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Florida’s Standardized Testing Disaster – “Education Reform” At Its Worst

by Jon Pelto from Wait, What

Like the car accident that you can’t take your eyes off of, the incredible standardized test debacle that is playing itself out in Florida is a stunning lesson about how out of control the “education reformers” have become.

Their mantra there, as it is here in Connecticut, is that standardized testing is the only way to force teachers to teach and children to learn. Most importantly, they claim, the standardized tests are needed in order to evaluate which teachers to keep and which to remove.

As many now know, the Florida Department of Education recently released the test scores on their FCAT 2.0 standardized tests. The percentage of Florida students who scored “at goal” had dropped from 81 percent to 27 percent. Within twenty-four hours, Florida’s Board had met, reduced the number needed to reach goal and announced that, in fact, 4 out of 5 students did reach goal.

So much for the $254 million contract to develop and administer Florida’s testing program.

As we saw over the last five months, here in Connecticut Governor Malloy and the “education reformers” are demanding the creation of even more standardized tests.

Malloy’s original bill proposed a whole new round of testing in 11th grade and the bill that did pass will institute new testing in kindergarten through 3rd grade.

And still these reformers want more.

Like all students in Connecticut, Bridgeport’s students completed the statewide mastery tests in March. But then, despite facing a budget shortfall and laying off dozens of teachers, School Superintendent Paul “education reformer extraordinaire” Vallas, announced that he was instituting yet another full round of standardized tests in June because he believes that more testing is the only way to prevent teachers from allowing a “lull” in learning to take place in their classrooms. As to the cost of this extra round of testing, Vallas says he got a very good deal.

An editorial commentary piece published this week in the Orlando Sentinel called up state officials to “”stop this madness.”

The commentator wrote;

“Of course, whether or not students learn should be part of a teacher’s and administrator’s evaluation, but when you have high stakes for students, teachers and administrators and little or no accountability for the $254 million contract lawmakers have given to the testing company, something is wrong.

Let us hold lawmakers and the testing company accountable, and let teachers teach and students learn. We must end high-stakes testing, and instead develop a system based on multiple forms of measurement that is fair for all.

Countries that we are often compared to, such as Finland and Singapore, do not use high-stakes testing to judge students and teachers. We should not, either.”

Yet Stefan Pryor, Governor Malloy’s Commissioner of Education, wants to INCREASE the number of standardized tests and require that school districts rely even more on the results.

Adding insult to injury, when he faced public criticism earlier this week, he and his team of out-of-state consultants went so far as to block the media and public from attending the meetings in which they were talking about these matters.

Although forced to change course and allow the media and public back in to the meetings, the Malloy Administration still doesn’t get it.

At the next meeting, Elizabeth Shaw, who works for Education First, Inc. and is one of Commissioner Pryor’s $60,000 short-term consultants to help him with his “education reform” initiative, announced “Something is different at this meeting. At this meeting — in the interest of transparency — the state department has invited the press to join us.”

Something different? The media and public allowed into a public meeting?

But more to the point, Pryor and company continue down the path of implementing a system in which standardized tests play an even more important role in Connecticut’s schools.

The author of the Orlando Sentinel piece could not be more correct, it is time to stop this madness. Our children, our teachers and the America’s public school system deserve.

Side Note on Malloy’s Consultant (more to come on this piece):

This Elizabeth Shaw, Pryor’s point person on expanding the use of standardized test in Connecticut?

Well she started her “education reform” career with Teach for America in Philadelphia (where Paul Vallas was heading the school system). She quickly got promoted to TFA’s Director of District Strategy where her job was to “manage relationships” with the school district. She then moved to the New Orleans Recovery School District (Yes, the one that Paul Vallas was the superintendent for) where she quickly moved up through the ranks to become Director of Human Resources.

Shaw then moved from New Orleans to join Education First, Inc.

Turns out Shaw is from Chicago, her father was one of Vallas’ biggest supporters when Vallas ran for Governor in Illinois and at least one Chicago blogger has reported that Shaw’s mother is best friends with Vallas’ wife.

And Education First, Inc.? They are one of the firms that Pryor instructed SERC (the State Education Resources Center) to hire with state funds on a no-bid contract to help him with linking standardized tests and teacher evaluation.

What a strange coincidence that Paul Vallas is now in Bridgeport where he is being paid $229,000 while collecting a $1 million dollar contract from the State Board of Education in Illinois.