Florida, land of more stupid education rules than you can shake a dead alligator at, embarked on a new level of stupid last year when it fought to keep some third graders from moving on to fourth grade.
As you may recall, Florida is one of the states with a third grader retention law, declaring that third graders cannot move on unless they pass the Big Standardized Test for reading. This is a dumb law, without a lick of evidence to support it, and several licks to suggest that it's actually counter-productive. However, the legislature, in one of its rare lucid moments, opened the door to local districts substituting a portfolio display of reading skills in place of a BS Test score, and sixty-ish Florida county districts walked through that door into a land of sense and clarity.
A few other districts, however, decided to be dopes about the whole thing.
Mind you, I generally try to be semi-respectful here and remember that the people I disagree with are still human beings with families and lives. But what the hell is there to say about a grown adult who declares that an eight year old child must be held back a year, even if that child got straight A's and demonstrated exemplary reading ability? That grown adult, even if she is a professional superintendent of schools, should be ashamed. She should be ashamed of visiting such abuse on any of her young charges, and she should be ashamed that she has so blatantly announced that she is not really concern3ed about that child's reading skills at all, but is only interested in forcing that child to comply and take the Holy BS Test. (Or at least "participate," which in Florida means breaking the seal and signing their names, which at least some of the plaintiffs did.)
But it just got worse. Initially, the state ed department threw the local districts under the bus, saying, "Well, it's their choice." But by summer's end, the education department lawyers were arguing in court that the grades given by teachers on student report cards didn't really mean anything.
And so about a dozen opt-out students were dragged into the Florida public square to be made an example of. Because nothing makes school superintendents and state lawyers and departments of education feel more validated than putting a beat-down on some third graders.
But just in time for September to roll in, Florida Judge Karen Gievers not only ruled in favor of the opt out kids, but used some pointed-yet-judgely language to point out that the state was acting like a giant asshat.
That should have been the end of things. Properly slapped, education officials should have come to their senses and exclaimed, "Holy smokes! We got so caught up in this we were more concerned in making sure that opt out families obeyed us than finding ways to see if students are really learning." Instead, some local districts decided to keep being jerks to the children, and the case went back into the next level of court on appeal. "Dare to sue us for the right to advance a grade just because you have straight A's," they said. "We will not rest till we can put some hurt on your tiny ten year old frame." I don't want to know what the children are going to learn about being a responsible adult from this whole sorry mess.
And now, the appeal court judges have ruled on the side of stupid.
The purpose of the state test is to “assess whether the student has a reading deficiency and needs additional reading instruction before [and after] being promoted to fourth grade,” they wrote.
“The test can only achieve that laudable purpose if the student meaningfully takes part in the test by attempting to answer all of its questions to the best of the student’s ability. Anything less is a disservice to the student — and the public.”
How? How how how how?And what is "less" about demonstrating the skills in question through the yearlong activities and work as evaluated by the trained professional educator. And do any of these judges have experience or training that would allow them to know whether or not the BS Test can achieve its alleged purpose?
The ruling, which threw out all of the August court decisions, raises so many questions. Since this buttresses the state argument that report cards don't matter, does this mean a child who flunks every class but gets satisfactory scores on the BS Test is legally entitled to advance to the next grade? Does this mean that Florida schools should abandon report cards entirely? Will Florida state troopers be sent into the sixty-ish other counties and force them to ignore portfolios and hold test scofflaws back in third grade? Will families with young children avoid these counties like the plague? Has Florida just found one more clever way to undermine public schools and drive families toward charters?
These districts, the state, and the court had a chance and a choice. They could show that they were most concerned about the child's ability to read, show that they cared, as they claimed, about the need to show reading skills as a foundation for future success-- or they could show that what they most cared about was forcing obedience to the state, forcing opt out families to do as they were told by the government whether it made sense or not. The districts, the state, and the court chose the latter-- a choice all the more obnoxious because there is not a shred of evidence that the test measures reading skills or that third grade retention helps the child succeed in school or life.
Florida, in short, had a chance to show whether it was on the side of education or on the side of stupid. It picked stupid. Shame on the court. Shame on the districts. Shame on the state.