Wednesday, March 9, 2016

FL: Participation Points

When it comes to terrible education decisions, few legislatures can hold a candle to the whiz-bang elected wizards of Florida. Along with their the state's chief education minion Pam Stewart, they have raised fetishizing the Big Standardized to awesome heights.

Stewart and the legislature earned their Gold Medal in Being Awful for their treatment of Ethan Rediske. The state demanded that Ethan's parents provide plenty of proof that he needed to be excused form the Floirida BS Test because he was dying. Stewart accused Ethan's mother of trying to use Ethan's situation to make political hay,.because when a grieving mother has lost a long-suffering child to long-term debilitating illness, her first thought as she grieves is to get some political leverage out of the situation. Okay, maybe Stewart can be excused for thinking that of course someone would try to raise political capitol from the tragic death of a young child-- because that's exactly what legislators in Tallahassee proceeded to do.

Many testocrats have tried to sell the story that we are actually doing students a huge favor by wasting their time on BS Testing, but nobody has really committed to this unsupported claim like Florida's leaders. And here they are, at it again.

The law now says that all students must participate. And that means that the Rule of Stupid Laws now kicks in: when you create a stupid law, you end up looking far stupider trying to enforce it than anybody does breaking it.

There was a classic example years ago in Massachusetts at Danvers High School when the principal (I am not making this up) tried to ban the word "meep." Besides opening the school to universal ridicule, the entire business included robocalling the entire student body and (still not making this up) informing a lawyer that his "meep" infused letter to the district had been forwarded to the police. If you've spent any time at all around small humans, you know how this played out. Students tested every possible permutation of the rule. Would you get in trouble for saying "Mee" or "Peem" or "Peep" or, most awesomely, "Ni." I have often wondered how that story finally played out, but I can guarantee you it didn't end with the principal winning cheerful compliance and students solemnly determining they had seen the error of their ways.

In Florida, the word is not "meep," but "participate." And that means we now get to watch the state of Florida attempt to beat back all manner of tests of that law. 

If my child signs his name to the test and then pushes the test away an answers zero questions, has he participated? Does he have to answer one question to qualify as "participating"? Ten questions? Does she have to try, or is it participating if she plays ACDC on the test?

Hilariously, the state has so far declined to answer any such questions:

"I feel like answering the type of question provides more information that could be construed as encouraging students or parents not to take the test," DOE spokeswoman Meghan Collins said. "That's just something we don't want to do."

In other words, we refuse to tell you what the minimum requirement is to avoid violating our stupid rule.

The Tampa Bay Times pressed Stewart's office for an official, legal definition of participating, but they simply referred the reporter to the actual letter of the law, which is not very helpful:

"Participation in the assessment program is mandatory for all school districts and all students attending public schools, including adult students seeking a standard high school diploma under s. 1003.4282 and students in Department of Juvenile Justice education programs, except as otherwise provided by law. If a student does not participate in the assessment program, the school district must notify the student's parent and provide the parent with information regarding the implications of such nonparticipation."

So the penalty for not participating is a note home to your parents. And nobody seems to knpow what the big bad punishment might be beyond that. But still no whiff of a definition of what "participate" actually means.

Whatever it means, lots of Florida parents don't do it. Last year over 100 Florida schools didn't get their official fake grade from the state because they fell below the 95% participation rate. Probably lots of principals and teachers and students and families crying themselves to sleep over that one.

You can't brow beat people into compliance by using a stupid rule, which is what Florida has tried to do.  They now have to deal with a rule so unclear that nobody can tell when you've actually broken it or what happens to you if you do break it. I'm willing to bet that the rest of the nation's testocrats will not be looking to Florida for pointers on how to beat back opt outers.


  1. Nobody does crazy like Florida--Best & Brightest, for example. Now we can say nobody does stupid like Florida. Stop trying, other states. We always up our game. Although I have to say we have yet to try the 'stop funding schools period' gambit like Pennsylvania and Kansas, so maybe I'm talking out my backside.

  2. Florida sees to it that parents of challenged children witness the pain that their children are subjected to over and over. It's not just challenged students either, it's all students.

    When the medical experts testify that children must all walk by the age of twelve months or be deemed and labeled failures then I will support our education system.

    Adults and children do not learn in the same ways not do they learn and achieve at the same rate. We are individuals and should be "valued" as such.

    Our education system is in a crisis and sadly it will take a revolt to rectify because hundreds of thousands are employed by this system and those must support and provide for their family's.

    My family has learned that retention repeats and retention has relinquished my parental rights once my children became victims of the state public school system.

  3. Please know that at the teacher level, we have almost no say over what happens in our classrooms. We are constantly dictated to by people (many with no background in child development, classroom teaching or with children at all) who run the education machine in Florida. People are making big money but it is certainly NOT the classroom teacher. We are also bullied and threatened with termination if we don't "follow protocol" set up by these same people. Loudly advocating for challenged children or any child when it involves bucking the system is fraught with peril for educators so we tend to do it in "unofficial" ways that are often unrecognized and therefore totally unnoticed by most parents. I understand your frustration but I don't think you are aiming your anger at the appropriate target.