It is said that there are three seasons in the year for those ensconced in our nation’s public schools: learning, test preparation, testing.
These roughly correlate to Autumn, the opening of school to the winter break; Winter, the return to school until spring break; Spring, when the ever-wearying, never-ceasing, onslaught of testing gets underway.
To corrupt Elizabeth Barrett Browning: How do we hate thee (testing), let us count the ways.
Annual state testing of reading and math for Grades 3 – 10. These tests everyone is familiar with and knows that they come in the Spring, much as The Iceman Cometh, an O’Neill play of despair and hope.
End of Course exams, known by different names, but doing the same thing, which is a summative evaluation of what a child has learned at the ‘end’ of a course. Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) has to put ‘end’ in quotes because the timing of these tests means that they often come before the actual end of the course.
English Language Learner exams, now underway, in which students identified as such must take tests to measure their progress in learning English.
Separate writing exams, which some states fold into their reading scores, that must take place early as they require human beings to score them, a process that is only less problematical when compared to having computers score the writing of human children.
SAT exams, which more and more colleges are now ignoring by either outright deleting them from admissions requirements or, more subtly, making optional. Yet the College Board is successful in repositioning the exams as something every high school student should take rather than something that college applicants should do.
Alternative tests for students who cannot take the regular test. This requires a trained administrator to test one-on-one and score the student response. In GOT’s particular state, known for its testing fetish, severely disabled students must be tested using an alternative test. If the kid sits and is unresponsive to the test, the administrator grabs the hand and moves it to the correct answer. If the kid does not resist, that gets a score above zero, not a full mark, but an indication of … something?
Specialized program tests like those for IB or AICE programs. Some of these have a verbal component, like foreign language courses, in which students record responses in the course language onto thumb drives or other devices. Those recordings are submitted to test authorities as part of the exam to be scored.
Infrastructure test events because many of the tests are taken online. Every year, instructional time is wasted as a student is put on every computer in a school in every district across the state at the same, exact time so the state can breathe easy that the testing system can handle the load.
Practice tests to familiarize students with the presentation of computer tests, the different types of questions they will encounter, and the helps available to them like reference sheets with formulas, calculators for math, and video tutorials about how to navigate the test.
AP testing. If a student chooses one pathway and can get early college credit through passing one or two tests in the subject area (as a senior), that’s okay as long as colleges accept it as an equivalent. But when students are taking ten to twelve AP exams, beginning in the 9th grade, no some AP courses are now taught in middle school (!), are the students really doing college level work. But the beat goes on …
Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) was able to score a full copy of the February 17, 2020 Frequently Asked Questions release by the Florida Department of Education regarding what they call with no sense of irony, “New Standardization Policies” regarding test administration.
What follows is the full release without commentary. GOT is sorry to have to resort to screen shots, but scans generate PDF files and he doesn’t have the big bucks to pay for a full copy of Adobe Acrobat to export to another format.
This is what the Department of Education, Florida-style, has sent to districts regarding the manner in which this year’s testing may take place.
The Florida Department of Education has issued new restrictions about what a test proctor may do before, during, and after administering the FSA suite of test assessments, including grade level math and reading tests as well as End-of-Course exams.
Clear as mud according to social media chatter of the last three days. Exactly what do they mean by this? Time for a long read through the testing manual.
Here’s a gem for students and parents. Pay attention to the penultimate statement; FLDOE wants to be clear that their dire threats about discussing the test does not extend to a parent’s conversation with their child:
Here’s a tidbit worthy of pondering. Why do we have an Algebra 1 first-time test and a separate Algebra 1 retake test? Given the draconian consequences for a student who cannot pass the Algebra 1 test (no diploma), is the retake test ‘dumbed down,’ (apologies to struggling students, GOT is not disrespecting you but the phrase gets across the idea) to keep too many students from failing to graduate because the political pressure would be too much for Florida’s politicians to bear?
From this point, we move into the scripts for each test. Since they tend to be the same except for necessary customization (for example, ear bud tests for reading; calculator for math), GOT is skipping ahead to his particular script for Geometry EOC. If you want to read the manual for yourself, you can find it at fsassessments.org or click the embedded link.
How to provide accommodations is covered in detail. Here’s an example for when a student may have the directions read aloud:
That’s enough for now. GOT will post further results from his investigation such as new training videos or FLDOE statements. He would like to conclude with a popular song (well, in his day) about sheriffs, but is afraid someone would miss the joke and take it as a threat.
David Lee Finkle, best known as the creator, writer, and artist of the comic strip “Mr. Fitz,” also pens a blog. With his permission, Grumpy Old Teacher is proud to present his latest post about the B.E.S.T. standards adopted February 12, 2020, by the Florida state board of education. He discusses what the changes will mean for English Language Arts.
