The state of Florida is grappling with low expectations on its standardized writing exam. The state’s solution? Lower expectations even more.
“The Board of Education decided in an emergency meeting Tuesday to lower the passing grade on the writing portion of Florida’s standardized test after preliminary results showed a drastic drop in student passing scores,” Orlando television station WKMG reported. “The results indicated only about a third of students would pass this year’s tougher Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test exam, compared with a passing rate of 80 percent or more last year.”
Stop right there. By “tougher,” the report only means “slightly more grammatically correct.”
“The writing exam was made more difficult by increasing expectations for proper punctuation, capitalization, spelling and sentence structure,” WKMG explains. “The board also increased the passing grade from 3.5 to 4 on scale of zero to 6.”
The FCAT test is used to grade not only students, but also school districts and teachers. That means everyone has a stake in keeping the scores high.
“Our students must know how to read and write, and our education system must be able to measure and benchmark their progress so we can set clear education goals,” Scott said on Monday. “The significant contrast in this year’s writing scores is an obvious indication that the Department of Education needs to review the issue and recommend an action plan so that our schools, parents, teachers and students have a clear understanding of the results.”
He’s right, but what’s truly needed isn’t the accountability at the state level he calls for. What’s needed is a devolution of authority — and accountability at the local level. Education works best when it’s tailored to a community.
Conservatives — like Gov. Scott — lost their way in during the Bush Administration by supporting his “No Child Left Behind” measures. They meant well; we all want accountability in education (particularly when we spend so much money on it).
“The federal role in education has created an enormous compliance burden for states and local schools. Some of this can be quantified in terms of paperwork, time, and resources,” the Heritage Foundation’s Jennifer Marshall told a congressional committee recently. “But the cost of compliance should also be calculated in terms of the erosion of good governance in education. The proliferation of federal programs and the ever-increasing prescription of federally driven systemic reform distract school-level personnel and local and state leaders from serving their primary customers: students, parents, and taxpayers. The status quo engenders a client mentality as officials at the state and local level are consumed with calibrating the public education system to Washington’s wishes.”
The same applies with state-level control — as the debacle in Florida reveals. Those standardized tests aren’t doing what they’re supposed to do: hold schools to higher expectations. But they are accomplishing the unintended consequence of roiling up students, teachers and administrations, taking time away from real instruction, and demoralizing schools that really are trying.
The real solution isn’t to change the standards. It’s to return power to the local level. No one in Washington (or Tallahassee, or Austin) cares about our children quite as much as we do.