Friday , 19 December 2014
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KAREN ARONOWITZ, President, United Teachers of Dade

KAREN ARONOWITZ, President, United Teachers of Dade

Last month, after Florida’s writing scores plummeted following the raising of “standards,” I called for a moratorium of the FCAT. It’s time to retire this torture device to the dungeon of bad ideas masquerading as accountability. Do you know what a 3 means on the FCAT Writes test? A 4?

Do you know what a score of 3 or 4 meant last year? Or what it will mean next year? Nobody does. But the fact that the scoring of these 45 minute first draft essays “raised the standards” is taken as a sign that the scoring itself met some kind of basic standard in validity and reliability. Except that it didn’t.

Many who say that our students should know grammar and spelling are pursing their lips in disapproval of our teachers’ instruction. I hear disapproval from those who last wrote an essay forty years ago. Since then, they have written short texts and emails without a care for punctuation, spelling, or grammar. LOL! I myself, a moderately good speller, am typing while my iPad corrects errors as I go. Typo or lack of knowledge? I’ll never tell!

Yet one day in March, our students sit down with a pencil and a piece of paper and are told, “Write an essay! BTW, one point off for every misspelled word.”

Those who think the FCAT means something about a student’s understanding of content are sadly mistaken. The math portions are often out of sequence of instruction. It is wrong to test students on material in which they have yet to have received instruction.

As for FCAT Reading, all the hodgepodge of strategies taught will not advance our students’ understanding unless they learn content. Reading comprehension takes place as students study content. You remember content, don’t you? Science. History. Geography. Literature.

Content instruction requires students to write essays on topics that test their understanding of the content area. And yes, our students’ handwriting is deplorable because they use the technology of their time, which corrects spelling and grammar as they write.

But that is not what Florida’s FCAT is all about. It’s a state test that doesn’t inform of us of how our students perform on a national platform. It takes weeks of time from instruction with a number of interim assessments required, often as frequently as every 3 weeks. It promotes strategies over content instruction.

And when millions of our tax dollars disappear into the coffers of the test makers, they are not held accountable when the scores don’t come back on time or accurately. Instead, our state punishes our students and teachers on the basis of their FCAT scores while forking over millions of dollars to the brothers and in-laws and assorted family friends of politicians and governors.

It’s time to call a halt to the FCAT. As Florida works to implement Common Core Standards with tests that show how students perform throughout the nation, we should save the millions of dollars wasted on the FCAT to reinvest in our public schools. We should use this money to provide a comprehensive education to all our students that includes physical education, the arts, music, and enhanced vocational-technical programs. These are the steps in education that provide our students the necessary skills and learning that lead to their success in work and life.

The United Teachers of Dade represents 35,000 teachers and school support personnel in MDCPS. The union is committed to being a leader in creating public school reform, fostering a quality public education for all students and elevating the professional status of teachers, paraprofessionals, office employees, and all school support personnel.

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