By Representative Frederica S. Wilson
As a former school principal I believe in accountability, but it must be transparent. As we digest the release of school grades from the Florida Department of Education, I want to say one thing -- this is madness.
For 14 years I have fought against the FCAT. As, Bs, Cs, Ds, and Fs? How ridiculous. This is nothing but hoodwinking parents and the community by putting grades on a school. No other state in America deceives their communities by devising formulas that no person or school can decipher. For far too long students have been treated as experiments in petri dishes, and life-altering decisions have been made with a callous disregard for children's futures.
Unfortunately, I can think of no better example than the recent administration of the FCAT writing test.
The FCAT is obviously not "performance-based testing." It has become an instrument through which administrators unilaterally deem children as passing or failing. This seriously jeopardizes the development of our students. I'm also waiting to see what impact this has on our state's teachers. To connect their salaries to test scores is simply wrong. Fifth grade teachers are held accountable for the kindergarten through fourth grade teachers' performances.
Whatever happened to pre-test and post-test? Are doctors' salaries connected to how many patients they cure? Parts of the FCAT are administered on the computer. This is discriminatorily unfair to children who are victims of the digital divide. It is very difficult for any teacher to single-handedly level this playing field.
Tallahassee has changed the administration and scoring guidelines of the FCAT every single year.
* One year they include the scores of special needs students, the next year they don't.
* One year they take into consideration the socioeconomic status of a child, the next year they don't.
* ESOL is a factor today, and next year it isn't.
When I served in the Florida Senate I demanded to see every version of the FCAT administered to third graders that year. There were 30. I spent an entire day ranking them in the order of their difficulty, and by dinner I had examined tests that ranged from one a first grader could pass all the way to one I don't think a high school freshman could pass. I immediately demanded to know who decides which schools get which test. Nobody on the premises knew, and to this day I have never received an answer.
After years of complaining and pointing out missteps, and at times borderline criminal activity, I have reached the conclusion that the FCAT continues because it is a cash cow for adults who care absolutely nothing about our children.
I love children so much that to stand by any longer would betray who I am at my core. It's time for parents, teachers and those of us who care to stand up and speak out against the injustices of the FCAT as if the lives of our children depend upon it -- because they do. I tried to order an audit of the FCAT in Congress, but it is out of my federal jurisdiction. I call on Gov. Rick Scott and state legislators to demand that Florida's Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability begin a forensic study of the FCAT now. There is too much at stake.
Every time a young black male commits murder in Miami, or even at times a lesser crime, I check their school records to see if they have a diploma. Most of them are casualties of the FCAT. I call them the FCAT kids. Whatever happened to career and vocational education?
Not everyone is going to college, period. But everyone needs a key to the next level of education. For goodness sakes, let's stop this FCAT madness and allow these children to enjoy the music, arts, and sports that we enjoyed in school.
Teach them a trade; teach them life skills. Teach them how to write a check, save money, balance a check book, and manage a budget. If we are ever going to dismantle the cradle to prison pipeline and close the achievement gap in Florida, it is time that we as a state take back our children's education from the hands of the FCAT. It is time to teach, teach, teach -- not test, test, test.