A national resolution to urge education administrators to rely less on standardized testing is gaining a wave of support in South Florida.
The Palm Beach School Board was the first school board in the state to endorse the petition that asks state governments and education boards to
develop a system based on multiple forms of assessment which does not require extensive standardized testing, more accurately reflects the broad range of student learning, and is used to support students and improve schools.
Florida’s Board of Education introduced the FCAT (Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test) in 1998. In 2010, it updated the test, making the math, science and reading section more rigorous and giving the test to students as young as third graders.
In the past year, the board chose to "increase expectations regarding the correct use of Standard English conventions" in the FCAT's writing section after acknowledging that in previous years, the section "had been scored with leniency."
As a result, 2012 FCAT writing scores in the state plummeted. Among fourth graders, only 27 percent scored a 4 or better as opposed to last year, when 81 percent of fourth graders got a 4 or better. The drastic dip in writing scores was also seen in eighth and tenth graders.
Florida’s Board of Education is now considering lowering their writing standards again to insure that more students pass the test.
But the reliability of how such scores adequately evaluate students' learning is controversial. Critics hold that standardized tests like the FCAT are particularly unfair to low-income students, ESL students, children of color, and those with disabilities.
Critics also want the state to stop over-relying on the FCAT because it is unfair to teachers, whose pay and job security are tethered to scores that the resolution calls "inadequate and often unreliable measures."
And finally, critics point to how the FCAT has mired school curriculums and forced teachers to "teach to the test."
Palm Beach Superintendent Wayne Gent told school board members, “I’m all for high standards. But we also need to make sure we’re not creating robots, and folks where we take away their creativity.”
A Miami Beach parent told the Miami Herald that when her daughter received science instruction on weather and cloud formation, the class never even went outside to look up at the sky.
Such situations are proof, according to the resolution, that tests like the FCAT undermine
educational quality and equity in U.S. public schools by hampering educators' efforts to focus on the broad range of learning experiences that promote the innovation, creativity, problem solving, collaboration, communication, critical thinking and deep subject-matter knowledge that will allow students to thrive in a democracy and an increasingly global society and economy.