Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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Education Reform Bill: Dishonest and Politically Cowardly

The Florida Legislature has passed, and Gov. Rick Scott has signed, an education reform bill that is dishonest – and politically cowardly – at its core.

The measure tries to appease parents and others sick of over-testing. It scales back the number of tests. That’s fine. It also reduces the weight given to tests when evaluating teachers. That’s the dishonest part. The state has no idea whether the tests are valid and no idea whether its teacher evaluation formula is valid (or even comprehensible). If the tests are flawed and the formula is bogus, the test should not count for anything.

The state’s action in reducing the weight it gives to the Florida Standards Assessments is like reducing the amount of spit in milk. Nobody should feel that much better if the amount of spit in the glass is reduced from one teaspoon to half a teaspoon.

School districts had asked for the state to declare a three-year moratorium on using the new FSA exams to grade schools and evaluate teachers. Instead, the Legislature decided to delay those uses until an “independent” panel has a chance to evaluate this year’s tests.

That’s just kicking the can down the road. There is no guarantee that an independent panel can or will come to a rational conclusion.

Why this cowardly can-kicking and responsibility-shifting? To protect Jeb Bush. He’s the Godfather of high-stakes testing in Florida. He provided the political clout to start using the FCAT to grade schools in the first place. And he set the state on the path toward putting ever-increasing weight on the FCAT.

Jeb did all that with no proof that the FCAT could or should be used for the purposes he loaded on its back. The grading formula and test components were changed year after year, with no acknowledgment that each change was a futile attempt to fix previous shortcomings. Making such an acknowledgment would be an admission that every student, parent, teacher, school and district that suffered under the previous rules had been treated unfairly.

Jeb still can’t admit that. Florida’s Legislature doesn’t want to hurt his chances by admitting it.

The switch to the Common-Core-based FSA tests was an opportunity for Florida to at least try to know what it was doing before the state did it. The Legislature instead has taken the position that a magical independent panel can accomplish what the state Legislature, governors and all the bureaucrats in the state Department of Education have failed so miserably to do in the past 16 years.

Gov. Scott is as guilty as the rest of them, having pushed through in his first year in office the Student Success Act, which likewise pretended the tests were infallible. He should not have signed this bill because it does not adequately correct his mistake. In pretending that it is a key reform, he is as dishonest as the Legislature.

Jac VerSteeg is editor of Context Florida. Column courtesy of Context Florida.

This piece was reprinted by the Columbia County Observer with permission or license.

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