JASMYN

The Jacksonville Area Sexual Minority Youth Network has been around for the last 28 years or so. During its existence, it has focused on providing advocacy, support, and resources for LGBTQ+ youth who live in North Florida as they navigate their teen years into young adulthood while dealing with the developmental agenda of every teenager: Who Am I?

Kermit the Frog sang, “It’s not easy being green.” LGBTQ+ youth know exactly what the frog was getting at. It’s not easy being them. Besides working out who they are, they become the targets of bullying and harassment. JASMYN offers programs for teens by providing group and 1 on 1 support as well as social activities, help with housing and other needs (LGBTQ+ teens sometimes get kicked out of their house,) counseling services for LGBTQ+ youth struggling with mental health issues (surveys of youth repeatedly show that LGBTQ+ youth experience higher rates of mental health issues and suicidal thoughts,) and programs for families with LGBTQ+ youth.

It’s important to understand what this organization does day-to-day and year-after-year before weighing in with an opinion on the Duval County Public School’s (DCPS) decision to terminate its association with the organization after more than 20 years.

Before addressing the specifics of the controversy, let’s set the context. In its 2022 legislative session, Florida enacted a bill that is commonly known as “Don’t Say Gay.” The new law, deliberately vague, introduced a sense of unease into every Florida school district. A number of issues arose, including in no particular order:

  1. Needing parent permission to use the pronouns or preferred name that a student might request.
  2. Appropriate curriculum for health/sex education at all grade levels.
  3. Displays of support for LGBTQ+ youth like rainbow stickers on a classroom door or a teacher’s identity badge.
  4. Choice of bathroom or locker room by transgender youth, which is a particularly strange one because this issue is determined by federal law and court decisions.
  5. Grooming, the spurious accusations that teachers of grades K through 3 are actively encouraging children to change their gender identity.

In Duval County, the school system chose to respond (comply?) with the new law with two notable policy changes:

  1. Symbols of support for LGBTQ+ youth, like the rainbow stickers on the doors that the school district had handed out several years ago and hanging of rainbow flags, were removed. District officials were at pains to clarify that their new prohibitions did not apply to teacher dress. The District insisted that it owned the walls, but not employee clothes, and that made all the difference.
  2. The manual for school employees on handling LGBTQ+ issues was revised. After the edits, the manual went from 37 pages of advice addressing numerous scenarios specific to the LGBTQ+ community to 8 pages of student support with a few sections specifically addressing trans students.

The import was clear: if a student presented as LGBTQ+, a teacher should only point to the nearest closet and maybe open the door. (But this is Grumpy Old Teacher’s [GOT] interpretation.)

More context is needed. Let’s draw the lens back to consider the 2022 school board elections, the results, and what is now happening.

Florida’s school board elections are supposed to be nonpartisan. A candidate’s political party affiliation does not appear on the ballot. However, in a break with past practice, Florida’s governor, Ron DeSantis, chose to endorse school board candidates. A number of them won.

The more extreme of these picks, aligned with groups like Moms for Liberty, immediately got to work upon their swearing in and began firing their district’s superintendent.

It’s happening in several counties. So against a background of changing school board … er… persuasions, is it any surprise that Duval County, undergoing a change from an Elizabeth Anderson, defender of all youth, who had this to say on Twitter:

Wow.

@JASMYNJax has been a refuge for so many struggling LGBTQ youth. We need to be working together to move forward in the best interest of children and community, not severing relationships and sowing division.

To an April Carney, the delight of Ron DeSantis, Florida Governor, and Moms for Liberty (check the link,) Brevard and Sarasota Counties would seem to be a template.

Fire the superintendent.

Thank you for your patience. With all this in mind, we can finally talk about what took place recently in Duval County, Florida.

To recap, Duval County Public Schools decided (Diana Greene, the superintendent made the call) to terminate its 20+ relationship with JASMYN, an LGBTQ+ advocacy and support organization whose activities in the schools were only to provide help and support for such youth who are being bullied and/or targeted for threats and violence because they are LGBTQ+. In particular, JASMYN worked through GSA clubs (officially approved school organizations of students with faculty sponsors) to focus on the bullying issues. They did not and are not doing anything on campus in regard to sex education or issues arising from being sexually active.)

But they made a mistake. On a social media site, a post appeared with images and a message that was meant for young adults (out of school, in their 20s), about the consequences of being sexually active. A blogger seized upon the post and magnified it into a maybe-controversy. (JASMYN deleted the post and apologized for it after this tempest gained legs and took off in cyberspace.)

Duval County could have ignored this.

