PUBLIC COMMENT ROCKS FLORIDA STATE BOARD OF EDUCATION

Speakers Pummel Disinterested Board with Impassioned Pleas for Decency

Is Florida’s accountability witch hunt nearing its inevitable and precipitous collapse? Have the selfish, test and punish-obsessed business interests finally bitten off more than they can chew? We’ll have to wait to find out, but to more than a few folks around the state, it’s sure beginning to look like the system in its current form is going to have to change dramatically to avoid being undone by sheer rebellion.

The Florida State Board of Education met last Wednesday in Orlando. It was quite an event. The deplorably obdurate board was shelled by parents, educators, school board members and school superintendents all, in salvo after salvo of well-researched and well-articulated statements roundly condemning the state’s changeless course toward a Florida public education meltdown. It’s difficult to tell if the pleas for sanity had any effect.

What follows is a summary of most of the comments made. We’ll have to revisit the board, and its individual members, later.

Five Horse’s Asses

The only people in attendance who urged Pam Stewart to continue pressing the state’s public education death march were Florida Chamber of Commerce president and Slick Ricky crony Mark Wilson, Patricia Levesque, the Chief Executive Officer for the Jeb Bush-founded Foundation for Excellence in Education, Robert E. Weissert and Morgan McCord, both of Florida Tax Watch, and Susan Pareigis of the Florida Council of 100. We’ll get back to these clowns some other time. This is going to be a long post as it is. It is important to note, however, that between them they represent scores of companies that stand to profit handsomely from the continued destruction and corporatization of Florida’s public school system.

Opt Out Florida Shows Up in Force

During the discussion portion of the meeting, members of several of Florida’s numerous Opt Out groups, including Cindy Hamilton, a co-founder and leader of the Florida Opt Out Network, offered the crony board the very best thoughts and ideas of the meeting. They delivered some very strongly worded comments castigating the state for its terrifically injurious testing regime and pleaded for changes to the state’s approach to public education. We’ll have to wait and see if they had any effect whatsoever on what seemed to be a bored board.

Ol’ Bubba Gets to Hear Himself Talk Again

Pasco County Superintendent of Schools Kurt “the Bubba” Browning was the first speaker of the discussion segment. He delivered what was ostensibly a “report” from the Florida Association of District School Superintendents (FADSS), and after complimenting himself and his district for being so great, he said what everyone knew he was going to say already. He could have been far more concise and direct, but after all, ol’ Bubba is a politician first in all matters public. The mere fact that Browning spoke for FADSS raises a few questions about the group. I’ll have to get back to that another time too.

Here Comes Trouble: Opt Out Florida

When the time came for the public to speak, the board heard from them loud and clear. The five aforementioned corporate agents were thrown into the order of speakers in seemingly strategic fashion, apparently meant to offer the board a much needed breather at regular intervals.

First to speak for the little people was Monroe County pediatrician and mother of two public school children Sue Woltanski. She weighed in with a blistering assessment of the state’s testing debacle:

I’m not against assessments, but I think we need appropriate tests used appropriately. I think accountability is good but accountability systems based on flawed metrics is what I would call accountabaloney.

The most egregious example of this is the state’s unwavering assertion that the Algebra II EOC is valid. Last year Algebra II had new standards, which included trigonometry and statistics.

The commissioner has admitted that no one knows if it’s even possible to (teach) these standards in a single school year. The Algebra II EOC could not have been field tested because Utah does not test trigonometry or Algebra II standards. The Alpine study completely ignored Algebra II in the interest of time; it only looked at Algebra I.

Honors students reported being unable to answer any questions on day two of the EOC…it should be no surprise that the exam results were total outliers…with over half the students failing, including 85% of African American students…and at the keep Florida Learning Committee the Department suggested the problem was that the teachers didn’t teach the standards…right…

Crushing the confidence and destroying the GPA of our best and brightest students, which are these Algebra II students, does not make them college and career ready. Blaming it on their teachers does not help recruit or retain high level STEM instructors. This Algebra II EOC and its standards I believe, deserve a complete review to their appropriateness before students’ grade point averages are made to suffer again. I have no confidence otherwise in this system.

