Saturday, May 28, 2016

FL: District Officials Lose Their Damned Minds

School district officials in Sarasota and Manatee counties have completely lost any sense of what they're supposed to be doing.

There are areas of policy and practice in the education debates where reasonable people can reach different conclusions about what might be best. This is not one of those times. Some Florida school districts have simply and completely lost the thread.

The issue is simple. In Florida, some third graders opted out of the Florida Standards Assessment (Florida's version of the Big Standardized Test). They also opted out of the alternative BS Test, the SAT-10 (a version of the Stanford Achievement Test, and not one more piece of money grubbery from the College Board).

But Florida insists that its students take the BS Test, regardless. And Florida also has one of those sense-defying laws that says third graders who can't pass the reading test must be retained. It's a dumb policy for many reasons, not the least of which is that there isn't a lick of evidence that holding third graders back helps. And cooler heads seem to have prevailed last year when the Florida legislature, in a brief moment of lucidity, decided to suspend the rule and just let the actual local school where education professionals worked with the actual children-- just let those guys make the call.

But not this year. This year a third grader can have great grades, the recommendation of her teacher and principal, and the admiration of her peers-- but if she didn't take the BS Test, she will fail third grade. 

Let me say that again. An eight year old child who had a great year in class, demonstrated the full range of skills, and has a super report card-- that child will be required to repeat third grade because she didn't take the BS Test.

This is what happens when the central values of your education system are A) compliance and B) standardized testing. This is what happens when you completely lose track of the purpose of school.

What possible purpose can be served by this? Are administrators worried that the child might not be able to read? No-- because that is easily investigated by looking at all the child's work from the year.

What possible benefit could there be to the child? Mind you, it's impossible to come up with a benefit in retention for the child who has actually failed the test-- but what possible benefit can there be in flunking a child who can read, her teacher knows she can read, her parents know she can read, she knows she can read-- seriously, what possible benefit can there be for her in retention. How do you even begin to convince yourself that you are thinking of the child's well-being at all when you decide to do this?

This is punishment, not so pure, but painfully simple. Punishment for non-compliance, for failing to knuckle under to the state's testing regime. And in taking this step, the districts show where their priorities lie-- the education of the children is less important than beating compliance into them and their parents, less important than taking the damned BS Test.

Officials in these counties scratch their heads? What can we do? The law is the law. Well, in the immortal words of Mr. Bumble, "the law is an ass." And furthermore, just look across county lines at some other Florida counties that are NOT doing this to their third graders. Go ahead. Peek at their answer. Copy it.

Hell, Superintendent Lori White of the Sarasota schools is retiring in February of 2017-- is this really how she wants to finish up her time there?

[ Update: Meanwhile, in Manatee County, Superintendent Diana Greene has dug in her heels and declared that the state's directive is clear, and maybe those other counties are the ones that need to shape up and stop passing kids willy nilly. Manatee students may use an alternative assessment like a portfolio-- IF they take the BS Test.

Greene may well have read the state correctly. In the same report from the Bradenton Herald, Deputy Superintendent of Instruction Cynthia Saunders is quoted as saying, “We cannot promote a child based solely on the teacher’s report card in third grade."

In other words, the state does not require proof that the child can read. The state requires proof that the child took the Big Standardized Test.]

There are times when the tension between test-driven schooling and education centered on the best needs of the children can be fuzzy, blurry, hard for some folks to see the dividing line. This is not one of those times. When you are planning to hold a child back a grade for absolutely no reason except that she didn't take your mandated BS Test, and when you have ample evidence and data about how well she learned and grew this year-- when you have reached that point, you have absolutely lost track of what you're supposed to be doing. You have lost your damned mind.

There is no excuse for holding back a student with good grades. No excuse at all, certainly not that the child wouldn't take your precious test, your crappy test that wouldn't tell you a thing that you can't already better find out from sources you already have. This is deeply and terribly wrong, and I hope the administrations and school boards of the offending counties find themselves buried in a mountain of angry letters, emails and phone calls, as well as a shit storm of deservedly negative publicity. Then I hope they go sit in the corner and think about what they've done and consider whether or not they have a future in education.