They didn’t. Duval’s superintendent decided to end the school system’s relationship with JASMYN. What does that mean? GSA clubs will not be able to use any resources from JASMYN. The superintendent promises that her district staff is identifying alternate resource groups to fill the need. Principals have been notified although the rest of us have yet to receive an explanation. We are finding out through our local media.

There’s so much more to this story that we don’t know yet. GOT cannot opine without more information. But he hopes that by laying out the timeline, facts, and context, you may gain a better understanding of what is taking place.

In one sense, we can interpret the superintendent’s action as an institutional response. Every institution and Duval Public Schools is an institution, instinct is toward self-preservation. Given Florida’s hostility toward LGBTQ+ youth, including the quack general’s dismissal of gender-affirming care, the termination could be merely an attempt to evade more state attention. After all, the state has targeted the district by saying it is not in compliance with the new state laws.

Or maybe the superintendent is nervous about her timeline to retirement and this is her attempt to fend off the oncoming storm.

What would really help now is for some intrepid journalist (damn, Emily Bloch is leaving for Philadelphia, Claire Goforth doesn’t have education in her DailyDot portfolio, Melissa Ross has a large gamut to cover in one hour five days a week) to file some FOI requests for all emails, texts, and other communication between the superintendent, current board members, and past board members, as well as other politicos like the governor, legislators, and to be thorough, maybe locals like the mayor to discover all the background conversation that’s taking place and led up to this decision.

But for now, JASMYN is no longer officially associated with Duval County Public Schools.

LOL, We Already Knew It

In Grumpy Old Teacher’s (GOT) district, we use Microsoft in all its iterations including Teams. Google Classroom is banned no matter how much an individual teacher may like it better. Teachers wind up belonging to many teams on Teams, first all their classes, then a school team, a tech team, extracurricular teams, testing teams, the list goes on. GOT’s district departments under the label of Academic Services also provides teams for each content area.

With so many places for people to post, ask questions, whatever … hilarity often ensues. In GOT’s district, that took place in the secondary math team recently.

Someone questioned why, since they already had to give children a progress monitoring test for the state (PM) and another progress monitoring test for the district (PMA), that they had to give a third progress monitoring test using a vendor program purchased and pushed on them by the district. The complaint was driven by an admission that the teacher was already behind on the curriculum, so why oh why, did they have to lose six instructional days for three tests that all do the same thing?!

Like Groucho Marx, GOT’s eyebrows did that upward twitch. LOL OMG, did someone really put themselves out there and become a target?

It’s not wise to post questions like this in official district channels. Save it for social media in private channels that the district cannot follow.

Nevertheless, a district specialist answered. Specialists are people with little power but they gave up on the classroom and found a niche from which they can continue to draw a teacher-level paycheck while the district high honchos often expect high levels of work hours from them. Think Elon Musk and his hardcore demand of the people he allowed to keep a Twitter job.

In essence, the teacher was told that the state did not report data (test results) by benchmark and the district did not allow teachers to review questions with students and analyze why students chose wrong answers; therefore, a third test was needed so teachers could look at the questions, go over them with students, and look at what wrong answer was most often chosen and why it was wrong.

Reread that paragraph carefully. Ha, ha, ha, did a district employee just admit what we always knew?! That state and district tests have little value for the classroom teacher. Their tests tell us nothing except that our schools no longer focus on what students need. It’s about the data. Students are nothing more than dogs running around a track for the bettors and the house who sets the odds so that it always wins.

Once the greyhound no longer can place reliably, the racing/betting industry has no more use for them and is ready to dump them into the street.

We always had a strong intuition that state and district tests were useless, but we never expected someone to admit it.

Affirmative Action Is Not Enough

Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) is ripping off the title of an opinion piece written by a Harvard student in their newspaper, The Harvard Crimson. You can read the piece here.

Angie Gabeau, a student who works as an editorial editor for her college newspaper, writes about the current case for which the United States Supreme Court heard oral arguments this week. The case is complicated, but it was brought on behalf of Asian-Americans who believe that Harvard University’s admissions policies discriminate against them. Others are defending and filing amicus curiae briefs to explain why policies that embrace maintaining the diversity of a student body are important.

But that was her starting point. What grabbed GOT’s attention was her contention that the problem of diversity in collegiate student bodies goes far beyond admission policies. “… we need equity movements in high schools, middle schools, elementary schools, and pre-schools. Some students are not granted the opportunity to seek higher education because they are deprived of adequate educational resources at a younger age.”

And, “There are students [at Harvard] that have to work twice as hard as students who went to elite and private middle schools and high schools because they had half the experience.”

Ms. Gabeau makes an important argument that we should pay attention to. For GOT, she has him rethinking how he sees his high school, his place of work.

