Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) continues his thoughts on Florida’s Governor, Ron DeSantis, and his testing initiative. Part One may be found here.
This is the second of a series about the news from Florida that the governor will propose legislation to the 2022 legislature to do away with the annual Florida Standards Assessments and replace them with progress monitoring assessments that are given three times a year: Fall, Winter, and Spring.
In the first part, GOT looked at the sorry record that Florida’s state government has in obtaining and operating internet platforms that actually work halfway decent.
In this second part, GOT will take up the claim that the new F.A.S.T. (Florida Assessment of Student Thinking) will actually deliver a test that is “customizable, unique to each student.”
Mozart was not only a genius, but a child prodigy. He wrote his first piece of music when he was only FIVE years old. Whatever his personal problems, he had a celebrated career that ended upon his death at 35 years of age.
The hype of computer-based education is that it can customize its offerings to every child, assessing their unique needs and delivering exactly what they need to maintain their educational progress.
But no one need delve into the messy details of how that happens to understand the philosophical conflict between the promise of a customized, unique education and tests that demand the achievement of standards. Standards by their very definition mean something that everyone has to demonstrate to receive a seal of approval.
Given Mozart’s talent, it would have been the waste of a millenium and a life to slam the piano cover down upon the keys and his fingers and insist that he study algebra. If we are truly customizing education to the individual’s talents, interests, and passions, we would excuse a Mozart from an Algebra End of Course exam.
Please stop laughing. Okay, GOT’s belly is shaking, too. Like we are ever going to do that in American education.
So what does the Governor and Florida Department of Education mean when they say the test is ‘customizable, unique to each student”?
They’re thinking along the lines of iReady, which has a defined learning path for students in its computer-delivered instruction, and the only customizable feature is what place in the path the software’s diagnostic assessment will put them.
These assessments work via algorithms that start students with test items that match their grade level. Based upon right or wrong answers, the algorithms move students up the grade-level standards (as determined by a human, what GOT humorously calls carbon-based intelligence vs. cyber devices or silicon-based intelligence) or down.
Believe it or not, GOT has seen sixth-grade students moved to second-grade standards only because they could not determine the time from an analog clock.
Now here’s the dirty secret about iReady; as originally designed by Curriculum Associates and presented to teachers, it was meant to be a tool for the classroom.
GOT doesn’t know if this is true anymore because he moved from a middle school to a high school seven years ago, but he does remember when iReady first came to his district and was implemented. GOT was the school’s math coach at the time, something he now recognizes was a waste of time and talent, but that’s fodder for another post.
After the iReady people presented their professional development at a meeting of the district’s math coaches and lead teachers, the particular rep for his school visited GOT in his office.
In the ensuing conversation, the iReady rep had this to say: iReady in the classroom is meant to support the teacher. A student can do an iReady lesson two times. If they are not successful, the program shuts down their access to that lesson and notifies the teacher that intervention is needed.
After the teacher works with the student, they have the ability to turn the lesson back on. Also, the teacher can review the student’s placement on the learning path and, if they determine that it is not appropriate, they can change it. They can move the student.
I was about to explain that to the room when your district shut me down. They did not want teachers to know that they could use their professional judgment and change what the computer algorithms had done.
This is why GOT has always supported programs like iReady IF AND ONLY IF they are given to teachers as tools to use, not dictates to follow.
Alas, it is not meant to be. When a Ron DeSantis or a Richard Corcoran brag about a customizable test, unique to each student, from which they will extract standardized data, know that they belong in the ‘shut teachers down’ crowd.
The words sound good, but they are phoney. The progress monitoring tests they have in mind will only result in students being plopped all over the standardized, everyone must do the same but not at the same time, map.
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