  Seriously-- this is what we're talking about. I'm including this visual because it's hard to believe. 

The state has issued a statement, sort of, on the matter. Update is here--


  1. We have many districts either doing this or threatening..We need to tell them exactly how wrong this is. Please are the Supt that are doing this, deciding or plan to:

    I'm sure I've missed some. If you know of any, add their email in the comments.

    Please let them know exactly how wrong this is. You could even include this link to the oath FL educators are supposed to live up to..apparently forgotten by these districts.

    Thank you for this great post. If it isn't okay that I include email addresses, feel free to delete!

    1. I emailed my superintendent, Dr. Nikolai Vitti, Duval County Public Schools, yesterday about this. Here is his reply: " We are not holding back students simply because they did not take the test."

  2. Ok. In the comments section of the report card pic, it says student is in danger of retention.... Why is that there, based on the grades for that grading period?

    1. Although placement leads one to believe it was noted in the first trimester, it was not. All commemts are new for each report card. The "student is at risk of possible retention" and retained appeared only on the final report card.

    2. I know this family personally. The child's mother has all papers that have been sent home. The child's first term progress report makes no mention of any "danger of retention". The statute states that the patent must be notified of a reading deficiency. They were nice enough to "add" that to the child's report card at the end of the year as a cya. Total BS.

  3. I can assure you the shit storm is coming.

    I've already been on news Channel 10, Sarasota Herald Tribune and will be on Channel 7 next week. A protest is planned and I have a lawyer waiting on me to pull the trigger.

    It's coming if I receive his report card and it says retained.

    -Wendy Chastain

  4. This is a PERFECT example of the ludicrous, inept, harmful, damaging policies the state of Florida has enacted under Bush's watch and continue to enforce. Third-grade mandatory retention (tied to the test score), tying teacher evaluations to the test score (VAM), and school grading (also tied to the test score). The high-stakes attached to that ONE TEST on ONE DAY are absolutely ludicrous, senseless and benefit NO ONE except of course those that put it in place and those that are benefiting financially for "failed" kids, teacher evaluations and the school grading. You are absolutely correct Peter - it is a BS test fraught with technical glitches, errors and is developmentally inappropriate. The state of FloriDUH needs to stop taking direction from Bush and his fraud foundation - FEE and unfortunately - those disgusting policies that do NOT benefit our children are being rolled out in other states - thanks to Bush and his network of backers (Gates, ALEC, CCSSO, NGA, AIR, etc.). They are failing our children - literally - and it's time to put an end to this profit driven racket before anymore damage is done. Our kids have suffered enough. The FL legislators, senators, BOE, DOE, governor, superintendents, and districts should be ashamed of themselves. It is absolutely sickening what they are doing to our kids. Parents need to take control now......those that have been appointed to their jobs (Commissioner of Ed and some Superintendents) are compliant puppets as evidenced by the retention of straight A 3rd grade students. They need to step aside before anymore damage is done. These people are NOT educators and they sure as hell do not deserve to be in the positions they are in for letting this happen. Absolutely mind-blowing and sickening they "think" they can do this.

  5. Pay attention to WSRQ as well. There are about 3 links so far in the last 6 weeks or so under SRQ Review. I will be back to do more radio shows with The Opt Out Florida Networks position on third grade retention.

    We're not backing down

    Tracy Roelle
    Opt Out Sarasota

  6. In California, a child can only be retained witb parent consent, even with failing grades and no bs test scores. I am considering mysely lucky.