A teacher in Jacksonville, FL, GOT works at a magnet school that offers what it proclaims as advanced studies. That two-word phrase is in the name. Students apply for admission and enter a lottery process for the available seats. The only qualification for admission is that students must have a passing grade in Algebra 1. That’s the course, not the state exam. Admission decisions have to be made before the state reports exam results to the school. Students who have not passed Florida’s End-of-Course exam for Algebra 1 have one year to do so. They have a conditional seat for the first year.

(And we work like crazy to get every student who needs a pass across that threshhold throughout their freshman year.)

Upon acceptance, students enter into one of two programs, the IB program, in which they prepare for their junior and senior years that will be spent earning an IB Diploma, which requires passing many exams, writing a research paper known as the Extended Essay, and performing other requirements of community service and acquiring a Theory of Knowledge.

Students not entering the IB program go into the AP program. They take numerous AP courses during their four years of high school every one of which culminates in an AP exam. These students will take eight to ten AP exams during these years.

Do colleges respect this effort at an early age? It’s hard to know. Every once in a while an article will appear in which the authors assert that colleges are dubious about students who have gone through an ‘AP Mill.’

GOT himself has a hard time believing that 14-year-old students are truly doing college level work during their freshman year, which does not begin to address middle schools (!) now implementing AP courses such as Human Geography into their courses of study.

But Ms. Gabeau offers a differing perspective. Schools such as GOT’s are hard. Students sacrifice waking hours in doing the copious amounts of work needed for an AP course. GOT is often concerned that students are sacrificing crucial social development as they need to hit the books rather than hang out with their friends and be teenagers.

The teen years are more than a mere acquisition of book knowledge. These are the times when they form the bonds of friendship that will connect them for the rest of their lives. We cherish our parents and the time we get to spend with them during the busyness of our lives, we love our children but recognize that eventually they must leave us to live lives of their own, but our main satisfaction comes from engaging with and being connected to other people of our generation.

Other high schools in Jacksonville have begun offering AP courses themselves. At his school, GOT and his colleagues are entering an existential crisis. Why do students need to make the sacrifice–the many hours of transportation being among them–when the same thing is available down the street?

That’s the new perspective, thanks to Ms. Gabeau. Taking an AP course or two is not enough. That’s not what GOT’s school does. We prepare students for the rigor of college, even the most rigorous colleges in the world. GOT would need several hundred posts in this blog to allow every student to tell us why they return in their freshman year to thank their teachers and administrators for being ready for college. They describe the struggle of their peers and why they do not share them because they went through our program.

Why choose Paxon? (Oops, GOT dropped the veil.) If there is one thing GOT is really proud about his school, it is the student body diversity. We run about 49% Black, 30-something% white, with Asians, Pacific Islanders, and Native Americans rounding us out to 100%.

We are what Ms. Gabeau argues for. We are doing the job. We are helping students of all backgrounds to hit the ground running when they arrive on campus for freshman orientation. We are filling that gap.

As American as Mom & Apple Pie?

Picture shared by Melissa Ross, WJCT News, local public radio, on Twitter.

Antisemitism on display. This is not new to Florida. There have been similar occurrences downstate, most notably in Orlando, even more notably because Florida’s governor, Ron DeSantis, refused to condemn the neo-Nazis involved and left it to his spokesperson, Christina Pushaw, whose interpretations and propaganda on behalf of DeSantis boggle the mind, to posit that they weren’t really Nazis, they were people pretending to be Nazis to embarrass the governor.

But this is in Jacksonville on the Chaffee Road overpass that carries traffic over I-10 as it begins its long journey from the St. Johns River to Los Angeles.

Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) lives eight miles west of the overpass in a small town that could be described as Old South and there’s no conditional verb needed to note it is Trump country. The 2024 flags break out every so often.

Thus, this is no surprise to GOT but it is a momentous event in our current lives and trajectory into our country’s future.

This is no 1960s Nazi parade through Skokie, Illinois, a Chicago suburb with a large number of Jewish residents that the ACLU would defend as free speech, offensive as all would perceive, but free speech nonetheless. Those were attention-seeking events that made noise in the media, but were otherwise ignored. The fringe was seen as fringe, sore losers in a great conflict that had been decided a few decades earlier.

But this is something different. This is American racism, as old as the country itself, believing it is time to appear publicly once more with its targets being Black people, Jewish people, Spanish-speaking people from other Western Hemisphere nations, and most recently, the LGBTQ community.