Darcey Addo, a teacher and public school parent, gave the board more reasons to reconsider the DOE’s current tack:

I am a teacher, and in Florida, that’s not always a badge of honor, but it’s more than just my job; it’s my identity. Being a teacher means that I abide by a code of ethics, and that indicates that my primary professional concern will always be for my student, and that I will always seek to exercise my best professional judgement and integrity. I take my code of ethics very seriously, and that’s why I’m here today to talk to you about the accountability system.

I’ve taught children for thirteen years. I’m an expert in my field by many measures, and I work regularly to improve my practice, but Florida teachers have been systematically stripped of our ability to teach with creativity and to assess with autonomy, and I resent that. Either because Florida is determined to vilify teachers, or because decision makers in Florida are beholden to some political narrative that’s more important than the children that I teach.

So today you’re set with the task of setting cut scores, and that’s so that schools can be graded, so that children can be labeled and sorted so that funds can be allocated, but i want to remind you that just because we can measure something doesn’t mean that we should, and the things that we do choose to measure, we have to use the appropriate measurement assessment, and we have to get the measurement right. We call that data integrity. That’s another topic that I know a lot about.

We heard this morning that we have to get the cut scores right because we only have one opportunity to do that, but i think that’s actually a little intellectually dishonest, because ETS, which is the authority on assessment… they say that it is critical to follow a defensible process, and be willing to start over if cut scores are outweighed by negative consequences, so we really don’t have just one opportunity to do this. I think that’s a really important thing to note.

I also heard a lot of conversation about what different members of the board believe about how you motivate academic success, and I thought that was really interesting because I’m a researcher too, and we don’t have to make this decision based on what anybody believes, because there’s research that we use, or we should use, to make decisions…

As a mother of two children in public schools I just demand better for my own children, so I won’t allow them to be pawns in a political sort of game that public education seems to have become. Instead, until all of the high stakes are removed from our assessment, my children will not participate. Until all the high stakes are removed for teachers, for children, for schools and for districts are removed, my own children won’t participate.

Barbara Beasley, a mother of two Seminole County students, was very clear about why she attended the meeting:

I know you’ve worked all very hard to accomplish what you have here, and I truly believe that education in Florida wouldn’t be where it is today without your contributions… I’d like to thank you for sucking every last ounce of joy for school, for learning, and in large part, for life, from my children, their friends, and in fact, most of the children here in this state. I’d like to thank you for your part in the mass exodus of amazing teachers and the environment of fear that you have instilled in real educators that make them afraid to use their knowledge to help our children learn. I’d like to thank you for alienating parents, teachers, board members, etcetera, by superimposing your role and your data and your numbers and your ‘rigor” and your global whatever on our children’s lives.

Beasley highlighted her son’s plight to show how brazenly nonsensical Florida’s test and punish assessment program is. According to Beasley, her son, who has an IQ of 145, is a Duke TIP scholar and scored college ready in the 7th grade, has an F in geometry class because “he only needs to pass a test.” “How pathetic is that?” she asked the board. Toward the end of her three minute limit, Beasley thanked the board for one more thing:

I want to thank you for doing something also that I don’t believe that very many people in the United States think is possible anymore. You have found a way to unite the most liberal Democrat with the most conservative Republican.

That comment elicited one of the loudest rounds of applause of the day. A couple of hoots rose from the audience. She finished up with a mother’s warning: “There is no more powerful uniting force than the love for our children.”