The Standards Shift Again: Maybe Derek Zoolander Had It Right
In a feat of spontaneous irony (my irony is usually calculated and planned), this week I reposted blog posts from 2013 about my reactions to the Common Core Standards. I reposted them on Wednesday night – the very day those same standards were ousted here in Florida in favor of their new “B.E.S.T.” standards. So I was looking back at my reactions to the last set of standards as the new standards were bursting on the scene. (By the way, B.E.S.T. stands for Benchmarks for Excellent Student Thinking. Another acronym! Exactly what we needed.)
So I spent part of last night looking at the new standards for English in grade 9 – the grade I currently teach. I cannot speak to the math standards, which are apparently very much like Common Core, just reworded, but the ELA standards really struck me as a throw-back to the old Sunshine State Standards we had before Common Core (or Florida Standards, as they were officially called).
Just a case in point – the writing standards, which say that students should write in three modes: narrative, informative, and persuasive. I’m not complaining – I’m just not impressed, either. Sure, these three modes were also in the Common Core standards, and yes they represent a vast oversimplification of writing forms and how they flow into one another and take on new forms depending on the audience and occasion. That’s always been the case. But at least we don’t seem to have the David Coleman nobody-cares-about-your-story-narrative-is-bad and cite-textual-evidence-instead-of-having-ideas-of-your-own baggage that the old Florida Standards/Common Core Standards had.
I find the reading lists a bit heavy on the “classics” which are more public-domainy (cheaper) but also less diverse, and also a bit more Biblical in some cases, which I find suspect. The Bible can be read as literature, but I doubt that’s why it was included.
The new standards offer some things to be positive about. The dropping of “writing to text” as a thing, and the fact that they appear to be getting rid of the 9th grade standardized literacy tests. But what matters more than the particular standards is how we view standards, and how they are used.
If we view a set of standards as limiting, as the only things we should be teaching, then those standards instantly become problematic. No set of standards is going to cover everything we need to teach. But too often, administrators and teachers alike view standards as Holy Writ that we must not deviate from. When we view standards as the only things we are to teach, we are intellectually bankrupt because we are limiting thinking rather than encouraging it. For instance, the Florida Standards we just got rid of didn’t have any mention of irony in the 9th/10th grade standards. Should I just have ignored teaching irony to my 9th graders, even though irony is the key to so much literature and even non-fiction writing? Indeed, I find leaving irony out for two full years of high school… ironic. The Language Arts Florida Standards (unironically called LAFS) also failed to mention poetry at all. So is poetry forbidden in our classrooms?
Specific skills or concepts can be neglected in other ways as well, because each standard we’re asked to teach comes with a whole set of hidden substandards that need to be taught. For instance, the LAFS said (grudgingly, I think) that students should write narratives. They did not note that students should know the difference between moment-by-moment narration where time slows down and list-of-event narration where time speeds up. They did not note that describing a person can involve describing both their personality and appearance, or that a setting such as a person’s living room can reveal as much about that character as the clothes they wear. These are concepts that a good writing teacher will know to teach that are probably not covered in the standards.
Of course, you might argue that those things should be in the standards, but then the standards multiply and become more and more specific and nitpicky to try to cover all bases. This leads to madness. You can see a bit of this madness at work if you look at the conventions progression in the new B.E.S.T standards on page 197-198. It’s a lot to keep track of.
If we view standards as Holy Writ, we delve into thought control. If we try hard to make them all-encompassing, they spiral out of control. But in addition to how we view standards, we must look at how we use them. Because no matter what anyone says, the only standards that actually matter are the tested standards. In the era of LAFS, writing has been tested year after year in Florida in one format: students read three texts and write an essay synthesizing their ideas. Because that’s the writing that is tested, that is the only type of writing taught in many classrooms. (My wife and I have had to teach seniors how to write narrative essays all over again for them to apply to college. They say things like “can I use the word I?”)
But if writing to text the only kind of writing that matters, there must be simple ways to get good scores on that test, right? We want good school grades and good VAM scores so we can get $51 bonuses at the start of the next school year, right? So we reduce writing to a formula: this many paragraphs, these types of sentences within the paragraphs, these specific transition words. We have taught them nothing about how writing actually works, but they will get those scores!
This is what I have come to believe: no standard is so good that it can’t be reduced to a worksheet by a teacher who only cares about test scores. Tests it seems, narrow the very standards they are meant to measure.
