The story of an 8-year-old girl in Orlando offers a perfect illustration of what “high stakes” standardized testing means.
Bay News 9 reported that Laela Gray was held back in third grade this fall — despite a fine report card — because she missed getting the necessary score on the state’s test by one point.
Pershing Elementary High School couldn’t allow her to move up to fourth, with her twin brother, because she scored 181 on the reading portion of the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, instead of a 182. In the final quarter of third grade, she earned ‘A’s in all of her subjects except for a ‘C’ in reading, but state law says it is the test score that mattered, not what her teachers thought of her work.
Laela worked with a tutor on test-taking strategies in September and then took a benchmark test, for which she needed a 33 to pass. She got a 63 and was allowed to move up to the fourth grade, having missed a month of work.
Rick Roach, a member of the Orange County School Board, said there are thousands of youngsters around the state who have been held back unfairly because of their FCAT score. He was quoted by the television station as saying:
It’s the state law and it doesn’t sit well with me. I thought this is an example of when high stakes tests go too far.
Roach asked state Sen. Darren Soto of Orlando for help, and the legislator plans to try to amend the grade retention law in the next legislative session so that students can’t be held back on the basis of one test score.
It’s worth remembering that the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT) has had so many problems that top state legislators have publicly expressed concern about its value. Its credibility has been wrecked by episodes such as the one last year when students were given a new FCAT writing test and only 27 percent of fourth-graders scored proficient, down from 81 percent the year before. The Florida Board of Education took care of the problem by lowering the passing score on the exam so more kids would pass.
What happens in Florida in regard to education policy matters beyond the state’s borders because the architect of the FCAT and the school retention policy, former governor Jeb Bush, has persuaded other states to follow the same test-centered reform program that he pioneered in the Sunshine State.
Readers of this blog may remember Roach as the school board member who, in 2011, famously took exams with 10th grade math and reading questions from standardized tests in Florida and flunked both. The exercise helped him realize that the FCAT has “no accountability,” he said back then.
In an e-mail on Friday, he said this about Laela Gray’s story:
Honestly, how much longer can we ignore this travesty to our children?