Education

Two Florida counties cut back big time on student testing. Manatee could be the third.

Language arts students at Carver Middle School in Miami-Dade County prepare for the state assessments. Across Florida, parents are pushing back on standardized tests. At the Manatee County School Board workshop on Tuesday, board chairman Charlie Kennedy is going to propose eliminating district-mandated tests.
Language arts students at Carver Middle School in Miami-Dade County prepare for the state assessments. Across Florida, parents are pushing back on standardized tests. At the Manatee County School Board workshop on Tuesday, board chairman Charlie Kennedy is going to propose eliminating district-mandated tests.

Manatee County could become the third district in the state to make a bold statement against testing.

At Tuesday’s School Board of Manatee County workshop, board chairman Charlie Kennedy is going to propose placing a moratorium on all non-state-mandated testing in Manatee County schools.

Kennedy is hoping Manatee will follow Clay and Marion counties’ lead. Clay County placed a ban on district-administered tests earlier this year, and Marion County eliminated dozens of tests in its elementary schools.

“The goal is to set a tone that we are not going to test and test and test,” Kennedy said. “We hope to follow the lead of these two other counties and be one of the first in the state to say, ‘Hey, we are going to push back.’”

We hope to follow the lead of these two other counties and be one of the first in the state to say, ‘Hey, we are going to push back.’

- Board Chairman Charlie Kennedy

Kennedy said the specific tests he hopes to eliminate are the benchmark assessments students take in the fall and winter in core subjects. Benchmark tests are designed to replicate the state-mandated FSA tests in order to give teachers an indication as to how well their students will do.

But Kennedy, a former history teacher at Manatee High School, said the benchmark tests are generally viewed as useless by teachers.

“A better way to spend classroom time and improve test scores is let teachers teach and free up time for teaching and learning,” Kennedy said. “Let them do the content and the standards. That will go a lot farther toward improving test scores.”

Kennedy said he was still in favor of teachers using benchmark tests if they found them useful, but he wants to end the district mandate for the tests.

According to the district assessment calendar approved by the board in September, Manatee’s K-12 students spend anywhere from 270 minutes to 1,200 minutes a year testing, depending on their grade level. High school seniors are the exception and do not take any district or state-mandated assessments.

The majority of that time is spent on district-level tests. Manatee’s district-mandated tests added up to 5,385 minutes across all grades, and state-mandated tests totaled 4,550 minutes.

All in all, Manatee students spend about 1.5 percent of their overall time in school on state and district-required assessments. But Amy Lee, a leader in Manatee’s anti-high stakes testing “Opt out” movement, said those numbers are misleading.

“The ripple effect when we implement additional testing is felt far beyond the minutes dedicated to taking the actual test,” Lee said. “Instructional time is still being lost due to block scheduling necessary to accommodate access to computer labs, as well as teachers being required to proctor the tests.”

The ripple effect when we implement additional testing is felt far beyond the minutes dedicated to taking the actual test.

- Amy Lee, a leader in Manatee’s anti-high stakes testing “Opt out” movement,

Kennedy agreed.

“I don’t think that number is accurate,” Kennedy said. “How much time did you spend not doing your content or standards and spent time doing test-taking strategies, going over what kind of questions might you see, how do you tackle this question. I don’t think it is a truly accurate reflection of instruction time lost.”

In an email, Superintendent Diana Greene said the district benchmark testing has many purposes.

“We use that information to make sure students master what was taught during each quarter and to make sure they are learning and mastering the Florida Standards,” Green wrote. “We also use that information to see if we need to make adjustments in instruction or to see if we need to review the resources that are being used in our classrooms.”

She also said the amount of benchmark testing in the district has dropped in recent years, going from tests being administered the first three quarters of the year to just the first two. And she said the district annually evaluates the amount of benchmark testing done each year.

Kennedy said he is hoping to get the consensus of the board that they would like to move in this direction. He said he would hope the moratorium could go in place immediately.

Fellow board members Dave Miner and John Colon voiced general support for the idea Friday. Karen Carpenter and Gina Messenger did not respond to voice mails requesting comment.

“I believe it’s important to give teachers the flexibility they feel they need because I trust our teachers,” Colon said.

Miner said he is strongly opposed to the amount of testing students do, but he would want to know more details about Kennedy’s proposal.

“For a long time I have felt that we spend too much time and too much of our resources on testing,” Miner said. “I think our state Board of Eduction has earned the name, in the eyes of many, as the state Board of Testing, and the state Department of Education might be better called the state Department of Testing.”

Ryan McKinnon: 941-745-7027, @JRMcKinnon

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