‘The drive to test, test, and re-test’ leads famous school board member to quit

Rick Roach (Orange County Public Schools) Rick Roach (Orange County Public Schools)

Rick Roach, who is completing his fifth four-year term representing District 3 on the Board of Education in Orange County, Fla, may well be the most famous local school board member in the country.  In 2011, he made national news when he took a test with questions used on standardized tests given to students in Florida and flunked, becoming a vocal critic of high-stakes standardized tests. Last year he became alarmed that the state was forcing severely disabled students to take alternative versions of the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test and helped publicize the plight of a boy named Michael, who was born with only a brain stem and not a full brain with cognitive ability. Michael, was also blind and bound to a wheelchair, was still required to take a state standardized test last year (and will have to take another one this year).

Roach, the father of five children and grandfather of two, was a teacher, counselor and coach in Orange County for 14 years, and has a bachelor of science degree in education and two master’s degrees: in education and educational psychology. He has trained over 18,000 educators in classroom management and course delivery skills in six eastern states over the last 25 years.

Now he has decided not to run to stay on the Orange County school board, which oversees a public school system of 180,000 students.  Why? In the letter below, Roach details the reasons, which include the transformation of the teaching profession by school reformers “who have never taught” into something he can “no longer recognize.”

Here is his open letter about why he isn’t running:

I won’t seek a 5th term on the Orange County School Board

My many years as an Orange County’ School Board member representing District 3 have been rewarding beyond description. What I’ve learned, my friendships with students, teachers, administrators, constituents, members of civic and business organizations and fellow board members, the satisfactions of problems solved—even wrestling with problems that have no good solution—have unquestionably changed me for the better.

But I’m leaving in November, and I want to say why. I’m not leaving because I feel I can no longer make a difference in Orange County, but because I want to make a bigger difference than my role allows.

First, after 42 years as an educator and 16 as a school board member, I no longer recognize my profession. People who have never taught, or have been out of the classroom too long to remember teaching’s complexity, now control the institution. Education policy makers, who wouldn’t dream of telling surgeons how to wield a scalpel or telling pilots how to land an airliner, seem perfectly comfortable dictating rigid guidelines for teachers.

Second, the push to standardize has gotten out of control. As the world’s problems grow increasingly complex, we don’t need standardized minds but fresh thinking. We’ve long led the world in creativity and ingenuity, but those now running  the education show in Washington and Tallahassee have steadily taken away the trust, freedom and respect  that once allowed teachers to use their strengths effectively. I want to use my knowledge and experience to help solve these problems.

Finally, it’s the drive to test, test, and re-test that leads me to conclude that it’s time for me to do more to change this agenda.  That a score on a single, machine-scored, multiple-choice test can erase 180 days of work and override teacher judgment is insulting. Test manufacturers say, in print, that no single measure is accurate enough to base life-changing decisions on it, but their warnings are ignored, as is the fact that failure rates are set even before the tests are administered.

We’re so caught up in the testing frenzy, we even insist on testing kids with severe brain impairments, or who have little or no brain at all.  Immigrant children who arrive in America speaking no English are tested after only one year, when research clearly says it takes at least four or five years to become proficient in a new language. Pass-fail cut scores ignore margins-of-error, forcing kids to repeat a class for a full year because they missed the cut by a point or two. This has to end.

It has been my pleasure to serve you for the past 16 years and I want to continue to be your voice and search for common sense solutions, always putting our students first. My passion for real education tells me to get closer to the battlefield where decisions are being made. There are better ways to educate than we’re using and I want to find and promote them.

Yours in Education,

Judge “Rick”Roach

Valerie Strauss covers education and runs The Answer Sheet blog.

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Valerie Strauss · March 6, 2014

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