The Season Of Unnecessary High-Stakes Testing Has Returned

Lawmakers in Tallahassee must have enjoyed taking dozens of high-stakes standardized tests when they were growing up. At least it seems that way, given the ever-increasing volume and intensity of high-stakes statewide testing.

How else can one explain the mass stress levels elementary, middle and high school students will be dealing with starting later this month when the Florida Standards Assessment (FSA) testing begins?

The FSA, which rose from the ashes of the much-hated and much-maligned Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT) several years ago, has fared no better at doing true assessments of our students. After a rocky roll-out, it continues to be a money pit with no known bottom, where millions of dollars are wasted annually in the quest to try and validate whether students are learning enough and educators are teaching effectively.

We’ve written about this before, and we will continue to do so until the powers that be in Tallahassee change the process and stop the madness.

Case in point: this year, fourth-graders at public schools across the state will be asked to spend two hours in a controlled setting writing what amounts to an advanced-level essay that their parents likely could not do until at least the high school level. Each of the several body paragraphs need to be between seven and nine sentences, incorporating a main idea, an elaboration on why this contention is important, a specific quote from the accompanying text for support, and an explanation on why or how this supports the initial idea. Plus there’s the need for a strong introduction with an attention-getting device, as well as a strong conclusion where the student elaborates on what has been written already.

We are willing to bet there are many parents who were given a glimpse of the writing structure and are stressing out as much as their children. In high school debate, this style is known as “CWDI” — claim, warrant, data, impact — and is used by nationally ranked debaters with years of experience in the event. And this is what is now expected of fourth graders. Most of them will probably accomplish this goal. Why? Teachers have been teaching specifically how to take the test all year long.

Enough! Standardized tests should be a baseline, not something that freaks out children, teachers, administrators and parents alike. Do students understand the material they should understand by a certain grade level? Great! If not, let’s go back to the drawing board and teach them what they need to learn and figure out why they didn’t perform as expected. Students and learning should be the focus of every test given, not the livelihood of teachers and (with a bad schoolwide grade) the property values of an entire neighborhood. We wish our lawmakers would have figured this out already.