This is American racism directed against our Jewish friends and neighbors with old, tired tropes like the Communist symbol that disappeared with the Soviet Union, a political entity not known for its love of the Jewish people. This is what evil looks like when it appears among us. It goes by many names, you already know them, there is no reason for GOT to give hate groups free publicity.

There is no place for antisemitism in America and that includes Florida. But this is what we get when a political party becomes the home for a desperate minority who fears losing their power and their privilege. That party now bases its political fortunes on indulging the worst fantasies and prejudices of white supremacy.

This is the broader societal trend that manifests itself in new laws and regulations that shut down free speech and the integrity of academic inquiry in our schools with the bans on discussing race, American history that is anything but a white-washed version of actual history, and understandings of gender identity. Understand that these vague laws intend not only to sanitize classroom lessons so only the approved version is explored, but also to chill all expression, school clubs, even private conversations with trusted adults.

It is a waste of time to argue with these hateful people. To tell them that their words and actions are causing higher rates of mental illness, especially depression, in young people with higher incidences of self-harm and suicide will not persusade them. They don’t see this as a problem.

What they do see as a problem is an attempt by public schools to teach the truth. Thus, at the behest of Governor Ron DeSantis, the Florida legislature passed bills to stop schools from addressing racism or issues of gender identity. One is infamously known as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill.

The Governor’s idea is to stop the indoctrination of children by mandating his version of indoctrination.

But there are many more grumpy teachers than GOT, many of whom may be willing to buck the law and carry on as they always have. They will soon be out of a career.

Florida law mandates that the Holocaust is taught in our schools. This has been a huge political talking point for the party that has controlled Tallahassee and the Governor’s mansion for over 20 years, the same party referenced above that provides cover to white supremacy who feel entitled to display anti-semitic banners on an interstate overpass.

But that same party won’t condemn these displays. Ironic, isn’t it?

In the LOTR movie The Fellowship of the Ring, Frodo and Gandalf sit together and Frodo laments that he wishes the ring had never come to him and none of it had happened. Gandalf responds that all wish that who live in times of trouble, but that is not for them to decide. What we must decide is what to do with the time we have.

It is time. Time to stand up and call out evil for what it is. Time to eradicate racism in all its forms, including the hatred of Jewish people. This is wrong and we must speak up. We must take action against this.

It Happened One Fine, Fall Friday Afternoon

You never think it would happen to you. Then, it does. Fortunately for Grumpy Old Teacher’s (GOT) district, the procedures worked. The threat never got into the school building. Shortly thereafter, school police confronted him two blocks away and the threat was over.

The doors were locked. As the threat tried to gain entry, an alert employee triggered a school lockdown and called the authorities. The threat tried twice to get into the school before, frustrated, he left the campus. The safety protocols worked.

How many times does this take place across the United States? Note that the threat (not gentleman, GOT has no idea why the superintendent would use that word to refer to him, maybe it was emotion and trying to present a calm front for the media) was armed with a ‘large axe,’ not firearms.

Here is the message she sent to employees, which parallels the public statement released to parents and the community:

Dear Team Duval,

By now, you have probably heard media reports about the incident that occurred at [redacted], concluding in a church parking lot about two blocks beyond the school. I am writing to let all of Team Duval know how thankful I am for the [redacted] staff member who recognized a potentially dangerous situation at the school and took appropriate steps to keep our students and staff safe.

In case you missed the media reports, an unknown person wielding a large axe attempted to enter the school. Following our procedures, the individual was not permitted access, and the front office staff member called the code red. While it was obviously a tense situation, our staff followed their training, and our students and staff remained safe.

School Police quickly intervened when the suspect fled the campus. Unfortunately, the situation escalated in the church parking lot, and our police officer was forced to shoot the suspect.  While it is saddening that the event ended in this way, I am very thankful for the professionalism of our school staff and our School Police officer who each took the steps necessary for the safety of the school community.

In addition to my desire to share my gratitude for these staff members, I also want to remind everyone of the importance of our procedures and our training.  Every day, we rely on each other—and our students rely on us—to maintain safe and secure campuses.  Today at [redacted], it all worked, and we all get to realize how important it really is.

Thank you again to School Police and the [redacted] staff.  You are truly heroes.

(Redactions were made by GOT.)

Today, it went right. But how would things have turned out if the threat was armed with guns? Probably somewhat different. Hopefully, the threat will recover and investigators can find out why he went to the school Friday afternoon. After all, we live in a society wherein the weak and vulnerable are too often targeted to become victims.

Some of who may think you know where GOT is going. Oh, he’s going to call for gun control. Yes, sometimes we have to give up a bit of freedom in order to enhance our safety. GOT declines to say where he would draw the line, but can we all acknowledge that we can’t have either absolute and need to decide where the line should be?