Opt Out Florida Network founder and leader Cindy Hamilton walked to the podium. When you see her speak, you can’t help but admire her calm, humble confidence. She knows what she’s talking about and she exudes that, “I’m not going to stop until I win” kind of vibe. She is very polite but very direct. She is the epitome of the rational rebel, one who brings change to a broken system by placing herself squarely inside it and turning the public against the hubris-laden cretins who smugly snicker from behind their bureaucratic barricades. She is made of the very stuff that fueled our Forefathers. Seriously. She shared a few words with the board:

Opt Out is a movement. It is an act of civil disobedience in protest against what we are fighting for and against in public ed. It is a fight for what is right. We are parents, educators, students and community members who have a clear understanding of where we have been and how we got here. This movement is not just about our own children. We stand for all kids, all teachers and all schools.

Opt Out was not our first choice to initiate change. We tried more traditional ways to be heard by decision-makers. We wrote to our local school boards when we started seeing our own children suffer at hands of this test and punishment system. We looked to our legislators to make sound education policy decisions.

The Opt Out movement in Florida has taken hold because we have been ignored and our children and teachers are being hurt. We know that what is coming could be worse. The public rhetoric of fewer, better tests is a trap. The collection of data, assessment-driven instruction, the move to weekly proficiency testing, along with the desperate need to attach high-stakes testing, will all continue to erode the learning and teaching environment in our public school classrooms.

We know this because we, the Opt Out Network, are the dumping ground for all sad stories. People come to us because they or their children are already in pain. We tell people, we never guarantee that there will not be consequences for standing up in protest. We can only promise one thing: If you do nothing, nothing changes.

We are not asking permission to protest; not from the commissioner, not from this board and not from our legislators. We will not be fooled by minor concessions and we do not compromise. We want equitable education for all children. We want assessment that does not drive instruction, but informs it. We want autonomy for our great teachers. We want to end high stakes. We want an end to the test and punishment with this accountability system and we will continue to opt out until we have it.

Patty Levesque, the CEO of the euphemistically named Foundation for Excellence in Education, an organization founded by Jebby Bush as a vehicle to corporatize public education under the banner of “reform,” seemed like she was auditioning for the role of some wicked witch cameo on ABC’s Once Upon a Time. She’s an evil witch indeed, or she’s just dumb as a brick. There is no way any decent person could actually believe the words that spewed like sewage from her trap. I’ll condense her comments for the sake of space:

Blah, blah, blah.

Next up was Sarasota County’s Tracy Roelle (pronounced RAH-lee). She spoke for teachers, and she spoke very well:

Today I’m here to speak for our teachers; the ones who can’t, because this is during the day, or they’re just afraid. It isn’t coming from commissioner Stewart, and it’s not coming from our superintendents and it’s not coming from our school board members and it’s not coming from our principals, but our teachers are gagged. They have been threatened with their jobs.

The most prominent quote I got from teachers when I asked, “How are high-stakes tests affecting your classrooms?” “I’m broken…”

From one of those teachers, “I talked to my husband tonight about going to nursing school. The looks in my kids eyes when they take these tests, that, by the way, we aren’t allowed to see before or after. We have no idea what they’re getting wrong, so we can’t even reteach. The level of stress on these kids because of these assessments affects my whole day. My kids are feeling so stupid I want out of education. I watch ten-year olds lose confidence because they feel stupid. The amount of assessments I’ve given in the last four weeks is ridiculous.”

From a kindergarten teacher: “I’ve lost my kindness.” From a physician: “I’ve never had so many sick teachers in my years of medicine. They’re stressed out beyond belief and it’s taking a toll on them medically.” Another teacher: “My students weren’t allowed to use the media center or computer lab for a full three months of the year because of testing, testing practice and testing make-ups. Too much money has gone into the implementation of the FSA and away from resources that facilitate learning. Our school library has become nothing more than a testing center as the budget for staffing and books shrinks. I cried today as I watched my students with physical impairments and motor difficulties struggle to operate a mouse and then give up, shoulders slumped, heads bowed, defeat in their eyes; no accommodations allowed.” (Another) “I saw on an Opt Out page that you asked for quotes. I had more parents cry last year than I’ve ever seen. They were upset by what this test was doing to their children.”

