Monday, August 15, 2016

Test-based education reform -- when a means to an end becomes the end itself

From 11-year-old Peyton Mears:

From Valerie Strauss writing for the Washington Post [emphasis added]:
In Florida (you knew it was Florida, didn’t you?), some third-graders — including honor students — are being forced to retake third grade because their parents decided to opt them out of the state’s mandated standardized reading test this past spring.

An undetermined number of third-graders who refused to take the Florida Standards Assessment in reading have been barred from moving to fourth grade in some counties. A lawsuit filed by parents against state education officials as well as school boards in seven Florida counties says counties are interpreting the state’s third-grade retention law so differently that the process has become unfair. Test participation, therefore, is more important than student class academic achievement.

On Friday, Leon County Circuit Court Judge Karen Gievers held a hearing in the suit about the third-grade retention law, which was passed years ago, when Jeb Bush was governor and at a time when there was no movement among parents to opt their children out of standardized tests. Now the opt-out movement is growing, and officials in Florida as well in other states are trying to figure out how to handle students who won’t take mandated standardized tests. It is unclear how many students in Florida opted out of the 2016 test, though in New York state, 21 percent of public school students did.
There are few decisions that conscientious educators take more seriously than whether or not to have a child retake or skip a grade. Sometimes it turns very badly (the resulting anxiety stayed with Charles M. Schulz for the rest of his life); other times it's the best thing that could happen to a kid. Children have different abilities and they develop at different rates. Being held to some Procrustean standard can be unimaginably stressful.

To hold back kids who are performing at or above grade level, to take them away from their friends, to make them slog through a year of mind-numbing boredom just to punish certain parents is perhaps the most inexcusable policy decision I've ever seen. If this goes through, it will be a traumatic experience for most, possibly all, of these children and will do permanent damage to their educations. 

For the record, the vast majority of people who go into education (even those who disagree with me) do so for the best possible motives. I'm sure this applies to these Florida state education officials, but I'm equally sure that the officials' good intentions will be damned little comfort to a ten-year-old who has to pay for these decisions. 

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