We hear about the places where things go terribly, tragically wrong. Many more times it goes right. You never think it would happen to you until it does. May it go right in your time of trouble.

Chargers

Not these …

Rohirrim, to the Keep!

Or these …

Go Jags! 38 – 10 for a West Coast win.

And this is plain foolish to call a charger (cough, cough Google Search) …

No idea why, but isn’t that what most teachers say nowadays about the latest and greatest district curriculum purchase?

These.

Ah, c-charger. The latest standard, but then kids show up with a loaner laptop (theirs is in for repair) and they need the previous version with the yellow rectangle.

The great advantage to computer testing is that test security issues are gone. No more clandestine teacher/administrators huddled in a conference changing bubble sheet answers, no more vanished test books before or after the exam, no serial numbers to keep track of, only the students have access once the proctor has allowed them to enter the test during the actual session and once the students submit the test, the server locks the results and they cannot be altered.

The disadvantage is that the entire testing endeavor is now subject to the whims of the technology gods, who on any given day can be more capricious than the martial Norse or the randy Greek/Roman.

Savvy teachers who have been drafted as proctors, almost every teacher is, know to provide extension cords and power strips because children forget to charge their devices overnight. Indeed, with curriculums moving online as the only way to access the textbook, students are using their school-issued devices all day long and will need to plug in long before the school day ends.

But it is in the nature of a child to break things and to lose things. They now show up for a mandated test, state or district, with a depleted battery and no charger. They ask for one.

To the credit of Grumpy Old Teacher’s (GOT) district, they met this need by providing classroom teachers with a charging device that has a ten-foot panel that unfolds and can lie on the floor or across a back shelf. There are four devices that are placed on the panel each of which has two cords for connection. Strategic placement in the room will handle eight students.

But when there are more than eight without a power source, creative seating is needed so students can pass their cords back and forth to keep everyone’s computer alive long enough to finish a test.

The hidden flaw of the brave new world we inhabit is that everything rests on a power supply. GOT isn’t 100% certain this post is worthy of your notice, but then, who else can you read to get a report of how things really go down in the classroom. Often, this kind of post gets the highest readership.

As GOT ended this week with the finale of the Fall testing window, students needing a charger was the biggest challenge. The topic has been on his mind.

Go, Go, Gadget Arms!

How a cartoon comes to life when Florida goes to test.

The micro-credential craze seems to have passed, but when it comes to doing computer testing, Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) has certainly earned one. Computer testing brings its own challenges, especially when it comes to the state-contracted platform (Cambium Assessment), as teachers and school test coordinators scramble to make it work.

We need gadget arms like the cartoon character to take a student’s balky device, troubleshoot its issues, and get the student onto the platform and taking their test without further glitches. Arms that stretch out to reach into all corners of the … let’s call it the testin-verse … because Murphy’s law is insufficient to describe a state testing day in your local public school.

Let’s set the stage. GOT’s district has gone one-to-one with devices. Every student is issued their own laptop … except when they are not. This year, because who would have thunk it? GOT’s school doesn’t have enough laptops for the incoming students because the outgoing students (graduation, transfer, moving out of district, and WKWTFTHG?) didn’t turn theirs in.

Teachers send students to the testing coordinator, who happens to be GOT, to get a laptop. Um, no, GOT doesn’t have a couple dozen sitting in a back closet charging up ready to go. He has none, zero, nada.

The school cannot cover it. We are waiting for a district shipment that will arrive the last week of the month, the same time when the state testing window will close. GOT does not envy his principal’s job when the district calls to complain about the number of students who did not take the new state reading test, now given three times a year instead of once in the spring, for lack of devices. District poohbahs seldom like to hear that it was their fault.

Let’s recover from this tangent and talk about what takes place in a testing room with students who do have computers.

The educational version of Microsoft Windows (GOT’s district got into bed with Bill Gates long ago and seems stuck to the sheets … OMG, GOT is blushing, did he really say that? It is true) comes with an embedded app called Take-A-Test.

You won’t find it on the list of installed apps if you go to the settings. It is part and parcel of Windows. It is the only way students can access the state testing platform, which is run by Cambium Assessments, a company spun off by American Research Institute when they became tired of testing.

Take-A-Test shuts down everything on the laptop except the connection to the testing platform. This is essential to prevent students from opening other apps or browsers for cheating.

Students activate the app from the sign-in screen. Go, go Gadget Arms! the first problem is that students sign into their computer. On their desktop, despite IT’s promises for two years that they will remove it, the students see an icon for the test. It doesn’t work. In the past, they would get to another sign-in screen before getting LibCheck error, which means the app cannot access the school district’s student database software to authenticate their identity. This year, they get an incompatible message that the testing browser and the operating system won’t play nicely in the sandbox.