From a 29 year veteran teacher, “I’m no longer able to meet the individual needs of the students in my classroom. Students that I know can learn in different ways are being forced to learn the same as everyone else and they are failing. This is affecting their self-esteem, and more and more are dropping out as soon as they turn sixteen. Children are not robots.” “Last year did it for me in teaching. My fifth graders cried when the test wasn’t opening on the computer. Then others cried during the testing, about a test that makes absolutely no difference whatsoever in the grand scheme of life.”

We get nothing of value from this. It’s harming our students; it’s harming our teachers. And school grades? Socioeconomic status…

Dr. Wendy Bradshaw, whose name became synonymous with teacher disillusionment just last week after resigning from her teaching position with Polk County Schools, gave the board some calorie-laden food for thought:

I’m a former teacher in Polk County, Florida, as of this past Friday. I thought about standing up here and reading my resignation letter, but it’s easy enough for you to find online, as it went viral over the weekend. It went viral because over fifty thousand people identified with my frustration that our public schools are no longer places that promote the love of learning, or are allowed to ground instruction in evidence-based practice.

We have decades of scientific research in the fields of education, human development and psychology that tells us how students learn best. It’s being ignored in favor of manipulated data, scripted cookie-cutter curriculum brought in by big money corporations and flawed assessments with a lack of proven efficacy at truly predicting college and career success. After 15 years of reform math scores are still among the lowest in the nation. What does that tell you about the efficacy of the reforms?

Professional educators have been leaving the field at an alarming rate because of these misguided reforms, and that is a problem for you, because your edicts are not what results in student success. Teachers, students, and parents working together is what results in student success. You already have a teacher shortage, and parents are waking up to the fact that the only people who know and care about their children other than them are leaving the schools. They’re choosing to opt out of the narrowly-focused high stakes system. Over two hundred thousand children opted out of the high-stakes assessment in New York alone last year. The numbers in Florida will continue to rise unless you can implement a fair and equitable system which recognizes the limitations of standardized assessment. Furthermore, if the effective teachers continue to leave, test scores will continue to drop, so I implore you to think long and hard about your next steps; there are more and more people watching where they lead.

Rosemarie Jensen, who holds a master’s degree in Early Childhood Education, Reading Education and Elementary Education, gave the board yet another helping of thoughts, from a parents’s perspective:

I’m here today as a parent. I’m also a representative of the national Opt Out group. We provide support for people all over the country to opt out of high-stakes testing and the corporate takeover of our public schools. We serve as a focused point of resistance, of unyielding resistance to the corporate ed reform, which is what we are seeing in our schools.

We demand an equitably funded, democratically based, anti-racist, desegregated public school system for all children that prepares students to exercise compassionate ans critical decision making with civic virtue. That’s what we want for our schools.

I’m going to quote (public education advocate) Carol Burris of New York today… As the NAEP scores came out, she said “the very folks who gleefully hold our public schools accountable based on scores are now evading using them to evaluate their own policies.”

The NAEP scores have dropped across the board, across the country. In this state our ACT scores have dropped consistently since 1990. As we have focused more on testing and test scores and chased these test scores our children are not doing better; they’re doing worse, as you have taken away the autonomy of the people who know how to teach children: the educators in the room. You have deprived my own children of a well-rounded, fully funded education as the curriculum has narrowed to chasing test scores.

There’s no one anywhere here who can tell me what college and career ready looks like for an 8-year old. Nobody. You throw that word around, but there’s no definition anywhere. None. We know these tests correlate to income. We know these tests disproportionately impact students of color, students from impoverished homes, our ELL students… and of course our ESE students, and this is where the parent comes in. I have a 10th grade son who’s ESE. He’s a Straight A student, sir. He works really hard, but those tests test his disability, not his ability. So you will deny him a diploma, which will keep him from going to vocational school, or going to the military; whatever he plans to do, because of one test, regardless of the fact that he’s a Straight A student, he has 130 hours of (volunteer work); this is how you judge my son… If I walked him to a private school, he would get that diploma.

