In Miami-Dade schools, testing doesn’t end
The School Board will approve its exam calendar Wednesday, but on the Gulf Coast one district has opted out of state-mandated standardized tests.
09/01/2014 7:36 PM
09/02/2014 3:00 PM
The testing doesn’t stop.
Out of the 180-day academic year, Miami-Dade County schools will administer standardized tests on every day but eight.
Though not every student will take every test, the number and consequences of testing are facing a growing backlash from parents, teachers and even some district officials.
The Miami Dade School Board on Wednesday will approve its assessment schedule for the next school year — a calendar with dozens of different exams that start at preschool and even eat into summer vacation.
Bound by state and federal rules, Dade officials say they have little control over how many tests they have to give, and when they have to give them, even as one school district in Florida has decided to put up a fight.
In August, Lee County’s school district became the first in Florida to opt out of state-required standardized testing, earning nationwide attention for the Southwest Florida district that includes Fort Myers. The move has been called illegal — but anti-testing advocates have likened it to an act of civil disobedience against a testing regime they say stresses kids out, makes money for private companies and gets in the way of actual learning.
“Florida has gone test-crazy. Whatever you may think about the value of some standardized testing, it’s clear we have gone way overboard. And the reaction that we’re seeing . . . is people saying, ‘Enough is enough,’ ” said Bob Schaeffer, public education director for FairTest, an organization that opposes what it sees as the misuse of standardized tests.
In Florida, standardized test scores can mean the difference between a student’s passing or failing a grade. For teachers, student test results can lead to a raise or a pink slip. Schools can face closure if students consistently under-perform.
Aside from the high stakes, the sheer number of tests that students must take has also met criticism.
Miami-Dade’s testing calendar includes 18 exams required exclusively by the state, two by the federal government and five by the district. An additional 21 assessments are mandatory under a mix of district, state and federal guidelines, or are standard for getting into college — or for getting credit for advanced-curriculum studies. Those are in addition to any classroom tests an individual teacher may give.
Miami-Dade’s chief academic officer acknowledged the calendar can look alarming at first glance, but highlighted that no single student sits for every exam listed. For example, a high school senior won’t take the Florida Kindergarten Readiness Screener, just as a kindergartener won’t take the Advanced Placement exams for college credit.
“It may look to the layman as very lengthy if you think the same students are sitting for every single one of these tests,” Marie Izquierdo said. “It kind of is a little misleading to look at it and say, ‘Oh, wow. Look at all these tests.’ ”
Izquierdo also pointed out that the time windows scheduled for each exam don’t mean the test takes that long for a single student to complete. Some assessments must be taken on a computer, and schools don’t have enough computers for every student to take a test at the same time. So there are days- and weeks-long stretches in which a school can administer assessments.
That leads to logistical issues, said Tom Lander, a history teacher at Dr. Michael Krop Senior High School in North Miami-Dade. Some classrooms are converted into computer labs, and teachers are pulled to oversee the tests. At Krop, displaced students spent weeks watching movies while teachers prepared to administer standardized tests — a situation that Lander says has been corrected by hiring substitutes.
“I like to call this toxic testing. It’s out of control. It’s driving everything we do,” Lander said.
Palm Beach County reportedly is considering whether to become the next district to opt out, and parents in Miami-Dade have launched a social media campaign to do the same.
But Miami-Dade district officials say they have little choice in the matter.
“These are all state-mandated assessments. There is no way we can say, ‘We are not going to participate in that,’ ” said Gisela Feild, Dade’s administrative director of assessment, research and data analysis.
Lee County’s own lawyer has said opting out of these tests could risk district funding, and students might not be able to graduate. District officials have called a meeting for Tuesday to reconsider their opt-out vote.
Still, that district’s bold move has emboldened parents in Miami-Dade.
Suzette Lopez is the mother of two children at the Vineland K-8 Center in Kendall. She said she has been researching for months whether she can or should opt her children out of standardized tests. She is also part of a growing Facebook group advocating for more scrutiny of these tests.
“I think the greater conversation about high-stakes testing is finally happening. At the end of the day, these tests are not for kids. It’s to collect data,” Lopez said. “Testing companies should never be allowed to make money off the failure of our children.”
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