So if making standards the unquestioned authority on what needs to be taught is intellectually bankrupt, and trying to make standards too specific makes them too cumbersome to handle, and testing basically eliminates any standard that isn’t on the test… what should we do about standards?
Perhaps the ideal standards would be very broad and admit their own limitations. I agree with the U.S Commissioner of Education who when asked if there should be national education standards replied, “the vaguer, the better.”
And that’s where Derek Zoolander comes in. In the movie Zoolander, the extremely dimwitted fashion model is opening a school called “The Derek Zoolander Center For Children Who Can’t Read Good And Wanna Learn To Do Other Stuff Good Too.”
In the end, all the standards basically say very similar things. Be able to understand, interpret, analyze, and discuss what they read. Write in multiple modes for various purposes and audiences. Question and think instead of falling for anything. We all want our schools to be centers for “Children Who Want To Read Well, Write Well, And Do Other Stuff Well Too, Like Think Well and Not Make Really Dumb Mistakes In Their Writing.”
Perhaps standards should be that vague. Perhaps every effort should be made to stop the insidious, and at one time un-ethical, practice of teaching to the test. Perhaps the biggest, most important standard of all is the simplest one: question everything.
Those with more than short memories recall the time when the previous governor, Rick Scott, also rid the state of that turbulent priest (a/k/a known as the meddlesome or troublesome priest.)
Under his direction, the current commissioner Pam Stewart and the state board of education rebranded the Common Core as the Florida Standards. Common Core was scrubbed from the state’s schools, although those who took a closer look saw that besides the new name, all that changed were a few edits, additions of explanatory comments, and the requirement that fourth-grade students would learn cursive writing.
The Common Core is dead! Long live the Common Core!
Yes, the Common Core lived in Florida, except it had a new name as it had also morphed in other states in a real-world example of ‘la plus ca change, la plus que les meme chose.’
It would seem that the previous effort to rid Florida of the Common Core was a sop to alleviate the angst of Florida voters. It was a popular move; conservatives hated the Core because the Obama administration had forced it onto states as part of the Race to the Top grant program, liberals because it continued the damage educational reform was inflicting on schools.
The latest attempt, begun by Governor DeSantis and carried on by his partner-in-reform, Commissioner Richard Corcoran, came as a response to parents who complained during the 2018 election campaign that they couldn’t help their children with homework.
To be fair, the Commissioner oversaw an attempt by the Department of Education to solicit input from parents, educators, and others as to what revisions should be made to the standards. At the end, Florida ended up with the Be BEST standards.
Now let us examine what really has taken place. Is the Common Core really gone? Is it washed out of our hair?
Wait, we’re rushing too far ahead. We need to ask what is the Common Core?
It didn’t spring out of the ground as some new species unrelated to what went before. The Common Core found a way to meld existing state standards, in fifty different versions plus the District of Columbia and territories, into one set that all would use.
Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) remembers a few years ago when a Florida official crowed to him that two-thirds of the Common Core math standards were exactly the same as Florida’s then existing Next Generation Sunshine State Standards.
Then there were the complaints that some states such as Massachusetts gave up a superior set of state standards in order to fall in with the common lot.
Never forget that the Common Core was adopted ten years ago in a rush by states to please the U.S. Department of Education in order to qualify for funding that was desperately needed in the days of the Great Recession.
What was different about the actual standards?
In math (GOT is a math guy), the Common Core deliberately made vertical articulation a feature. That meant that each succeeding grade level would build upon the learning of the previous grade level. For example, 6th grade math would teach ratios, 7th grade would teach proportions (when ratios are equal) and thus direct variation (when one number differs from another by multiplication, but as algebra: y = 2x), and 8th grade would teach linear equations (taking that 2x and making it 2x + 4, for example.)
Common Core pushed down content from higher levels to lower levels. After it came in, GOT began explaining the change to parents by telling them that Algebra 1 is now Algebra 1.75 given all the Algebra 2 content pushed into Algebra 1.
That came about because the writers of Common Core decided what they believed children should know when matriculating (entering) college and worked backwards. That is why we have children in kindergarten doing math worksheets instead of enjoying recess.
The high school standards were written as bodies of knowledge, not a discrete piece of content to be taught. Common Core declared that any given high school math lesson, focused on a particular concept, might include three to six standards from these bodies of knowledge. This is a distinction lost on most people, including GOT’s superintendent who decreed at the beginning of the year that every standard be written on the whiteboard, word for word, that each day’s lesson was about. Um, no, the high school standards don’t lend themselves to a one-by-one presentation.
In ELA (English Language Arts), the Common Core changed the curriculum (despite the many denials that Common Core did not specify curriculum) to a denigration of fiction and story in order to promote a focus on nonfiction, informational, and technical text.