So you are the barrier to thousands of children (getting) a high school diploma, based on a test score… The data’s manipulated; the cut scores are changed; it’s absolutely not fair… I think you guys need to think long and hard about who needs to take a cold shower, because our kids are the ones who are suffering…

Orange County chemical engineer and mother of three OCPS students Pam DiMarzio implored the board to return to its mission of “providing (students) with the opportunity to expand their knowledge and skills through learning opportunities.” She asked the board:

“When do we provide that learning opportunity? …because right now it’s not there. I have three kids in public school in Orange County. They’re all high-performing, gifted students. They are not afforded that learning opportunity because, guess what? We’re too busy teaching to this darn test, and it needs to stop.”

She finished up, while board chair Marva Johnson attempted to rush her off the mic, by promising to continue to deny the DOE data by opting her three kids out of all high-stakes tests.

Tina Calderone, Seminole County School Board Chair, shared her own school board’s concerns and recommendations after a nice little round of adulation for the Florida BOE corporate stooges. Overall, her ideas are good ones. She advocates for accountability based on what has become known as the Sunshine Solution, which would eliminate the FSA and move to nationally recognized tests.

Self-described Orange County parent, teacher and advocate for quality public education Jacqui Myers added a few memorable thoughts of her own to the overflowing mix:

For the last fifteen years, U.S. teachers have been predigesting material, with test prep, scripted lessons, and ever-increasing assessments. During this time, our teachers and students have become widgets, evaluated for quality like hamburger in a slaughterhouse. We have let corporate and political players, not educators, decide policy. Education has become a big industry that profits off a false argument that weighing a pig will make it fatter.

Before you tell me “our numbers tell us the achievement gap is narrowing,” I listened to your presentation at Jones High School; I’ve heard that story, Let me be clear: the numbers don’t lie… I was in the auditorium at Jones for the public feedback meeting that you all referred to and said that you had such positive responses from and I’m telling you: There was nothing positive about it. It was public outrage. I heard Vince Burgess tell an outraged audience that these new numbers are consistent with numbers over the last fifteen years. Consistent! It hasn’t changed. They’re not worse; they’re not better. Fifteen years. We were sold a lie…

Education advocate Linda Montalbano ripped into the board for its heartless approach to educating learning disabled students. She called out the board for flagrantly flouting federal law by refusing to acknowledge specific disabilities on IEPs prior to the end of a student’s 3rd grade year, and for failing to prescribe widely acknowledged, effective curriculum programs to students with disabilities:

You refuse to evaluate children and identify them as having specific learning disablities between preschool and 3rd grade. You wait until they fail the 3rd grade, or force them to fail the 3rd grade, and then you make them go through a second year, still refusing to use appropriate reading methodology.

Today we have the technology, the therapy, and the methodology to help children with specific learning disabilities. You’re adamant; you will not do it. You refuse to identify dyslexia, dysgraphia, and dyscalculia on an IEP, even though federal law says you’re supposed to do it…

You’re supposed to use intensive, scientifically-based reading and math programs for two years before you force the kids to fail in the 3rd grade…

We need programs like Orton-Gillingham brought in. These disabilities are neurologically based; Orton-Gillingham is a Neurologically-based reading program. Orton-Gow works on the math…
These programs are a hundred years old. Why do we have to reinvent the wheel?

You said, “We want the best.” I’m sorry. I’ve had enough hearing officers and administrative law judges and federal court judges tell me we’re not entitled to the best. We’re only entitled to appropriate and adequate, and your reading methodologies and math are not appropriate, and they’re not adequate, because at least twenty or thirty percent of the children are not learning how to read…

After Montalbano finished destroying the DOE for its lack of fidelity and transparency regarding 3rd graders, doughboy and enemy of public education Robert Weissert of Florida Tax Watch took the mic and said pretty much the same thing that Jeb Bush lackey Patty Levesque had said earlier:

Blah, blah, blah.

