From a Reader
Testing seems to be a sensitive point with the
Superintendent. He has taken great pains to say that he has reduced the amount
of testing and that he is encouraging a culture of instruction and child
development. Is this true? Let’s examine the current testing environment in
Duval County Public Schools.
It is true that the Superintendent cleared the testing
calendar of many tests that various District departments sent to schools. He
was correct in perceiving that DCPS wanted many tests given that duplicated one
another: PMA, LSA, Benchmark—many tested the same concepts.
Yet, because many of
those tests were optional, most classroom teachers stopped giving them. Only
the mandated tests were given to maximize instructional time. The clearing of
the calendar had little practical impact.
The Florida Department of Education is duplicitous when
it says the only tests it requires are FCAT and EOCs. School districts have
many mandates for reporting data on student progress which require the
districts to choose and administer tests throughout the school year. Dr. Vitti
made the decision to discontinue the September and December benchmark tests and
to use other tests in their place: this year, the Curriculum Guide Assessments
Florida law requires
that a teacher’s personal contribution to student growth be measured by testing.
This requires giving a test at the beginning of the school year and a test at
the end of the school year. Where Florida does not have a state assessment for
the subject, for example, FCAT math, districts have to create and give their
own tests. So Florida forces districts to give tests, but claims the tests are
not state-required tests.
Notwithstanding FLDOE’s hypocrisy, DCPS practice in
administering CGAs have caused problems in themselves.
CGAs are given too soon. DCPS has mandated that certain
tests are given three weeks before the end of the nine weeks grading period.
This has been a high level—cabinet level—decision. Students have to sit for
exams with one-third or more of the content untaught. The CGAs were written to
cover the entire quarterly Curriculum Guide. When the tests are given early,
the students are left to struggle with concepts they have not been taught.
And then District managers wonder why performance is low.
The Superintendent says in the latest media report that he
will direct that these tests take place every ten weeks. Can we trust him given
what has happened this year?
We are given to understand the reason for this is that they
need data to understand student progress. Really? DCPS cannot anticipate that
students will not pass exams that contain material they have not been taught?
The consequence—from the people running DCPS—unintended but
nevertheless real—is the corrosive effect this has on student-teacher
relationships. When the test is over, the students turn to their teachers and
ask, “Why didn’t you teach me what was on this test?!”
Teachers have no answer. How do you tell students it’s not
your fault, you are made to do what DCPS demands? But students stop trusting
that their teachers are on their side.
CGAs are revised by the Accountability & Assessment
department. What schools receive is not what the Curriculum and Assessment
Writing Teams turn in; the tests are revised by the side of DCPS that works in
testing and data. What the Academic Departments have done is changed.
If you ponder that
paragraph, you come to the conclusion that Testing trumps Academics.
For example, the 2nd
quarter CGA for Algebra had 37 problems for which the students were given 60
minutes. That’s an average of 1.6 minutes per problem. In comparison, the state
d of Course exam gives students 160 minutes to solve 64
problems, or 2.5 minutes per problem.
Yes, DCPS only
allows students 64% of the time for a problem that Florida allows for a test
written to the level of difficulty of the state exam.
Why 37 problems? I
talked to someone who was involved with the team that wrote the exam. It turns
out that Accountability and Assessment did not want to wait for the 3rd
nine weeks exam to gather student data on content that was scheduled for the 3rd
nine weeks. So they moved problems from CGA 3 to CGA 2.
Why does DCPS want to test students before they have
the chance to learn?
The Florida Times-Union quoted Dr. Vitti as saying
district needs district-wide testing for accountability… but the challenge
becomes when teachers still want to use their own tests,” he said. “They
believe their test questions are the right questions … A biology student may
have as many as 20 tests. That’s been a challenge.”
Is he saying that the reason we test students too much is
that teachers give their own tests?
Let’s ask why teachers have to give their own tests beyond
the fact that they are the best experts in what their students have been taught
and what those students should therefore be held accountable for. Also, let’s
ignore the fact that teachers don’t test students on material they have not yet
Teachers are not respected professionals in the educational
process. CGAs are like the FCAT: teachers do not see the test beforehand, and
they are not allowed to work with students after the administration to go over
The most teachers are allowed to do is display the test
after the test window closes and lecture students about the questions. Students
may not rework the problems. All they are allowed to do is listen to the
teacher lecture about the problems for 90 minutes.
Who thinks such a scenario holds any educational value?
What do teachers want to do? They would like to copy
the problems, cut them into individual sections, and have the students paste
them into the Interactive Journals DCPS has demanded of every student in every
classroom. Teachers would have students work in their journals to decode the
problems, write about them, and work out solutions.
This is what’s known
as a FORMATIVE assessment—the students learn from taking the test. DCPS denies
This is all the more egregious because we are in a
transition year—we move to new standards next year. These CGAs will never be
used again. Why does DCPS think they need to preserve the secrecy?
The Superintendent wants to talk about the
priority of the student learning experience over the testing environment? Oh,
my dear Dr. Vitti, “PHYSICIAN, HEAL THYSELF!”