Even more, reading whole works was deemed useless. The Common Core focused on excerpts from several sources, evaluating them, and coming to some sort of conclusion.
And in the Common Core tests, we find oral sources that necessitate students to listen to audio via earbuds plugged into computers as one of the sources to be evaluated.
Lastly, it wasn’t new to the Core, but the Core’s ‘reading’ test, like previous ‘reading’ tests, actually have been tests of thinking skills.
Has anything changed? Or is it wash, rinse, and repeat?
By and large, the vertical articulation remains. But that is not a bad thing. A few standards shifted, but overall, the push down of standards to ages where they are developmentally inappropriate remain. That part of the Core remains. If we use a popular motif, thumbs down on this one.
The high school standards remain written as bodies of knowledge. Thumbs down.
The developmental inappropriateness of the standards for each age level remain. Florida did not rebuild its standards from the bottom up, that is, it did not ask what each age level should be able to learn and do. Thumbs down.
The language is much clearer and far more easily understandable when read as to what is actually expected. Thumbs up.
Even so, the state will have to revise its test writing manuals so people will know exactly what the standards mean. Thumbs down.
ELA now comes with lists of books for reading. Thumbs up.
The lists are not inclusive enough. The focus on the classics means a focus on European/Greek and Roman classical writers. Thumbs down.
Beyond the standards, there is the testing. Because what is tested is what gets taught. GOT is changing his motto to that line.
Florida plans to add two tests and delete two tests. High school students will have to take a Civics Literacy test and undergo the SAT or ACT regardless of whether they plan to go to college. The Geometry End-of-Course exam and the 9th grade reading test will be eliminated.
And therein lies the rub. The SAT and the ACT are based on the Common Core. What gets tested is what gets taught. GOT was talking to his Geometry colleagues this week and they were looking forward to the end of testing. No more EOC; no more district interim testing.
GOT laughed. Florida plans to revise its grading formulas to judge high schools on how well their students perform on the SAT or ACT (Common Core-based, don’t forget that.)
As long as schools are graded upon the results from Common Core-based tests, we will be teaching Common Core in the schools and continuing to put students through unending practice <cough, cough> GOT meant progress monitoring tests to predict what the results will be.
We will continue to be judged on the Common Core. It’s not gone, that wasn’t shampoo Governor DeSantis gave us, but some kind of sludge that makes us feel foul as he smiles for the cameras and tells parents that his superhero power is fixing education.
Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) was in the capital of Florida for the huge teachers’ rally that caught wind in the news cycle across the nation. He wasn’t on the dais or the program, but if he was, here is the speech that would have followed the outstanding speakers. In fact, it was a whirlwind, but everyone who has ever been to a dance knows that the fast numbers with dancers twirling across the floor must be followed by a slow dance, one that allows the attendees, slightly or more than slightly sweaty, to catch their breath.
So many great speeches from those across the country to support us. But now, let’s take a minute to slow down, catch our breath, and unpack what’s going on.
First, let’s consider the message sent by Matthew Mears, in which he concluded that this action by teachers, conducted legally under their bargained contracts, in which every active teacher attending this rally took personal leave and arranged for substitute coverage for their classes, was ‘unacceptable’ because it meant a day of learning would be lost for students.
Matthew Mears, I applaud you. Wait, wait, don’t jeer.
Yes, I applaud you because you are making two essential points in your message, unintentionally, I am sure.
First, you are saying that as hard as substitute teachers try, they cannot replace us. We are IRREPLACEABLE.
And second, in saying that learning will not take place unless we teachers are in our classrooms, you are recognizing that we have VALUE.
We provide something for the children of Florida that no one else can. You need us and WE HAVE VALUE.
And you know what? In this capitalist-worshipping society that we live in? That means, Tallahassee, that means Governor DeSantis, that means Commissioner Corcoran, and Speaker Oliva, Senate President Galvano, Senator Diaz, and so many others, …
YOU HAVE TO PAY FOR IT.
You could have said put the kids on computer all day. I-Ready or a comparable program, that will do the job.
But you didn’t. You said it was unacceptable for teachers to take a day off. You have admitted to all that we have VALUE.
And if we have VALUE, you have to pay for it.
YOU HAVE TO PAY FOR IT.
You’d pay for a brain surgeon if your grandchild had a tumor. You’d pay for the years put into medical school, internships, residencies, and experience. You’d want the best and you would pay for it.
Art lessons? Piano or music? Personal coaches for that 8-year old athlete you think is going to be a natural for the NBA or NFL? You happily shell out for them.
