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Town Hall Meeting Explains State Tests, Community Reacts

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Susan Bowles hugs Jennifer Anhalt after Anhalt roused the crowd at the town hall meeting Tuesday night regarding standardized test practices in in Alachua County. In an interview after the meeting, Bowles said she was so grateful to have heard Anhalt speak with such skill on the matter that is so close to the hearts of many teachers.
Susan Bowles hugs Jennifer Anhalt after Anhalt roused the crowd at the town hall meeting Tuesday night regarding standardized test practices in in Alachua County. In an interview after the meeting, Bowles said she was so grateful to have heard Anhalt speak with such skill on the matter that is so close to the hearts of many teachers.

“Developmentally inappropriate” was a popular phrase at the Chiles Elementary School cafeteria Tuesday night during a town hall meeting called to discuss state tests in light of recent protest.

Teachers, parents and community members gathered to express a shared concern about whether the current standardized tests are fit to assess student progress and teacher success.

Jennifer Anhalt, who teaches kindergarten, first and second grades at Littlewood Elementary School, said she does not think the information gained from the testing is useful in guiding instructions. She wants to get rid of tests that “aren’t measuring what we are teaching in the classroom.”

Anhalt said her young students are not ready for the “two-step processes” required in the tests, referring to the requirement of students who typically range from 5- to 7-year-olds to use text information to support answers as an example.

“I didn’t begin driving at 12 so that I would be better at it when I turned 16,” she said.

While speaking about the tests’ purpose to prepare students for skills well beyond their years, Anhalt held a Pearson test booklet from her class, which had “Benchmark Test for College & Career Readiness” boldly printed on the front.

Susan Bowles, the Chiles Elementary kindergarten teacher who publicly refused to administer the FAIR test earlier this month, was sitting among the rest of the crowd gathered on lunch-tables-turned-benches.

Although she did not stand to speak about her actions, she supported the community members who came to support her and the movement for legislation reform.

The protested FAIR diagnostic reading tests have been suspended for this year, but a handout from the Alachua County School Board showed students in kindergarten through second grade are still expected to take up to nine state-required tests including six end-of-course tests, a Florida Kindergarten Readiness Screener (FLKRS) Work Sampling System given within the first 30 days of school and the Discovery Education Assessment given three times a year.

The end-of-course tests given in math, science and social studies are produced by the state and are not specialized to each teacher’s curriculum. Tests given in physical education, art and music are the only assessments that meet teacher evaluation requirements.

Tests that are not statewide but still required by the school district include three “Big Idea/Benchmark” tests, which are paper-based and cover what the teacher has taught in the classroom, in both math and science.

Many parents said the tests upset their children, and the computer skills required for the tests are too advanced.

Franziska Raeber, mother of two kindergarteners and one second-grader, said she wants to end computer testing for the lower grades because she thinks the tests are measuring computer skills and not actual knowledge.

“When you are a kindergartener, when you just barely learn to write your name, it does not make sense (to sit in front the computer and look for the right letters). It is beyond their developmental stage,” Raeber said.

Another parent, Lisa Crehore, mother of a second-grader and a fourth-grader at Archer Magnet School, said her children are beaten down every day they have to face new systems of standardized testing. She called the legislation ruling over schools “bullies.”

Crehorn’s child, who is failing according to the tests, is falling in line with more than half of the other children.

Students are not the only group receiving unfair reports. Judy Black, principal of Chiles Elementary, said certain assessments are very important for teachers and help guide instruction, but which tests are the most effective is something that needs to be determined.

She explained the evaluation of teachers is a state requirement, but voiced concern that a teacher’s performance is based upon a child’s performance, and specifically with regards to how the child is tested.

“We still pay policemen, and we have crime in our community. We pay firefighters, and there’s still fires in our homes,” she said. “So, why are we evaluating teachers because of a child’s success?”

About Qianwen Zhang

Qianwen is a reporter for WUFT News who may be contacted by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news @wuft.org

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