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Florida School Board Members Say Education Commissioner Challenged Their Authority

Ohanian Comment: On June 14, 2012 the Florida School Board Association adopted a resolution Thursday that takes aim at the flagship of the state's education reform program: the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test. Here's the Herald-Tribune account:

The resolution calls for the FCAT to be scaled back, and for an independent review of the reliability of the test to occur. The move could provide more impetus to a growing national movement against using standardized tests as a single measure to evaluate teachers and decide if students can advance or graduate.

It was also a stinging rebuke for Florida Education Commissioner Gerard Robinson, a strong FCAT advocate, who hours earlier visited the FSBA conference in Tampa to chide school board members for taking on the state on this issue.

Robinson has been Florida commissioner since June 2011. In a 2004 essay for the libertarian Cato Institute, Robinson compared the landmark Brown vs. Board of Education case -- which banned public school segregation -- with a 2002 Supreme Court decision that upheld the use of vouchers in Cleveland.

Robinson doesn't think local school boards have any business passing resolutions against the FCAT. About 10 Florida school districts have already passed resolutions calling for the FCAT to be scaled back.

The vote is the strongest opposition yet to the FCAT and Florida's accountability system. The newspaper speculates that "The FSBA vote could mean that all 67 school districts will consider adopting similar proposals."

According to the FSBA program for their annual conference Pearson, the enterprise administering the FCAT, contributed $2,500 to help sponsor the "welcome reception" held for board members.

by John O'Connor

Florida school board members say education commissioner Gerard Robinson issued a threat to local control during a lunchtime speech Thursday at the state association meeting in Tampa.

Robinson told the Florida School Boards Association members they were free to oppose the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, but they were not free to ignore state law or Florida Board of Education decisions.

The group later approved a resolution opposing the current use of the FCAT to asses student, teacher, school and district performance.

Robinson made a similar statement in an earlier interview with StateImpact Florida.

"They can express their opinion," he said. "But let's also remember the local school board’s obligation is to implement the laws approved by the Florida Legislature; to implement the regulations approved by the state board."

School board members -- elected locally -- took exception to the appointed Robinson's words.

"If there's anything that probably was the clearest message for me over the last couple of days was the commissioner’s comments that were made today," said Palm Beach County school board member Charles Shaw. "Because for the first time in my career I saw somebody who's representing the state of Florida challenging the authority of school boards to make decisions and essentially telling all of us –- the residents of the state of Florida -- that we have to follow the rules that they set out.”

Leon County school board chairman DeeDee Rasmussen said Robinson's comments show the issues school board members and the state agency have talking to each other about FCAT.

"We don't have any intention of not upholding the law or the constitution of the state of Florida," she said. "But for our Florida Department of Education not to be willing to listen to the concerns from parents, and students and school board members all across the state of Florida? We have a problem. We have a communication problem, we have a messaging problem.

Rasmussen said the anti-FCAT resolution might allow school board members to vent their frustrations before regrouping to work on an alternative while the state heads toward new, national Common Core standards and testing.

"I think we all need to step back and take a big deep breath -- maybe put a moratorium on the FCAT for some bit of time," she said. "Unfortunately it seems to have come down to a bit of a fight if you will between local governmentâ€Â¦and the Florida Department of Education."

Robinson said none of the alternatives he heard so far would meet Florida curriculum requirements. That includes swapping in such nationally recognized tests as the SAT in place of the FCAT.

The Legislature and state board of education have repeatedly showed their support for the FCAT and Florida’s school accountability system, he said.

The reason? Results.

"If you take a look at where students have performed in math, reading, writing as well and other subjects, we've been moving in the right direction for over a decade," he said. "That didn't happen overnight. That happened because we set accountability and assessments are in place."

— John O'Connor, with Ohanian notes
NPR State Impact





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