As a teacher and now as vice president of the Florida Education Association, it is important that we settle this matter once and for all.
We like testing. Testing is good. Testing is essential to learning. In fact, we test students all the time. We test them in math, in English, in history, in music, in science, and even in physical education. You might say we are kind of obsessed with this thing called testing.
A properly administered test is an amazing tool as it does several important things all at once. It not only encourages preparation and focus for students, it can encourage or inspire them to work harder to learn subject material. A test will also help an instructor evaluate how well a student is progressing and will help that teacher learn the strengths and weaknesses of the student. Tests also provide valuable feedback to a teacher to understand what course material was properly conveyed or what content may need to be repeated or revised.
In short, testing is a vital and indispensable part of the teaching toolkit.
The problem is not with the tool. The problem is how policymakers are misusing that tool.
Misguided lawmakers and policymakers in the Florida governor’s office and at the Florida Department of Education have turned their obsession with standardized tests into an arms race. Instead of using these tools for their intended purpose of evaluating students, they are now being used as weapons to punish teachers and to punish schools. And what they do to our students’ morale and love for learning is awful. Political leaders and the DOE even use the results of the FCAT to evaluate teachers despite the fact that some of those teachers didn’t teach that subject matter, or worse, had not even taught the students that their evaluations were based on.
The good news is that the FCAT is gone. The bad news is that it is being replaced with yet another brand new set of tests that haven’t been field tested in Florida schools. Even a sample question posted by the state DOE had an error.
So now with the new Sunshine State Standards it will be another round of “here we go again.”
Rushed curriculum changes are being jammed through an enormous system (K-12 grades, millions of students in more than 4,000 public schools) with teachers being told to teach to different benchmarks and with a test that was pilot tested on students in Utah. That is not a typo. The tests that our students will take this year have not even been fully developed. Further, these new exams are not being field tested right here in Florida among our amazingly diverse student population; these tests are being developed with the feedback of children who are demographically very different and who reside more than 2,000 miles away.
Yes, teachers and professional educators like tests. We like accountability measures. We see them as vital tools and we use them all the time.
But we strongly oppose the misuse, overuse and misguided application of ever-changing statewide tests that become weapons used against the people they were originally designed to help.