President Obama and former Florida governor Jeb Bush in 2011 (Joe Raedle/Getty Images North America)

In Florida, the state where former governor Jeb Bush (R) pioneered the use of high-stakes standardized tests for school “accountability” purposes, a testing revolt is unfolding.

Late last month, the Lee County school board voted to drop all state-mandated tests as an act of “civil disobedience,” though the vote was rescinded because of fear that students would suffer the consequences.

Then Miami-Dade County Public Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho (who was, incidentally, named the 2014 National Superintendent of the Year) blasted state testing policy and called for a delay in administering new high-stakes standardized tests across the state, saying in this statement:

The state must own and address over-assessment. Instructional time is too precious to spend it assessing students on duplicative measures. Assessment of students should serve the strict purpose of informing instruction, not simply provide a variable into a teacher’s performance evaluation formula, as is the case of the new state-mandated, district-designed end-of-course K-12 exams.

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2014/09/02/4323758/carvalho-common-sense-on-student.html#storylink=cpy

And the Florida School Boards Association has begun considering motions that would call on the state to change its testing policies.

According to the News Press, the association first approved and then tabled two motions on testing, one that would “compel the state to adopt to adopt a comprehensive opt-out policy that would allow parents to have their students to be excused without penalty, from participating in statewide standardized or state-required assessments” and the other that would “compel the state to bring an immediate halt to the practices of using statewide standardized or state-required assessment results for any purpose other than diagnostic purposes.”

Concern about wording of the motions led to them being tabled, but the issue itself is not dead.

Bush instituted and became a champion of test-based “accountability” during his 1999-2007 tenure as governor. Parents and teachers in Florida have for years been criticizing the state’s testing policies — in which flawed standardized tests were used to evaluate students and schools and teachers and principals — even as Bush’s education agenda became a model for school reformers around the country.

The state’s testing policies have been so rigid that even students with severe disabilities were forced to take some version of the state’s Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test on the theory that every student can and should be assessed to determine progress. A boy named Michael who was born without the cognitive part of his brain — and who couldn’t distinguish an apple from an orange — was forced to take an alternative standardized test until this year, when, after a great deal of publicity, the state Education Department granted him a waiver. Last year, Ethan Rediske, who was born with brain damage, had cerebral palsy and was blind, was forced to take a version of the FCAT. This year, while he was dying, his mother Andrea was required to provide documentation to prove he was in no condition to take the 2014 test. Ethan passed away last February.

Florida was initially a strong backer of the Common Core State Standards, an initiative  backed by Bush, and it was a charter member and fiscal agent of the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC, one of two multi-state consortia that — with some $350 million in federal funds — promised to develop standardized tests aligned with the Core. But as opposition to the Core began to grow last year, Florida pulled out of PARCC and said it would create its own standards,  called the Florida Standards (and which are remarkably similar to the Common Core). It also said it would create its own standardized test to measure teaching and learning of these standards. Earlier this year, it was revealed that field testing for Florida’s new accountability tests was being done in Utah, a state with very different demographics. Carvalho made a point of  this problem on Twitter:

As the state moved forward to develop new high-stakes standards, people began sharply focusing on just how many standardized tests school districts were being forced to administer.  I recently posted the  2014-15 assessment calendar for Miami-Dade County Public Schools, the country’s fourth largest public education system. If you look at the calendar, you can see that on all but a handful of days during the school year, the district will be administering some standardized test. A Miami Herald story published this week starts out this way: “The testing doesn’t stop.”

A few days ago Carvalho spelled out five steps he thinks the state should take in a piece published in the Miami Herald, parts of which he then tweeted:

• We must reassess inflexible and flawed federal educational policy that negatively affects our fragile student populations of English-language learners and children with disabilities. We must re-examine Florida’s celebrated, and recently maligned, No Child Left Behind waiver that many see as having exchanged unreasonable federal policy for arbitrary state rules.

• Statutory timelines for accountability implementation must be adjusted and aligned not with arbitrary assessment mandates, but with the readiness and awareness level of standards with educators, parents and communities. In light of what is being decried as a rush to roll out new assessments to comply with statutorily mandated accountability timelines, an additional year of standards implementation should be granted. This will enable sufficient community awareness and understanding as well as optimal statewide professional development of teachers and leaders.

• Third, the state must ensure that as it constructs a new assessment, the private entity contracted to develop it has the experience in educational assessment to do so. The state must also demand that field-testing the exam be performed in Florida with Florida students — not Utah, where field testing has been conducted.

The state must own and address over-assessment. Instructional time is too precious to spend it assessing students on duplicative measures. Assessment of students should serve the strict purpose of informing instruction, not simply provide a variable into a teacher’s performance evaluation formula, as is the case of the new state-mandated, district-designed end-of-course K-12 exams.

• Fourth, the state must abandon its plan to use baseline assessment data to generate school grades. Accountability in Florida relies on an analysis of both performance as well as improvement over time, otherwise known as learning gains.

Measuring performance over time demands comparable data preceding the year in question. That will be impossible in 2014-2015 because there will be no previous year’s data available for comparison purposes. One alternative could be an objective report card that informs communities of educational indicators without assigning unreliable school letter grades.

• Fifth, tying inconclusive and statistically unreliable achievement data to teacher evaluation and performance pay scales based on learning gains or Value-Added Models, when those very same gains that are indispensable to the model are nonexistent, is questionable at best and unethical at worst.