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Tuesday, Sep 23, 2014
Editorials

Editorial: Lee County schools vote shines light on testing burden

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Every parent with a child in the public school system can sympathize with the sentiment expressed by Lee County School Board members who voted last week to opt out of the state’s standardized testing.

There’s far too much testing and far too much riding on those tests. But that doesn’t mean it was the right decision, and the board acted more rationally this week when voting to reverse course and overturn the testing ban.

Some standardized testing is needed to evaluate schools and compare student achievement. Parents want to know how their children are performing, colleges depend on tests when making scholarship and admissions decisions, and the state needs a tool for gauging how the 67 local districts are performing and how the state measures up against other states. Accountability measures are essential.

But Florida has gone overboard. What’s needed is a streamlining of the tests and a re-evaluation of the high stakes behind many of them. We hope that’s what emerges from Gov. Rick Scott’s request last week for a review of all state standardized tests.

Few would argue with the need for a review.

A compilation by the Hillsborough school district shows state statutes mandate as many as 17 tests. Of course, some are specifically for this grade or for that grade and not every student takes 17 tests.

Even so, today’s testing phalanx is more daunting and complex than most parents can remember having to navigate in their school days, particularly when district-required assessments are layered on top.

The results can factor into salaries, bonuses and scholarship eligibility. That’s enough stress to take the fun and spontaneity out of learning and teaching, and it lends credence to complaints by parents and teachers that the curriculum is now dominated by lessons that teach to the test rather than adapt to the needs of the students.

We suspect that parents’ frustration with overtesting has contributed to the resistance to Common Core, which is aimed at providing a long-needed way to compare students’ progress throughout the nation.

So it’s no wonder the initial Lee County vote was met with cheers by anti-testing forces who packed the School Board’s chambers. But that euphoria was quickly tempered by reality, and the board reversed itself on Tuesday. State law requires certain tests be given, and state funding could have been withheld. Students could have been denied diplomas or scholarships.

And opting out of the tests would have cast a single district adrift from the other 66 districts, making it impossible for parents and educators in that county to measure how well their students are performing compared with rest of the state.

The answer to the abundance of standardized tests isn’t for local districts to build a wall around the county. Local educators should use Scott’s call for a review to let the state know which tests are unnecessary and which are useful, and whether the consequences for failing are appropriate or too severe.

And Scott should listen, then act with lawmakers to relieve a burden that is choking the life out of our schools.

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