A teacher? What do we have that you need us in the classrooms of Florida rather than offering an extra dime an hour to the people in the window of the fast food drive-through?
We know pedagogy. We spent years paying college tuition to sit in classrooms studying the theories of Piaget, Kohl, Vygotsky, Skinner, Bloom, Gardner, Bruner, and so many others so that we know how children learn. Hiring in someone with content knowledge but no idea of pedagogy will be a disaster <cough, cough> the adjunct teacher program is doomed to failure … then we spent half a year under a mentor in a classroom to see how it works in practice …
We have expertise. We have knowledge. That’s why a vast pole barn filled with computer stations and low-wage monitors is not an educational solution you embrace.
We know how children learn. You need us. We have VALUE and YOU HAVE TO PAY FOR IT.
Our craft is honed over years. The teacher of 5 years is nothing like the rookie starting out. And we keep learning, innovating, and improving our practice. We don’t stop just as a doctor doesn’t stop reading journals, attending professional conferences, and bringing new knowledge to the treatment of patients. The only difference is that a doctor can deduct his continuing learning from his fees before calculating his taxes.
As teachers, we can’t. Yet we continue to learn and pursue opportunities to make our best better.
That 5-year teacher is nothing like the teacher you see at 15 years. Just like that doctor. The longer she practices, the more knowledge she builds.
Experience adds VALUE. If you want it, legislators, you have to PAY FOR IT.
Yes, indeed. Teachers have VALUE and the longer we teach, the more value we have.
Florida, you have to pay for it.
All you teachers, sing with Beyonce: Put a ring on it, Florida. (Pay us what we’re worth!)
You will come to regret these words: “And most important, let’s focus on what’s best for students. We shouldn’t care where they are educated if it’s a high-quality education that prepares them for success in school and in life.”
For once, I can agree with you, but allow Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) to add the emphasis your recent piece in Florida Politics omitted: We shouldn’t care where they are educated IF [AND ONLY IF] it’s a high-quality education that prepares them for success in school and life.
Too bad you weren’t born a girl, Gary. You make a great cheerleader … oh, wait … that’s rather sexist. Boys are cheerleaders too nowadays, but then maybe that doesn’t fit your politics. It certainly doesn’t fit the policies of many of the private religious schools you demand our taxpayer dollars for.
We’ll never know, Gary, whether students are receiving a high-quality education in the choices you champion and you know the reason why. There’s no accountability.
Yes, GOT knows that charter school students have to suffer–oops, I mean take–the annual state tests that measure nothing more than how well students can perform on that particular test. That’s really not accountability, not when students from charter middle schools show up to GOT’s high school ill-prepared for the final four years of their required education. (Even those from your darling KIPP.)
You know who is prepared? Students from my district’s traditional public middle schools.
That IF is a very big IF. Bigly even. YUGE.
How do we know students are receiving a high-quality education? Especially students utilizing one of Florida’s many and proliferating voucher programs because they don’t have to take the state tests?
Gary, how do we know?
How are those taxpayer dollars being spent? You know, the ones taken from wage earners under compulsory taxation? The ones taken from people, rich and poor, at the same rate as they buy the necessities of life?
Your buddies say we don’t have the right to know. Do you agree with them?
If schools are taking public dollars, shouldn’t the public have the right to set standards that those schools must meet? IF we want to ensure that Florida’s children are receiving a high-quality education?
Shouldn’t we set mandates for how those dollars are spent? Shouldn’t we have reporting requirements and independent audits to make sure those mandates are kept?
IF we want a high-quality education for Florida’s children.
GOT supposes you believe that parents will hold their choice of school to high standards even when those schools withhold the information from parents that they need to make informed choices.
The schools will not divulge their secrets and their true quality unless they are forced to. Not only do we see their resistance every time legislation is introduced for that purpose, not only do we get self-serving, nauseous editorials by people like Patricia Levesque (“What use is there in being a disgrace to the name of wizard if you’re not well paid for it?” Oh, wait, JEB! does pay her well for it), but we see it in the outrageous number of charter schools that close due to financial malfeasance and governing misfeasance by the promoters and owners. There’s a reason #anotherdayanothercharterscandal trends on social media.
Don’t think that history proves otherwise. It was the manipulation of stock markets, the lack of investor information, and the insider trading that was legal during the 1920s that contributed to the stock market crash and the establishment of the Securities and Exchange Commission with strict reporting requirements for all publicly-traded companies that must be accompanied by a report from independent auditors.
It was the adulterated food and beverages, including the unsanitary conditions in which they were produced, that led to the establishment of food and drug regulations and the power to enforce the same by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the newly-created Food and Drug Administration.