And then came Seminole County Opt Out parent Jessica Cottrill:

This is from education expert Alfie Kohn: “Don’t let anyone tell you that standardized tests are not accurate measures. The truth is, they offer a remarkably precise method for gauging the size of the houses near the school where the test was administered. Every empirical investigation of this question has found that socioeconomic status accounts for an overwhelming proportion of the variance in test scores when different schools, towns or states are compared. Thus, ignorance would be the most charitable explanation for why charts are published that rank schools by these scores, or for why anyone would use those rankings to draw conclusions about classroom quality.”

Just as no child should be judged by their performance on a single test, on one day, no school should be judged by the same, limited measure. Since the controversy over the FSA results, school board members and state leadership complained, and I’m really going to try not to cry when I read this, “How will we ever attract new business to Florida with our failing schools?”

It is morally wrong to put a real estate value and the economic development of a state on the backs of 8-year old children.

Ms. Cottrill hurled a well-aimed grenade at board member Andy Tuck, who had decided that playing with his cell phone was more important than listening to the comments of Florida parents and teachers. “And I hope everyone is paying attention, and not on their phones. Thank you,” she remarked to a brief round of applause from the audience. She continued:

School grades are poor indicators of school quality for the instruction provided in a school. In fact, “A” schools can be the schools with the smallest learning gains. Florida’s school grading system rewards schools in affluent neighborhoods, while penalizing those schools in poor communities, which, I’d like to add, often have the best teachers…

Florida Education Association Secretary-Treasurer Luke Flynt made a blunt statement to the board regarding the FSA’s lack of alignment to the very standards it’s supposed to measure:

The students and educators of Florida deserve better than last year’s administration of the FSA. Because of the myriad problems with the FSA, there should be no high-stakes decisions associated with it. The issues with the test have been well documented, but the one I want to highlight today is a lack of alignment to the Florida Standards.

We know that the test that Alpine reviewed, up to one third of the questions were not fully aligned with the Florida Standards. The numbers could be even higher for the tests that Alpine did not review.

As you consider the recommended cut scores that will be voted upon in January, it is important for you to recognize that you are going to be labeling students, teachers and schools based on their answers to questions that did not align to the curriculum they were supposed to be taught. I want to allow that to sink in: Student, teachers and schools are going to be labeled based on how students answered questions tied to standards they were never expected to be taught. This is educational malpractice and it cannot be allowed to continue.

It has been said that doing the right thing is not always popular and doing the popular thing is not always right. In this case you have a win-win. In ever-increasing numbers the popular choice of concerned citizens all across Florida is to end high-stakes consequences associated with testing. More importantly, that’s the right choice as well.

I realize that some will say that what I’m advocating for would remove accountability. However, what I’m really asking for, what Florida’s students, parents and educators deserve, is true accountability, that starts at the top, and that the DOE is held accountable for their failures.

After Flynt was finished, Mark Wilson, Florida Chamber of Commerce chief chum, got to add his own two cents. It was mostly like Levesque and Weissert, except that Wilson actually spelled out, in plain English, what many public education advocates have been saying for so long.

His most telling comment, and one that should cause all citizens of Florida great concern, was that, “This is about economic development over the long term, plain and simple…Education is economic development.” The idea that education “is about economic development,” whether it’s plain and simple or convoluted and complicated, and whether it’s over the short or long term, is a very disturbing idea indeed.

Education is about just that: Education. If we allow one group of interests, in this case the selfishly myopic Florida big business community, to establish predominance in a public institution to the exclusion of the general public and grassroots groups that have far more direct stakes in the administration of that institution, we have a much bigger problem than even we realized (before ass clown Wilson gave the government’s education agenda away). Wilson openly advocates for the continuance of Stewart and Company’s disastrous War on Public Education for no other purpose but to produce employees for the businesses the members of his group own. According to Wilson himself, education is not about personal growth. It’s not about learning universal values or about gaining the ability to think critically for oneself. It’s not about becoming a successful adult at whatever young adults might decide is best for them in their lives. It’s about business, plain and simple.

