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[Susan notes: This teacher provides the specificity along with moral implications that make a letter effective.]

Published in Tampa Tribune
02/22/2004

To the editor


Monday was Professional Study Day, meaning no school for the kids, while Hillsborough County teachers attended various workshops. I'm a middle

school science teacher, and I attended a workshop geared toward teaching us how to score the extended-response FCAT questions that we give to our students and to learn more about the scoring process.





The more I learn about the Florida Comprehensive Achievement Test, the more I am convinced that it is a flawed attempt at controlling an already flailing state education system. Schools are so caught up in achieving that ``A'' rating that we are not consistently teaching content, but teaching students how to take a test. Free-response questions are not graded objectively by a computer, but by a group of three mysterious people who come up with a score for the stack of exams that end up on their table.





Each group of science teachers in Monday's workshop was expected to assess approximately 20 to 30 student responses to the same two

questions. The short-answer response was worth up to two points; the extended response, worth up to four. Even in our small groups after training on how to score them, we were unable to agree on students' scores. How can such a subjective scoring system accurately assess every

child? Nobody knows who is actually grading these exams in Tallahassee, whether they have higher education, whether they are familiar with the

subject matter, whether they had a good night's sleep the night before deciding the fate of hundreds of thousands of students throughout

Florida.





One former high school teacher in the group commented about one of her students who was unable to graduate because her FCAT score was a single point below that needed to pass. This single point being the difference between a score of ``3'' that my group may have scored one of her

questions compared with the ``2'' that the group next to mine would have come up with.





It is not fair to honor an imperfect system when the futures of our students are on the line. I agree that teachers and schools should be held accountable for ensuring that students know specific information at certain grade levels, but unless they can find a way to objectively assess these exams in their entirety, we are doing a disservice to our children.







Ami Schilian


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