[Susan notes: Another op-ed, this one has a great intro.]
Published in Orlando Sentinel
If you really want to help the students and teachers at Mollie Ray Elementary and the other schools where test scores are low, don't throw more money at them. Throw out the test and the school grading system.
I know what you are thinking; "This must be one of those teachers from an F school, trying to rationalize and justify how he really did teach his kids, but they flunked anyway because of poverty or lack of parental involvement." Actually, I teach at the only high school in Orange County to get a B on Gov Jeb. Bush's grading system. My problem is not with what grade schools get; my problem is that we are giving grades at all.
We don't grade police departments on how many people "fail" and get arrested. We don't grade fire departments based on how many houses they "let" burn to the ground because they "didn't care about the ones they couldn't save." Why don't we treat schools with the same understanding and respect? The answer is simple; we don't respect what teachers do, and we are blindly putting our faith in the ability of a single measure to tell us what we are worth.
The reality is that some kids will never test well on a multiple-choice standardized test. I am not talking about kids raised in poverty, or minority children who traditionally perform poorly on standardized tests. I have been working with rising seniors who have failed the 10th-grade FCAT three times already.
These are not uneducated, illiterate students who have been "socially promoted on their merry way to a lifetime of poverty." These are children whose skills lie in other areas, such as music, the arts, or verbal communication. Some suffer from test anxiety. They get good grades in hard classes, they do quality work, and they can read just fine. They just can't pass this test because they don't fit the mold of the kind of child who scores well on it. You cannot measure every child's worth with a test like FCAT.
One of my rising seniors gets so worked up the night before the test that she vomits and gets no sleep. She has flunked it three times. If she does not pass the test before March, she will not graduate. This is a smart, motivated child who works hard and consistently makes the honor roll, but Bush's A+ Plan and FCAT will deny her a high school diploma because of one test score.
Another of my 10th-graders missed passing by one point. Are we really prepared to put enough faith in this test to say that, because a child misses one question on one test, he doesn't deserve his diploma?
Mollie Ray missed scoring a D by three points on the state's scale. Yet we are confident in devaluing the hard work those teachers and students did because of those three points. Lakeville and Palm Lake Elementary schools each scored an A, but the difference between the school scores was 90 points. How does this make sense?
In February, state lawmakers in Kansas answered questions from the Kansas statewide achievement test so they could get a feel for what the experience is like for the children. I challenge Bush and state legislators to do the same. If your test really is the accurate measure of a person's value and education you claim it to be, take it yourself and see what you are worth.
C. Calvin Dillon