05/31/2012 10:59 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

School Board Votes to Stop Caring About Test Scores

BROWARD COUNTY, Fla. -- Dismayed by a growing percentage of students who perform poorly on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT), the Broward County School Board voted on Wednesday to reduce class sizes, invest in new classroom technology, increase teacher training and extend the school day to accommodate morning and afternoon study periods.

No, of course they didn't do that. But they did vote to oppose standardized testing. Seriously.

Apparently the Board's reasoning is thus -- our kids suck at the FCAT, ergo the FCAT sucks -- a sound inference if you're five.

The Board passed a resolution opposing standardized testing as the primary means for assessing school performance, maintaining that the focus on such testing stifles teacher creativity and actually impedes learning. In a subsequent vote, the Board passed another resolution opposing height as a primary qualification to play center for the Miami Heat, noting that such an arbitrary criterion thwarts the ambition of dwarf students trying out for basketball.

According to a report in South Florida's Sun Sentinel, "Opposition to the FCAT was strong in the board room Wednesday, with students, parents and teachers sharing horror stories. 'It's caused a lot of anxiety for me,'" said Blaire Hirt, 17, a senior at Piper High School in Sunrise. 'The morning of the FCAT writing, I threw up.'"

I know how he feels. I threw up the morning of the SAT, but of course I'd been at Chris Hartney's house boozing the night before.

I was alarmed to learn that opposition to standardized testing has spawned a movement. Says the Sun Sentinel, "[T]he Palm Beach County School District passed a similar resolution in April, and Martin and St. Lucie counties have also joined the fight."

Is this honestly how we're going to confront the fact that our students, aggregately, have fallen far behind those of other advanced countries? Are we now so resigned to academic under-achievement that we're not only going to lower the bar, we're going to throw it out?

According to Board member Robin Bartleman, "The classroom should be fun. Kids should be excited about learning and not be afraid they're going to be punished for one test."

Is that right? Why should the classroom be fun? If fun is the key to learning, why not outsource education to Chuck E. Cheese? Can't you imagine an animatronic mouse and his fur-bearing cohorts strumming through math: "Hey kids, know what a quadratic equation is? That's OK. Neither do I. But it has something to do with foil. Oooooooh, this old man, he played one... "

Upon learning of Broward County's bold surrender to the inexorable march of ignorance, I recalled a broadside unleashed by Roger Ebert for the Chicago Sun Times last July. It seems that MacMillan put out a new "intermediate level" version of The Great Gatsby as "retold" by one Margaret Tarner. An intermediate reader, it seems, is expected to have a grasp of 1,600 key words. Advanced readers are, per MacMillan, expected to know 2,200 words.

So the intermediate Gatsby is, as it turns out, not Gatsby at all -- it's something 67-pages long that panders to possessors of feeble vocabularies, probably the types of kids who vomit before standardized tests.

As Ebert wrote, "Any high school student who cannot read The Great Gatsby in the original cannot read."

I agreed with that sentiment at the time and I think I still do. However, actions like those by the Broward County School Board have me wondering now whether it's actually the case that any high school student who cannot read The Great Gatsby in the original just shouldn't be tested on it. Testing isn't fun. Heck reading isn't always fun, especially if you're sub-literate.

I'm glad the kids of Broward County are under the watch and care of such considerate leaders and if I ever make it to a Broward School Board meeting I sure hope there's milk and cookies and maybe a cool video about shapes and, like, science and stuff.

It's sad. But cheer up. I found your friends Elmo and Cookie Monster!