For World Teachers’ Day, serious changes to the current testing system might be the best present for Florida educators.
In a statement addressed to families of Alachua County Public Schools, Superintendent Owen Roberts explained the common problem facing Florida schools: a lack of accountability with standardized testing.
“We may have reached a tipping point,” said Jackie Johnson, public information officer for Alachua County Public Schools. “The sheer mass of testing, paired with the uncertainty surrounding the new tests and the impacts that they will have on students is absolutely unacceptable.”
Tracy Ciucci, a health education professor at Palm Beach State College and member of Opt Out Orlando, says the big issue is that the Florida Standards Assessments has significant gaps in validation.
And although state officials claim that lower performance reflects higher assessments, instead, they represent a failure in the ever-changing standards and tests, according to Nikolai Vitti, superintendent for Duval County Public Schools.
“The message being relayed is that teachers need to be babysat, which predicates a false sense of accountability,” Ciucci said. “When decisions regarding education are being made, policy makers are ignoring the real experts: educators in the classroom.”
Although Florida educators support accountability and high standards, the rollout of the Florida standard assessment has been rough.
“The biggest concern for teachers is that the testing is not valid,” said Ginger Stanford, assistant principal at Westwood Middle School in Gainesville.
Educators are told that they will have to wait until 2016 to receive the cut scores, which will then determine whether or not their students passed the test.
“All of those things have really created the perfect storm,” Johnson said. “[Superintendents] see the terrible impact it’s having on students, on teachers, on schools, on families, and I think they reached the point where they’ve said, ‘We support high standards, we support accountability, but the way it’s being done in Florida is just not okay.’”
Parent Teacher Associations around Florida are getting involved in the fight against this test. The PTA at Kimball Wiles Elementary School and the Parent Teacher Organization at Westwood Middle School are joining forces to protest mass testing, according to Stanford.
Other organizations like the Opt Out Florida Network, an educational advocate group fighting against high-stakes testing, are showing their support for the promotion of more positive learning environments.
Due to the emphasis placed on testing, 23 elementary schools cut recess in the 2014 school year to implement test prep, which focuses solely on math and reading. The decision to remove recess was later revoked, but the message was clear: changes were being made to accommodate the shifting test standards.
“Every hour spent on testing is taking away from active teaching,” Ciucci said. “Every day revolves around test preparation. The joy is completely sucked from the room in education these days in order to prep for the test.”
Alachua County Public Schools recognizes the discouragement felt by educators and their annoyance at the apparent micromanaging of the state and national government.
“They’re cutting out the joy of teaching and cutting out out the joy of learning,” Johnson said. “We are losing good teachers who are resigning, to leave the state or to leave the profession. We want to stop that from happening and it’s going to take a ground swell of support and more communication from parents and teachers and other citizens who care about education.”