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Florida Waking up to Accountability Sham

The fallacy of basing education policy on arbitrary testing results was never more clearly demonstrated than in the recent score given to Manatee County schools by the federal government.

The federal results, based on President George W. Bush's No Child Left Behind program, said 49 of the district's 56 schools flunked the test.
The failure list included all of the middle schools and high schools in Manatee County. Two elementary schools, Wakeland and Samoset, were
singled out with F grades for the second year. Being labeled as F schools twice means that parents in those two school attendance zones
have the option of transferring their children to a higher performing school, with transportation provided by the school district.

But wait. Just a few weeks earlier, all of Manatee's schools were given passing grades in the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test program initiated by Gov. Jeb Bush. Twelve of those that earned A's in the state test were on the failure list of the federal test. Wakeland and Samoset, having moved from F in 2002 to C in 2003 on the FCAT, were jubilant.

Now, just a few days before the start of a new school year, parents are told the schools are failures.

Which is it? Which set of tests is to be believed? Which Bush policy is the right one, the president's or the governor's? And what does the discrepancy in ratings say about the authenticity of either one?

The answer, of course, is that neither represents a fair and accurate picture of the quality of education being provided to students here or elsewhere in the state, which had a 90 percent failure rate in the federal test. Rather, they are snapshots of student performance as measured by an arbitrary set of standards. But they don't necessarily
reflect teachers' success at educating children with widely varied levels of ability, socialization and language mastery. Throw in a
different set of standards and you likely would get yet another, entirely different result.

The results are so confusing that even veteran educators profess that they're not sure what they mean or how to respond.

Yet the district has to shuffle transportation plans and teacher assignments with little notice to accommodate 80 students who have asked to transfer from so-called failing schools to higher-rated ones. It is tough enough to launch a new academic year with 1,100 additional students and severe state funding constraints without jumping through all of these funding and logistical hoops created by politicians with no apparent understanding of the process of teaching children.

Standardized testing is fine as a gauge of weak areas, indicating where more resources might be needed. But it is wrong to attach stigmatizing
grades to entire schools - tarring all teachers and administrators with the same brush - based on a single, arbitrary test. Even worse is to
base rewards and punishments to schools based on such test results, as both the federal and state plans do. Both trigger voucher eligibility for F-schools, and the state's triggers a bonus plan for A-schools.

It is a misrepresentation to call such measurement "educational reform" and claim it as bringing "accountability to public education," as both President Bush and Gov. Bush do. Where's the accountability for such
conflicting grades for the same teachers and same students?

— Editorial
Accountability Sham state, federal tests results conflict
Bradenton Herald
August 10, 2003


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