Go, Go Gadget Arms! The next problem is that students start the app correctly, but it doesn’t work. A teacher cannot solve this problem. If the app won’t load, it has to be reinstalled and that means the school tech has to reimage the drive. No test for you, frustrated student! GOT is alluding to a famous Seinfeld episode, but let’s not mix too many metaphors.

A myriad of other problems will crop up and this is where hero teachers a/k/a test administrators earn that micro-credential that they will never receive.

The student’s computer may be unable to communicate with the internet. When the teacher checks the connection, the computer says it is on the wireless hub. But the student is blocked from the test. Funnily enough, GOT has found that DISconnecting the computer, then REconnecting the computer to the school wireless hub will solve the problem.

The computer was lying? Who would have thunk it? Except for a harried teacher or test coordinator trying everything they can think of.

Sometimes the problem is that the student has switched their laptop into airplane mode, which means they turned off the internet connection temporarily. GOT always wants to think the best of students and always assumes it was not intentional. It’s just one more thing to check.

But sometimes, the computer won’t connect. When the student fires up the app, an error message comes back that the computer cannot reach the testing URL/website.

This is not a fatal error, but this is where the real skill (and that GD micro-credential that will never be awarded) comes into play. It takes a bit of trial-and-error to fix.

The first thing we try is a reboot. Shut the computer off and turn it back on. It’s surprising how often this solution works with silicon-based intelligence. Trust GOT, never try it with a carbon-based intelligence life form. We don’t come with off switches.

Sometimes, this works. Clearing the memory of the laptop allows it a new start and the problems go away. In other cases, it doesn’t.

You see, one of the problems with computer testing is the number of students who are computer testing. This places a large, out-of-the-ordinary demand upon bandwidth and connections that the infrastructure cannot keep up with.

In past years, schools did infrastructure tests months before the end-of-the-year tests to make sure things would work right. But in Florida, we have new tests to give and no one thought to check for bandwidth and testing capacity. Most of the problems schools are reporting are simply that too many students are trying to test at the same time–at the school, in the district, throughout the state–and no one thought about making sure the physical resources to support this effort would be in place.

What’s worse, the system seems to choose one or two students to pick on. While the rest of the room happily (um, no but that’s a topic for another day) tests without a problem, some students are repeatedly kicked out of the test and then told their computer won’t connect. But it was connected only moments ago.

Go, Go, Gadget Arms! When all else fails, in GOT’s district, the internet signal is still active in the wall ports that were installed back in the Clinton days of putting three desktop computers into every classroom. Like most teachers, he never throws anything away and can pull out an old ethernet cord and connect the student through the wall.

Problem solved.

Time to close. This month, a new problem has popped up. Students logged onto the test platform are suddenly kicked out. We do everything to get them back in, but the system refuses. When GOT checks the teacher interface, he finds that the system is telling the teacher the student is still active in the test. But at the student’s desk, clearly they are not active in the test.

Things are out of sync. But there is a solution. GOT uses the teacher interface to pause the student and take them out of the test. Then, he has the student reboot the computer. That puts everything back into sync. The student logs in, GOT allows them into the test, and there are no further problems.

Postscript: remember this post well. GOT is retiring after this year and this valuable knowledge, dear employer, is leaving with him. If you need him after May 2023, it will cost you. Let’s discuss terms.

Slow Start to F.A.S.T.

In a previous post, Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) described Florida’s pell-mell rush into a new test: Fast Forward to F.A.S.T. Now, after two days of actually trying to run the new test in 9th and 10th grade ELA classes, GOT can report on how it went.

First off, kudos to the teachers who had to work through the confusion. Do not doubt that the shift to three-times-a-year ‘progress monitoring testing’ rather than the once a year summative testing was an adjustment in application and mindset. We simply weren’t in a state testing frame of mind.

Even GOT found himself on the first morning scrambling to print out the ‘Do Not Disturb’ and ‘No Electronics’ signs because he had forgotten they are needed for the teachers to post. Funny story from last year: the state updated the ‘No Electronics’ sign to show not only cell phones, but also smartwatches and air pods. A student asked one of his teachers why they couldn’t have hair dryers during the test.

An honest mistake.

Questions included the testing platform for the test, make-ups in the hall, and preparation of the rooms. GOT takes his hat off in admiration of these teachers who wanted to make sure all the students would be tested and wanting to make sure they were doing the right thing.

