Children in 48 states are burned out on, not learning, burned out on the need to only study every week on how to take a test once a day?
Will FSA really work?
New Florida standards worry parents, educators, officials, legislators
LIVI STANFORD | Staff Writer
Third-grade student Xander Carlson has lost his enthusiasm for learning, according to his mother, Kristi Burns.
With constant test preparation, the 8-year-old had an honest conversation with his mother.
“Momma, I want to learn something,” he said.
Burns said her son is so busy having to prepare for the Florida Standards Assessments instead of learning something exciting or new.
“He is lackluster,” she said. “He is not thriving this year.”
Lory Baxley also observed similar anxieties in her fifth grade son, Cole Baxley.
‘Mommy, I am going to fail the fourth grade,” he told her last year when he received the new math assignments.
“My oldest son is a very bright boy,” he said. “He makes straight A’s.”
Now in fifth grade, Lory said her son takes a test every day.
“How are they going to love learning if they are tested every day?” she said.
The new standards, almost identical
to the Common Core State Standards, are expected to “equip … students with the knowledge and skills they need to be ready for careers and college- level coursework,” according to the Florida Standards website.
However, state legislators, Lake County District officials, teachers and parents collectively have expressed grave concerns about the standards, stating they are stressing out students and causing major anxiety for teachers because the new assessments replacing the FCAT’s — which have not been field tested — are tied to teacher evaluations. (Districts are working with their unions to come up with a fair process for this year, according to district officials.) School Board member Bill Mathias recalled a conversation he had with Education Commissioner Pam Stewart at the National Education Summit on the issue in November 2014.
“She said teachers will not be harmed,” he said.
Stewart recently announced “an investigation of standardized testing in Florida public schools” as well as the formation of the Keep Florida Learning Committee tasked “with reviewing the implementation of the Standards and the assessment over the next year,” according to a FDOE press release.
The new assessment, which teachers and district officials have not seen, but are expected to prepare students for, has caused angst.
“The school administration and the board are all concerned with this untested assessment that is so high stakes for both our teachers and our students,” Mathias said.
District Chief Academic Officer David Christiansen questioned the number of assessments for kindergarteners.
“Why are they taking seven or eight end- of course exams?” he said. “What is a concern is when you start to assess things and tie school grades and tie accountability to something we have not even field tested.”
Several teachers acknowledged they knew others that were leaving the field because of the standards. Teachers acknowledge constant student preparation for assessments, where students are tested 40-70 days out of the year, keep them from having creativity in the classroom. District officials are working with a consortium of other districts to prepare 583 End of Course exams in all grades. The new FSA exams are also expected to be unveiled in March.
Critics of the standards question whether the material is developmentally appropriate for the early grades. For example, kindergarten students are expected to write a narrative and describe characters in a setting.
On the other hand, critics also worry the standards are not rigorous enough for the high school grades, particularly in the distribution of reading texts with a higher emphasis put on informational texts such as biographies and technical texts as opposed to fiction, folktales and poetry. The excessive testing has also caused frustration.
“We are starting to put so much emphasis on the writing and less on the reading, especially literary texts,” School board member Marc Dodd said. “When you get to college the course and skills required may not mirror what you have been taught.”
Common Core experts stated, however, while the standards require that a portion of texts read should be informational, “the bulk of that portion of what is read will be accounted for in non-English Language Arts disciplines that do not use fictional texts.”
With the implementation of the Common Core State Standards in 2010, early childhood health and education professionals also sounded the alarm about age appropriateness materials.
Common Core State Standards were launched in 2009 by state leaders, “including governors and state commissioners of education from 48 states, two territories and the District of Columbia through their membership in the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices and the Council of Chief State School Officers,” according to the website on Common Core.
“The draft standards made public in January conflict with compelling new research in cognitive science, neuroscience, child development and early childhood education about how young children learn, what they need to learn and how best to teach them in kindergarten and the early grades,” according to a statement from those professionals.
State Sen. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla, said he expects an extensive debate on the standards in the upcoming session.
“It is an absolute disaster,” he said. (Teachers) “should not be expected to work under fear of termination when that decision to terminate is going to be based on such weak evidence. They need to completely abandon everything to do with Common Core. We need to set up standards that have been proven and tried. A lot of teachers are retiring and are fed up with this mess. “
The math standards, particularly, he said were not taught in sequence.
Rep. Larry Metz, R-Yalaha, voiced similar concerns.
“The legislature needs to take a hard look at this entire subject matter,” he said.
At the same time, Metz said if the legislature were to pass a bill abandoning the standards there would have to be something to replace it.
School Board member Stephanie Luke expressed reservations about throwing out the standards altogether.
“If we throw out these standards that will be three sets of standards in four years for our kids,” she said. “That is a huge disservice to our children.”
It is pertinent for the state to take away the high stakes testing tied to teacher evaluations, Luke said.
“If they took away the high stakes element we could study the standards and get rid of the ones that are inappropriate and keep the ones that are appropriate,” she said. “We can make them ours and make them good.”
A teacher who wished to remain anonymous said “the unhappiness level among teachers is extremely high and among administrators as well.”
The teacher expressed frustration with the textbook not aligning to the standards.
But Christiansen said the district was not funded in a way to buy all new textbooks at once. He added this is why some math instruction appeared as if it was out of sequence, because the textbook was not aligned to the standards.
That issue will be revisited as the teachers receive new textbooks, Christiansen said.
With all the unknowns surrounding the standards, Hays was sure of one thing: there would be a resolution.
“When we finish the legislative session this year we will have established a commitment to the educational community: a plan that we are going to stick with for no less than three to five years,” he said.
In the meantime, Hays said the state should abandon the teacher assessments until they can get credible instruments for evaluation.