Wilson’s comments give all Floridians good reason to get more involved in the governance of public education in our state.

The view of his chamber is illustrative of the far right’s pursuit of a corporate oligarchy in Florida government. The Florida Chamber of Commerce, like other greed-ridden corporately-funded groups, is working tirelessly to establish a new corporate fascism in our state. The assumption that any public institution exists for the good of the business community is a fundamentally corrupt assumption, and must be fought from ground level up until it is eradicated from our government. I digress.

Angie Gallo, Legislation Chair for the 300,000 member Florida PTA, called for the use of this years test results to be suspended:

In light of the numerous glitches that districts across the state experienced during the testing session and due to the rush to administer the FSA we ask that you suspend the use of the results for the this year. Schools should be held harmless this year and high schoolers should not be required to pass the 10th grade Language Arts FSA and Algebra I EOC to graduate during this time of transition. These scores should serve as a baseline for future years.

It’s imperative that we use learning gains in determining school grades so that the grade truly represents how hard these students have worked from one year to another.

We believe, and this is important, we believe that we can have accountability without attaching punitive measurements to our students.

At this point, another strategically placed corporatizing conniver got her turn at the front of the room. This time it was Susan Pareigis of the Florida Council of 100. She sounded a lot like Mark Wilson of the Florida Chamber of Commerce. They probably had lunch together.

Diane Schrier, a candidate for Marion County School Board, tore American Institutes for Research (AIR), the company that oversaw the Great Florida Testing Calamity of 2015, to shreds, and denounced the state’s stubborn refusal to consider getting rid of the flawed test results altogether:

A few of the speakers before have said that we should stay the course. 2015 was a disaster in (assessment). As a teacher I saw kids who were doing beautiful work fall to pieces because they could not do the test. They were kicked off the test. They were put on other tests… They had to have district come in and check to see if they could do it. This is ridiculous. The test was not validated by AIR even though it was supposed to be. Alpine finally validated it with another corporation that was also owned by somebody who had previously worked for AIR. they said it should not be used for students…

If this test cannot be used for students, how can it be used to aggregate scores for teachers and for schools? It can’t. You have bad data. You have bad data all the way up. You cannot do it that way. You have to have good numbers to start with before you start anything else.

We have kids we’re working with and these are important people. This is our future. We don’t destroy them with something that’s not going to work. If we’re going to use this test, then we have to have the test working.

Florida already has an excellent database of… of questions that would work for kids, that have been validated by Florida teachers. Why are we paying out so much money on a that has failed our kids?

This company did not do its job. It promised it would validate (the FSA). It promised it would make it reliable. It promised a platform that would work. A game can put up a platform for half a million people, and everybody gets on the first day, and we had kids knocked off; kids put off for a week, put off for two weeks. Kids were going on; going off. Going on; going off. The situation was a disaster all over Florida.

This year’s test cannot be counted. I understand the need, people wanting to keep on grading. You can’t keep on grading this year. You have to say okay, this is not even a good baseline because we don’t have good statistics. If you don’t have good statistics, you don’t have anything working. You have to have good statistics if you’re going to have an accurate, valid baseline, and this year’s test was not an accurate, valid baseline of anything except the incompetence of AIR.