We didn’t know how the testing would run. GOT’s administration opted to have the students take the test throughout the day in their ELA classes with their ELA teachers. Timewise, that meant we had to hold over students who weren’t done by the bell.

It takes time to get a test running, especially when it’s new and the first time out of the gate. Some teachers get students working quickly and some take more time to organize things. But no one (except maybe state ed officials lost in their pipe dreams) can get a 90-minute test completed in a 90-minute period of time. Getting bodies in seats, computers booted up, and handing out materials while reading the script takes time.

So how did the timing go? The average time spent on the test was 63 minutes, not bad given the state’s estimate of time to schedule for the test of 60 minutes that they hedged by saying allow up to 90 minutes if needed. However, the median gives a better idea. It was 60 minutes. Before you celebrate, remember that means that half of the students taking the test needed more than the recommended time to complete the test.

LOL, for the first time ever, GOT found a use for the Box-and-Whiskers plot we force middle school and Algebra 1 students to learn so they can answer questions on the state test, the first and last time they will ever need to know what a B & W plot is.

Maybe there’s a better way to graphically display data.

The point is that 25% of test-takers needed more than 1 hour 6 minutes for test. Moreover, 7 1/2 % of students needed more than 1 hour 15 minutes (not seen in the plot) to finish. Given the time it takes to get the test underway, that means those students couldn’t finish before the bell.

In the end, only a few students didn’t finish. Their tests went into a status of ‘expired,’ which means that they did not get a score the next day. GOT’s district testing office has said that eventually, the state should report something based on what they did accomplish, but that remains to be seen.

What else can GOT share with you? The state will allow students to finish the test no matter how much time it takes, but they will not allow them to finish the next day if they run out of time and need to catch their bus.

The first Progress Monitoring test is more of a baseline than anything else. It covers all the benchmarks at a level expected at the end of the year. Nevertheless, the state is reporting a lot of students testing at grade level or higher because these results have been tied to previous FSA performance. Always remember that in a year when the test changes, the results are curved. Where a student is at in learning is not measured. All we know is how they compare to their peers given the previous version of the test.

Finally, teachers reported that the testing was hard on them and their students. They felt the strain of trying to measure up to the inaugural version and the expectations under which they work all year long. They observed the facial expressions and body language of the students and understood that the first F.A.S.T. event was taking a toll on them, too.

It was hard and exhausting. Maybe it will be easier in the winter when the next test event takes place because teachers and students will have a better idea of what to expect.

That remains to be seen.

Fast Forward To F.A.S.T.

You know it’s time to retire when you cannot keep up with the acronyms. Florida Assessment of Student Thinking (actually a decent name that gives away the longstanding pretense that the reading test is testing reading) is an easy one for Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) to puzzle out, but he admits B.E.S.T. keeps him googling for the B: Benchmarks for Excellence in Student Thinking.

And that tips us off that while Ringling Brothers retired the elephants and the pungent smell of elephant dung departed from the Big Top, well, that Florida smell of standardized testing remains no matter what we call it.

And yes, GOT has an attitude and is proud of it.

Is Florida’s demand for student performance on their state tests any less torturous?

The first problem with F.A.S.T. is that Florida is moving too fast; it is implementing a new test before they are ready. For those not in the know (IYDK, YDK), the new assessment is given three times a year. Rather than a summative, once-a-year event, test that tries to determine what students have accomplished, F.A.S.T. is meant to be progress monitoring, an ongoing effort to see how students have improved since the last test.

As a result, F.A.S.T. is given three times a year: once in September, currently described as a baseline test to establish where a student is starting from; once around Christmas, a mid-year check; and lastly in May, to determine at what level a student is finishing the school year.

We’re not ready. As School Testing Coordinator, GOT has spent the last week trying to organize the first administration of FAST in his high school. Fortunately for him, it’s only reading although middle and elementary schools also have to do math. Plus, and it’s beyond the scope of this post, elementary schools are also dealing with K – 2 testing that takes place on a different platform (Renaissance vs. Cambium) that operates under different rules and guidelines.

But Florida loves a test, amiright? AMIRIGHT?

Too bad no one ever asks people at the school level how a new school year rolls out. Many problems exist in getting things underway. First, not every student has a laptop. Like other districts, GOT’s district went one-to-one during the pandemic because the feds were funding unlimited technology purposes. But that meant that schools no longer have computers available for the students who are new to the school and need one issued, leave their computer home intentionally or unintentionally (hopefully, no one is naive enough to believe that students won’t leave their laptops home to avoid the testing that they hate), have broken their laptop and are waiting for repairs, or left it in the closet for three months and, when they turn it on for the first time in a testing room, the district network no longer syncs with it.

