The stages of cancer, err make that school accountability in Florida

By Greg Sampson

The Stages of Cancer
Stage One Precancerous: You have a growth.
The State of Florida has, for some years, been
committed to perfecting a workable system of accountability for the public
schools. The Florida Statewide Assessment Program, begun in 1971, has been an
important element in this accountability effort. The program was designed to
assess students’ academic strengths and weaknesses, particularly in the basic
skills. (Quoted from the FLDOE website.)
But the FLDOE
website links serve up blank pages when I click on them for their official
history of testing in the State.
Let’s move
ahead to 1998, when the FCAT (Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test—did I get
that right? Because the last two words are redundant) began.
The purpose was
to see how students performed against the Sunshine State Standards.
The standards
themselves were rather vague and eventually the Department of Education had to
specify Grade Level Expectations to tell us what each standard meant as
students progressed through school. Few people knew of the Grade Level
Expectations: an early warning sign that the testing regime was flawed.
Stage Two Cancer: Your growth is malignant, but
it has not spread.
grades began. In the early years, it was only ranking schools according to test
performance. Besides the embarrassment of a low grade, there were no penalties
for schools except then there were changes of principal and staff, conversion
to a charter, takeover by a school management firm, or closure.
NCLB, the
signature education initiative of the George W. Bush administration, used
federal ESEA (Elementary and Secondary Education Act) dollars to force states
into the idea that all schools had to make Adequate Yearly Progress to get all
subgroups, i.e. racial, ethnic, ESE, and ED (economically disadvantaged—geesh,
I’m getting tired of the euphimisms—the poor!), up to scratch. In the first
years of NCLB, schools found it rather easy to hit the targets or get into the
‘safe harbor’ provisions.
Schools with
the wrong zip code—a nice way of saying they were in poor, disadvantaged,
minority neighborhoods—struggled to meet the targets, but everyone else was
focused resources on healing these few failing schools.
Stage Three Cancer: Your malignancy has
spread, but with chemotherapy and radiation we can arrest it.
People who
have had cancer or had close family members who have had cancer know these
treatments for what they are. Doctors are going to do things to your body to
almost kill you, but not quite, in the hope that they will kill the cancer but
you will survive.
Every school
is under threat. Next Generation Standards emerge. Teachers give in to test
preparation and convince themselves that when students pass a test that presumably
matches the standards, somehow they have taught the standards. The test looms
over everything.
“Throw your
book down,” cry principals. “Teach them to pass the test.”
programs are bought. All is preparation for the all-important test. Students
stress over how to pick the right answer choice on the test.
are fired; teachers are threatened. Children bawl.
Test results
become part of the annual evaluation of school-based personnel. Invalid
statistical measurements based on a best-selling book about baseball are used to
decide hiring and firing of teachers. Denounced by professional statisticians,
the measurements nevertheless are forced upon teachers.
Tests are
everywhere. If everyone must be measured by data, data must be had. Districts
are commanded to produce a test for every subject at every grade level to
answer the criticism that teachers are being measured by data that is
irrelevant to their job. Reading data for art teachers is one example. Now we
have testing without end, every subject, every teacher, every child.
reaction. Too much testing. Tests are dropped, but now we are back to measuring
teachers by tests that have nothing to do with the subject they teach. When did
a student have to read in order to pass Physical Education?
is put into classrooms despite the inappropriateness for authentic student
learning. It is there to produce data—the chemotherapy of education. A steady
drip of data will destroy the cancer.
Stage Four Cancer: The disease has metastasized in all the organs of your body. The
prognosis is terminal. You will die.
standards, new tests, new cut scores—those arbitrary levels that pass judgment
on whether a student is a failure or not. States deliberately set those levels
to fail most students—70% or higher.
schools must die.
“They kill
horses, don’t they?”
(A reference
from a movie about horses that break legs and cannot be healed. The humane
thing is deemed to be euthanization.)

schools are at Stage Four by design of politicians, the rich, and misguided
reformers. But wait, public schools are not really at Stage Four cancer, they
have no broken legs and they don’t need to be killed. But the big money needs
you to believe that.

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