Kim Short, a former chairman of a group called Citizens for Excellent Schools, which led an effort to adopt a half-cent sales tax to benefit schools, spoke as a Volusia County public school parent:

“I’m sitting in this room today and I’m looking at all of you and I’m hearing what everybody’s saying, and what I think is interesting is that the people who support this are the people who are furthest from the classroom…

As a parent, and as somebody who’s pretty involved in the community, I’m going to say that when you’re looking at this whole accountability system, you’ve got people here, like superintendents and school board members and PTAs and all these people don’t necessarily agree ever, and they’re all asking you to take a pause, and I’m not understanding what that’s going to do that’s so bad. You’re putting a lot of effort into trying to say that this is something that really matters for our kids; that we have to have this system, and yet, it’s something that we don’t even know what the pass rate is until nine month after the kids take this test. You guys have to start to think a little bit about what the common sense is of this whole situation. It doesn’t really make any sense. You’re… not dangling the carrot in front of the kids; you’re kind of throwing it back behind them and hoping they get it somehow. There’s nothing about this that’s driving education.

There is nothing more important to my children, besiddes my family, than the teachers that they spend time with everyday. And they are leaving the classroom; you guys have heard that. So what it sounds like is you guys are being stubborn, and then I want to think, why? Is there some other hidden agenda? That’s what the majority of the people I hear are thinking, and that’s the business community, and that’s the parents, and that’s the teachers, and that’s the school board members and that’s the superintendents. That’s a lot of people who are close to our kids everyday and educating them.

So, I’m asking you to take everything into account that people are saying and…think about who these people are in relation to what they’re saying, because the people who are closest to our kids who matter the most to what goes on with education are telling you that there are many different ways to success…we’re not saying throw it all out the window, but use some common sense.

Another Volusia parent, Greg Gimbert, blasted the board over subverting the Florida Class Size amendment through the use of “combo classes” after slamming the members for talking a lot about “how we’re going to rejigger the standards, but not one single solution about how we’re going to get the kids up to those standards.”

And then Florida Tax Watch had a second go of it. I’m not sure why. It would seem to me that by allowing such an entity to have more than one speaker, it opens the way for such groups to literally pack the forum with respect to a particular issue, to the detriment of us lowly peasants. This time the speaker’s name was Morgan McCord. She should have just spoken in unison with Robert Weissert, because she said pretty much exactly what he did.

Opt Out Pasco leader Heide Janshon (pronounced YON-son) spoke last. An FSU alumna with a master’s degree, she had some very good points to make. Speaking as the parent of a 4th grader and a 6th grader, she spoke to the subjectivity of the cut score-setting routine that the board loves to officiate over:

With these cut scores you can really do anything you want. You can make these scores say what you want by manipulating the numbers, and you know, Mr. Padget said, “being dishonest to the students,” and I actually said, “lying to the students,” but, moving the bar, because we don’t know what the raw scores are; that’s not something that we get out in the public…

I do believe in assessment. I believe in fair, equitable assessment…studies have shown that incessant testing does not improve test results because tests do not provide instruction. Tests steal instruction from our children and the Florida Department of Education is failing our children by inundating them with tests and robbing them of real instruction. Testing will not make them smarter…

The Board Members React

After Mrs. Janshon wrapped up the public comment portion of the meeting, the board members reacted one by one. Their reactions were disappointing. I had to wonder just how well they had actually listened.

Vice Chair and Tommy Chong impersonator John Padget, after talking about how impressed he was with Florida COC president Mark Wilson (who he pretended not to know) and Susan Pareigis of the Florida Council of 100, attempted to make a motion to direct Stewart to establish cut scores “more aligned” to NAEP cut score data. Wow. He hadn’t heard a single word. For him, it was full steam ahead. His motion was shot down by a DOE legal staffer who actually had to explain to the asshat in public that if the item wasn’t on the agenda, then it couldn’t be raised for a vote. A big, powerful moron like Padget, who is supposed to actually know a little about what he’s doing, should have known that.

The others on the board, while not as contemptibly indifferent to public sentiment as cow patty Padget, were still way off the mark. They simply don’t hear the people.

It’s going to take some more fighting. No problem. We’ve only just begun.

You can find the names and emails of the members of the Florida State Board of Education here. The big business interests that intend to corporatize public education in Florida literally bank on citizen noninvolvement. Please email these charlatans and let them know that you’re watching.

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