The second problem is that the whole F.A.S.T. testing system depends upon districts uploading accurate student information into the testing platform. Known as T.I.D.E. (has GOT mentioned how hard it is to remember all the acronyms? Google to the rescue, it’s the Test Information Distribution Engine), every test administration requires that the students who take the test are uploaded into the platform.

Once the upload takes place, the school’s test coordinator has to go through it to make sure the information is accurate, there are no extras and there are no missing students. Students that are not there have to be added one by one, which takes a considerable amount of time as the coordinator has to look up their birthday, Florida test identification number (not to be confused with their school id number), demographics, and 504/IEP information.

After that, administration records for each testing room/session have to be created. These records are a holdover from the days when are state testing was paper and pencil based, but Florida has never seen a need to update them for computer testing. You can tell a new coordinator when they ask what to put down for the security number for a computer test that has no security number! Leave it blank, they are told, but the document is required even as it no longer serves much of a purpose.

Don’t believe GOT? Each teacher serving as a test administrator has to sign this document that they received each child’s secure testing materials when, in fact, there are no secure materials for them to pick up.

The third problem is that savvy test coordinators know to create testing rosters because that makes it much easier to create administrative records and the test tickets students need to log into the test.

But the rosters are now being used to create reports that teachers must send home. If a test coordinator creates a test roster and assigns it to a teacher who does not actually teach a student they will test, why horrors! That teacher will be able to see the test result.

So, rostering for testing groups is forbidden. GOT is still figuring out an efficient workaround for that.

The fourth problem is the timing. For secondary schools, the test time is 60 minutes but students may have up to 90 minutes to complete a reading assessment. Then, accommodations have to be determined. Do we use 60 minutes or 90 minutes as the base for determining how much more time to allow students with IEPs or 504 plans?

The state cleared that up with a message to districts to allow the maximum, that is, calculate based upon the 90 minutes. Then they added this kicker that districts passed on to schools: allow the kids to finish so they get a score. The times are only suggestions for scheduling purposes and by all means, try to get the children to finish in one day.

That leaves GOT guessing how much actual time students might need and how to schedule the test. His administration wants the test to be given by the classroom teacher during the normal class period, but how does he anticipate who will run over especially the 9th grade students new to the building with whom we have no experience?

As GOT’s parents would say: give it the old college try. Fingers crossed it won’t be a disaster. But do you get the feeling that GOT has that the Florida Department of Education has no idea of what they want and that we’re rushing into something that no one understands and no one can anticipate how it will turn out?

GOT’s Uncle Mac had a saying, “Let’s do something even if it’s wrong.” That seems to be Florida’s approach to testing this year.

The B-Attitudes

Several years ago, Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) was working at a middle school. Back then, every year schools chose a theme for the year that everyone used to guide classroom and bulletin board decoration as well as student motivation. GOT’s school had long been a C-graded school. Every principal desired to break out of the mold and move up, but it was an elusive goal. One year, a newly-appointed principal came up with the ‘B Attitude’ to focus everyone’s attention on making the extra effort and taking the next steps to attain a B grade for the year. That led GOT to pen these as a humorous take on the year’s theme using the Beatitudes from the Gospel of Matthew.

Blessed are the poor in spirit,

                For a funny classmate will disrupt the class.

Blessed are those who mourn,

                For someone cute will enroll at the school.

Blessed are the meek,

                For they will not get a referral for fighting.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst,

                For they shall receive Breakfast-in-the-Classroom*.

Blessed are the merciful,

                For they will share paper and pens with their unprepared classmates.

Blessed are the pure in heart,

                For they will never post snarky words about their peers on Facebook**.

Blessed are the peacemakers,

                For the administrators will never reveal that they snitched about a planned food fight.

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness,

                For all As on a report card is the greatest feeling in the world.

Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you,

                Rejoice and be glad, because Anonymous has your back in the Twitterverse***.

These are the original words from 2014. Some updating is in order and offered below.

*Breakfast-in-the-Classroom was an initiative for Title 1 schools in which, rather than having students go to the cafeteria before school, the cafeteria delivered a meal that children ate in their classrooms at the beginning of the day. All students received breakfast regardless of their social-economic status.

**Teenagers move on quickly from a once-hot social media platform. Currently (2022), they prefer Instagram and Tik-Tok. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will never post embarrassing photos on Instagram or videos on Tik-Tok.

***… because your school is investigating your bullying complaint. Or, … for Equality Florida, joined by Attorneys General of 16 states, have sued to overturn Florida’s Don’t Say Gay law, a/k/a Parental Rights in Education law.

Happy New School Year!