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Mark Ferrulo: Education community overwhelmingly opposes punitive testing

Do you think Florida’s school accountability system, with punitive high-stakes testing and unreasonable mandates, is out of control? To teachers and other folks on the front lines in the fight to improve our public schools, it most definitely is.

Last week, more than 6,000 teachers, parents, education advocates and other concerned Floridians participated in the “Speaking Up for Students” tele-town hall sponsored by Progress Florida. The overwhelming sentiment of participants – expressed both through online polling and the town hall discussion itself – is that it’s time to reclaim Florida’s public schools from toxic high-stakes testing.

More than 63 percent who attended the tele-town hall were teachers, while 23 percent said their main connection to education was as a parent. During the event, participants were asked if our schools were on the right track and only 13 percent thought so. More than 69 percent said our schools are headed in the wrong direction.

When asked to name their greatest concern regarding Florida’s public schools, nearly 50 percent of respondents cited too much standardized testing. Vouchers taking away public school resources and lack of funding for essential services were the primary concern of 18 percent and 16 percent of those polled, respectively.

Similarly, when asked what would most strengthen our education system, the runaway winner was reducing standardized tests at 43.5 percent. Greater parental involvement (25 percent), increased school funding (10 percent) and better technology in the classroom (9 percent) were also mentioned. But clearly, to the people that are closest to our schools, the one-size-fits-all testing regimen that has hamstrung public education in Florida desperately needs fixing.

The pushback against out-of-control testing has extended beyond teachers and parents. Some school districts such as Miami-Dade have opted out of certain standardized tests. Meanwhile, state lawmakers are finally realizing that Florida’s rash of accountability mandates have created a cynical environment where teachers, students and parents are distrusting of a system that wastes valuable classroom instruction time.

The 2015 legislative session offers lawmakers a chance to change course and implement a less intrusive system of assessment that gives educators and school districts needed flexibility, rather than the testing mandates the Legislature has imposed on our schools. A bill has been introduced to limit student testing times, but some districts do not have adequate mechanisms in place to track this information and there are concerns it will not have the desired effect.

What is clear from the growing furor over high-stakes testing is that the current system needs more than token reform. Standardized tests should be administered with minimal disruption of the instructional process and provide reliable data that assists teachers in addressing individual student learning needs. It’s time to step back from the state’s incoherent and unsound school reform and accountability policies where questionable data is used to shame and blame schools and educators at the expense of our kids.

Mark Ferrulo is the executive director of Progress Florida, a statewide progressive advocacy organization. Column courtesy of Context Florida.

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