  7. It is absolutely sickening what they are doing to the children in the state of FloriDUH. It is time for this state to stop taking direction from Bush and his fraud foundation - FEE and end the harmful, disgusting policies that continue to harm our children. Mandatory 3rd grade retention (tied to the test score), teacher evaluations (VAM) (tied to the test score) and school grading (also tied to the test score) - these policies do not and have not benefited our kids or teachers but they do continue to make those who put them in place very wealthy as they are lucrative to those who put them in place. This is what happens when you have non-educated people crafting, writing and voting on "policy" decisions and enforcing policies that make them wealthy regardless of the unintended consequences. We have lost all respect for the FL legislators, FL senators, governor, BOE, DOE and superintendents who continue to push these harmful policies ignoring common sense and common decency. It's absolutely shameful and morally wrong for them to retain a 3rd grader who has straight A's yet they are doing it. Time to get these elected officials out as it's clearly evident they are focused on one thing and one thing only - to continue implementing and pushing these policies that are harming our kids and teachers. Time to make the Commissioner of Ed an elected position so the governor cannot appoint his cronies to continue his dirty work. Even more disturbing is Bush has managed to convince other states who rolled out some of these policies. Time to put an end to this before any more damage is done. These people have absolutely no intention of doing the right thing for our kids - our kids are not even on their radar and are collateral damage. Common sense and common decency are gone. They should be ashamed of themselves for their self-serving actions. The only people benefiting from retaining a proficient third grader are those who stand to profit. Education is a TRILLION dollar industry and everyone wants a piece of the trillion dollar pie. Sickening our kids are suffering. They have lost their damned minds Peter!

    1. No! It is completely sickening what parents are ALLOWING them to do to their children. Communities need to come together and start home school co-ops, private home school. Learn to work around tbe system. Stand up STARVE THE BEAST os sit down and stop whining.

  8. I will happily contribute to any crowdsourcing to raise funds for legal fees associated with suing a district/county/state/whatever to fight the "enforcement" of this immoral law.

    1. Thank you! We may be doing a crowd source funding soon!!

  9. I think you need a test case. have a student who has everything going for him/her not take the test and see if they retain the child...then every parent should keep their child home one day in protest ...The state is run by Bush and his cohort millionaire friends like Gates and parents have the power to change things,,,but one needs to educate them,..tell them not to drink the Bush -Gates-ALEC- Duncan turned traitor propaganda. The way the millionaires control things with their money-one has to counter attack by informing parents though columns, through on line sites, through workshops that tell them what their rights are and by teachers backing up parents and their students...Strength is in numbers. Parents need to make a test case for these clowns who have been taking advantage of them with biased exaggerations half truth and lies in their propaganda. They need to be challenged by parents who should be calling the shots not ALEC or BUSH or GATES...

  10. So Peter, if my parents continue to opt me out, will I remain in 3rd grade until I'm 17 or 18? What a joke.

  11. Google Deliberately Dumbing Down with Charlotte Iserby and you can see what is behind the testing. The way math is taught is terrible. Many students can't do smnple math in their head.

  12. "What possible benefit could there be to the child? Mind you, it's impossible to come up with a benefit in retention for the child who has actually failed the test."

    Oh, I don't know. Maybe the benefit is to ensure that the child is literate. And with regard to evidence that this is beneficial for the student, kids are held back sometimes because they fail a given class. Where is the research that this is beneficial ?

    Lastly, I understand that Greene does not like standardized tests - or at least standardized tests which are used in part to evaluate teachers and schools. Interestingly, he has voiced support in the past for the NAEP which has been administered for decades - though not connected to teacher evaluation.

    But I also find the case of Massachusetts interesting. It is often touted by liberals as a strong example of public education. Compared to other states, it gets excellent educational results. And its union representation is very high. However, liberals strangely seem to forget that Massachusetts high school students (like FL 3rd graders) must pass a standardized test to graduate. In MA, it is called the MCAS. Even more interesting, the MCAS was redesigned last yr in coordiantion with the PARCC test.

    How is MA a paragon of union-led public education (e.g. anti-test) when its high school students must pass a standardized test that is now even more similar to PARCC ?

    1. Sorry. If you want to argue that retention helps make students literate, you'll need to back that up with some research, which is going to be mighty difficult. And no, I have not voiced support for NAEP, a test which really doesn't hold up as the kind of benchmark it is touted to be.

      Nor is there any reason to equate anti-test with unionism. If you want to have a conversation, bring some actual information to the table instead of just trying to assert the points you choose to believe, evidence or none.