Lee, Collier school officials consider resolutions against high-stakes testing

It's used to grade schools, evaluate teachers and determine whether students can graduate.

Now, the FCAT's high stakes are being questioned by parents, teachers and district leaders, who say it's overemphasized in public education.

Adding to concerns is the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test's frequently-changing standards, which this year resulted in a drastic drop in writing scores and the decision to lower the passing score.

Those concerns aren't unique to Florida or to the FCAT, which the state plans to replace in 2014 with another standardized test. In the last month a national protest of high-stakes testing has gained traction, with more than 300 organizations and nearly 9,000 individuals supporting a resolution asking state and federal officials to reexamine the role of testing.

Leaders from Coller and Lee county school districts considered the resolution last week, saying they agree with some of the sentiments it expresses and will revisit the issue in the coming months. Some local school officials also worry about how standardized tests are used.

"The testing program has turned into a pretty gigantic animal of its own over the last few years," said Roy Terry, chair of the Collier County School Board. "There are a lot of different things that the test is being used for that I don't think it was originally planned to be used for."

The national resolution was modeled after a resolution passed by more than 350 Texas school boards, according to Time Out From Testing, a New York-based coalition opposed to high-stakes exams. The resolution, which is available online at timeoutfromtesting.org/nationalresolution, calls for state officials and school boards to reexamine public school accountability.

School board members in both Collier and Lee counties were asked by the chair of the Palm Beach County School District to join her board in supporting the resolution. In Lee County, the board was also approached by the teacher's union and parents.

Bonnie Cunard, a teacher and parent in the district, told board members that accountability is important, but should not be based on what she sees as excessive testing.

"I think we all recognize that this current trend to test, test and retest our students by bubble, by essay, over and over each year, year after year, is not the answer," she said during the board's Tuesday meeting.

Testing should be used to assess student learning, said Mark Castellano, president of Lee County's teacher union.

"They have turned it into a teacher who works their fanny off … and is now being quote unquote rewarded or labeled as a failure because kids passed or didn't pass a test on this day," he said.

Cunard told the board she's heard from high school students who are frustrated with the amount of testing, including a 17-year-old who "calls it 'drill, fill and bubble kill.'"

"And that is so true," she said.

But Lee County Superintendent Joseph Burke said there is evidence that students and schools have improved in recent years. Research into standardized testing has had mixed findings, he said.

"Student achievement and overall quality of education in the state of Florida has improved to some degree as a result of accountability measures that have been put in place," Burke said. "Whether that is a result of high stakes testing is certainly subject to debate."

Concerned with the "negative tone" of the national resolution, Lee school board members decided to have district staff write one that is similar, but more positive.

In Collier, district leaders decided to take a similar approach.

"What we were concerned about is that the resolution basically attacked high-stakes testing without providing some kind of alternative," said Collier County School board member Pat Carroll. "And we as a board believe in accountability. We do have issues with how FCAT's being used right now."

Collier school board members plan to consider a similar resolution drafted by the Florida School Boards Association, which the association will discuss on Wednesday. The goal of the resolutions is to push state leaders to change the way standardize tests are utilized in Florida.

Burke said he expects the issue to continue getting attention, especially in light of this year's FCAT writing results.

"There's certainly some reasonable cause for us as people leading the education agenda in Lee County to take a careful look at what we are doing to teachers, students and schools," he said.

In 2014, the FCAT will be replaced by nationally-adopted common core standards. Terry said he hopes the new test avoids some of the issues of the old.

"Hopefully it will have a little bit narrower definition," he said, "and we'll be able to use it to improve student performance."

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Comments » 1

RayPray writes:

"this year resulted in a drastic drop in writing scores and the decision to lower the passing score."

It's an outrage to inflict such tough exams on our intellectually willowy kids.

We should test them instead on whether they can successfully tweet or post to Facebook & maybe if they can formulate a shred fantasy football strategy.

What if we need to solve an equation or write a coherent program?

Well, aren't there plenty of nerds in China & India to take care of that?

After all with little more than a high school diploma & some fake certificate, any chunky local kid can even dream of making several hundred $K selling himself as City Manager!

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