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Posted at 05:00 AM ET, 08/01/2012

Florida education chief resigns amid controversy

Gerard Robinson is resigning as Florida’s education commissioner at a time of growing discontent with — and a series of blunders involving — the state’s standardized test-based accountability system.

Unfortunately for Florida residents, the problems he faced during a year in office — after being recruited from Virginia where he was
Four teachers help students prepare for the upcoming FCAT at Miami Central Senior High School in 2011. (Carl Juste/AP)
education secretary under Gov. Bob McDonnell — aren’t going away with his departure.

It was revealed by state officials Tuesday that Robinson had submitted a letter of resignation to Gov. Rick Scott and State Board of Education Chairwoman Kathleen Shanahan, saying he would leave his job Aug. 31. There was no immediate word on a successor.

Robinson said in the letter that the reason he was leaving was because he no longer wanted to live apart from his family members, who never moved to Florida with him. Wrote Robinson: “Living far away from my family has proven to be the one challenge all this progress could not overcome.”

Hmmm.

There’s no reason to doubt that Robinson misses his family, but the timing of this resignation raises questions about whether there is something more to it.

Like what? Education activists in the state are wondering if Robinson is being used as a scapegoat for a series of scandals surrounding the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test exams that have highlighted the unreliability of the state’s school accountability system. Get rid of Robinson, the thinking goes, and perhaps the spotlight on the FCAT will dim. It won’t.

Florida is a national leader in the reform movement that uses student standardized test scores to “grade” individual public schools (along with students and now teachers).

But recently embarrassed state officials miscalculated the grades given out to hundreds of schools and was forced to change them.

Not long before that, state officials panicked when only 27 percent of fourth-graders got proficient scores — down from 81 percent a year earlier — on a new FCAT writing test and students in other grades did poorly too. So what did they do? They lowered the passing score.

Robinson was recently called out by PolitiFact Florida for saying that the FCAT accounts for less than 1 percent of the instructional time provided during the year.

Robinson wrote that in a response to a growing anti-testing movement in Florida, where more than a dozen school boards and the Florida School Boards Association have passed resolutions criticizing the FCAT. In that response he wrote:

“The FCAT neither drives the curriculum nor narrows the educational experience of Florida students. These assessments average two to three per student per school year and account for less than 1 percent of the instructional time provided during the year. It is worth noting that local school boards require students to take many more assessments than those required by the state.”

PolitiFact, on its Truth-O-Meter, rated Robinson’s claim as “false,” saying that in many classrooms test prep takes up more than half of the class time during the year.

Robinson will soon be gone from Florida but the FCAT unfortunately won’t.

What happens in Florida education matters because other states look to it as a model. Some model this is turning out to be.

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By  |  05:00 AM ET, 08/01/2012

 
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