this battle is over. Indeed, it has just begun. This decision has left Lee County vulnerable to significant state level consequences, as graduation requirements, bonus pay, school and teacher evaluations and the distribution of state funds is all tied in with test scores. So I’m seeing quite a few parents and district administrators running around like chickens with their heads cut off. What do we do without tests? The Lee County School Superintendant Nancy Graham, a very capable administrator in my opinion, sent us a video message in which she told us that we should “breathe.” Everything will be all right. We’ll get through this. It’s funny and a little sad that our leadership is treating this as some kind of crisis. It is the opposite of a crisis.
That being said, decisions will have to be made at the state level, and we will require a great deal of support and activism to ensure that these decisions support and reinforce this opt out rather than over-ride it. We need to call our representatives in Tallahassee, as well as the bureaucrats at DOE to protect this important first step.
This is not a crisis no matter what the chicken littles say. The sky is not falling. In fact the clouds are finally lifting. There’s a great deal of hand wringing. Some people are saying “there was no plan.” “No backup.” “What about our funding?” “What about students retaking tests in October?” “What about seniors who are supposed to be graduating this year.” Those of us in support of the opt out have to provide some answers, however speculative, for these very real worries.
First, who cares if there was a plan. If we waited until there was plan we would be waiting forever. Lee County’s opt out forces the state and the district to come up with a plan. That’s activism. Reversing stupid policies is never convenient. But it is always necessary.
Here’s a few suggestions. Students taking retakes, no longer have to take the retakes. Problem solved.
Seniors who are supposed to graduate? If they pass their classes, they graduate. Problem solved.
What about funding? What about funding. Our politicians have demonstrated that they will play politics with our funding anyway. So what else is new. We’ll deal with it like we always do? Problem solved?
How will teachers be evaluated if not with tests? Admininstrators can walk into their rooms and watch them teach. Problem solved.
How will we assess student progress? Teachers can do that. Imagine that. Leaving assessment in the hands of professionals trained to assess. What a concept. There are hundreds of instruments teachers can use to establish baseline and progress. This is something that our standardized testing regimen didn’t really do in any meaningful way? Problem solved.
How do we know if our schools are working? The NAEP already assesses the reading and math trends using reliable random sampling that is much less painful, as well as cheaper than the publisher boondoggles that are standardized tests. We’ve had this instrument since the seventies. In fact, NAEP research reveals that the testing regimen that has been in place since No Child Left Behind has had almost no positive impact on learning at all. Problem solved?
In sociology I always tell my students to be wary of simple solutions. But in this case, the solutions are not all that complicated. However, they will require legislation. That’s where it becomes complicated. Has there ever been a simple issue that the politicians could screw up. I can almost feel the publishing lobbyists on their phones right now. This battle isn’t over, and we are on the state’s field. We better be ready to fight.
One thing we have going for us is that it is an election year. And Governor
Skellitor Scott is trying to make nice with teachers because…well…he suspects that we are aware of his deep seeded hatred for us. So there is room to movement on this.
It seems there are those who are trying to build this great decision as a crisis. Perhaps, for them, it is. But for teachers, parents and students, it’s not. At least it doesn’t have to be. Any crisis that happens as a result of this decision will, like the idiotic policy itself, be wholly created by politicians and bureaucrats.