Florida’s High-Stakes Testing Fiasco

The already diminished reputation of high-stakes testing took another hit this week with the startling news out of Florida that only 27 percent of fourth graders passed the state’s comprehensive assessment test (FCAT) for writing. That’s a drop from 81 percent the previous year. The scores for eight and tenth graders yielded similarly abysmal results.

The news sent Florida’s board of education into a damage control frenzy, as the media, parent groups, and educators demanded an explanation. Are three out of four Florida students functionally illiterate?

Of course not, but the board did attribute the drop on a failure to adequately prepare, and communicate with, teachers regarding the more rigorous writing standards implemented this year. At an emergency meeting on Tuesday, the board quickly voted to lower the passing mark from 4.0 all the way down to 3.0 (last year’s level was 3.5). With this adjustment, 81 percent of fourth graders now have a passing mark. Without it, the scores would have led to a number of schools being downgraded and the implementation of expensive remedial programs to correct the situation. Soon, test results will also be more closely tied to teacher reviews and pay.

Still, The dramatic drop in test scores, according to Florida Education Association (FEA) President Andy Ford, clearly shows that the system is a failure.

“We have always opposed and questioned the overreliance on standardized testing,” Ford said. “It hasn’t helped students, it hasn’t helped teachers, parents are frustrated and it costs millions of taxpayer dollars.”

Teachers and parents joined the board meeting on Tuesday via conference call and expressed their frustration at the state’s reliance on the FCAT and the failure to communicate details of the new standards to teachers and schools.

“I think this is one indication of where teaching to the test has become the problem,” said Darla March, a Miami-Dade parent of three children in public schools.

While the FCAT fiasco is a stunning illustration of the flaws of the high-stakes testing culture, scrutiny over testing has been intensifying recently. Just two days before the FCAT scores were announced, the Palm Beach County School Board adopted a resolution that opposes the over-reliance on high-stakes standardized tests.

Endorsed the Time Out for Testing resolution calls on federal and state policymakers to reduce standardized test mandates and base school accountability on multiple forms of measurement. Other signers include the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, Parents Across America and the National Center for Fair & Open Testing (FairTest).

According to the resolution, “the over-emphasis on standardized testing has caused considerable collateral damage in too many schools, including narrowing the curriculum, teaching to the test, reducing love of learning, pushing students out of school, driving excellent teachers out of the profession, and undermining school climate.”

“The overuse of standardized tests for high stakes decisions has shortchanged students, teachers and our education system in too many ways for far too long,” said NEA President Dennis Van Roekel. “We’ve lost sight of the reason tests were designed—to help gauge students’ comprehension and progress.”