FCAT doesn’t serve students -- or parents (by Frederica Wilson)
As a former school principal I believe in accountability, but it must be transparent. As we digest the release of school grades from the Florida Department of Education, I want to say one thing -- this is madness. For 14 years I have fought against the FCAT. As, Bs, Cs, Ds, and Fs? How ridiculous. This is nothing but hoodwinking parents and the community by putting grades on a school. No other state in America deceives their communities by devising formulas that no person or school can decipher. For far too long students have been treated as experiments in petri dishes, and life-altering decisions have been made with a callous disregard for children’s futures.
Unfortunately, I can think of no better example than the recent administration of the FCAT writing test. The FCAT is obviously not “performance-based testing.” It has become an instrument through which administrators unilaterally deem children as passing or failing. This seriously jeopardizes the development of our students. I’m also waiting to see what impact this has on our state’s teachers. To connect their salaries to test scores is simply wrong. Fifth grade teachers are held accountable for the kindergarten through fourth grade teachers’ performances. Whatever happened to pre-test and post-test? Are doctors’ salaries connected to how many patients they cure? Parts of the FCAT are administered on the computer. This is discriminatorily unfair to children who are victims of the digital divide. It is very difficult for any teacher to single-handedly level this playing field. Tallahassee has changed the administration and scoring guidelines of the FCAT every single year.
Ed commissioner: Focus on curriculum, standards so “FCAT is easy”
Florida's top education official told Fort Myers parents and educators he's heard "horror stories" about student anxiety over the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test. "I've heard that from a number of parents across the state -- the almost visceral reaction to hearing the word FCAT, that 'all the sudden my life is going to be determined by what happens on the FCAT,' " Florida Education Commissioner Gerard Robinson said Wednesday. Responding to comments from a parent concerned about the emphasis on testing, Robinson said the purpose of the FCAT is to assess student learning, and teachers shouldn't be taking away from course time to teach the test. "People focus a lot on the FCAT," the commissioner said. "Let's focus on the curriculum and standards we have so that the FCAT is easy." Robinson spent about an hour Wednesday night answering questions and responding to concerns from a group of 100 people gathered at Edison State College. The event was one of his Conversations with the Commissioner series of forums, which he's held across the state. Before coming to Fort Myers, Robinson visited Palatka, Tampa and Boca Raton. He held a forum in Fort Lauderdale on Tuesday and will next hit St. Petersburg.
“We’ve made more (policy) changes in the last nine months than we’ve seen in ten years,” Robinson said. “This is unprecedented change in Florida.” Robinson said it’s also important for adults to not reinforce the idea in students that the FCAT is “high-stakes.” “As adults there is one thing we can do, when we say it’s a high-stakes test, the term is politically driven,” said Robinson. “Because the SAT is high stakes and we don’t say it’s high stakes. Just call them what they are. They’re assessments. We’ll do what we can to make them better and we’re moving in the right direction.”
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Make system progressive and eliminate exemptions
Within a few years, Florida will become the nation's third-most populous state. It will achieve that status burdened by an antiquated tax system better suited to the smaller, less diverse Florida of decades ago. Simply put, our tax structure is inadequate to our needs, poorly matched with today's economy and unfair to average Floridians and small business owners. Inadequate revenue leads to habitual underinvestment in services that improve quality of life and help create jobs with good wages. Too little money leads legislators to cut spending per student at every level of public education: prekindergarten, K-12, state colleges, and universities. We can't afford roads necessary for a first-class state. We try to address water supply and quality issues on the cheap. We provide one of the nation's stingiest safety nets for the poor. Meanwhile, the growth in the number of elderly Floridians means more will require public services in the future. It's not as if Florida is too poor to meet our needs. Our state taxes as a percentage of personal income rank 46th in America. Although Florida is a low-tax state overall, that's not the experience of most average Floridians because our tax system is the second-most regressive in the nation. The poorer you are in Florida, the more of your income you will pay in taxes. That's because we rely on the sales tax more than any state. We impose no progressive taxes used by other states to require more of those who can afford it: no personal income tax, no intangibles tax on large holdings of stocks and bonds and no estate tax. And with a low state corporate-income tax, Florida derives almost all its general revenue from taxes and fees that cost the same for rich and poor alike -- disregarding ability to pay, a cornerstone of a sound tax system. Furthermore, Florida's tax structure gets worse each year as more of the state's commerce is excluded from taxation, further restricting an already narrow tax base.
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