Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Palm Beach Post Opinion Piece Slams Testing Culture

What's so special about this? There was a time when you would never read something like this in the mainstream press, especially in Florida, one of the hearts of ed deform.

Ed deform keeps wearing thinner and thinner. There is even a piece in the business section by Frank Cerebino attacking the voucher scam: Florida’s Tax Credit Scholarship is little more than government-sanctioned money laundering.

But this piece by Catherine Martinez nails them.

Commentary: Unleash the power of school protests

http://www.mypalmbeachpost.com/news/news/opinion/commentary-unleash-the-power-of-school-protests/nj3PX/

Jeffrey Hernandez, “whiz kid”; Jeffrey Hernandez, evil genius; Jeffrey Hernandez, testing guru; Jeffrey Hernandez, miracle principal — all contradictory but all attitudes held by different factions in the tumultuous year of his reign as chief academic officer of the Palm Beach County School District in 2009-10.

By Catherine S. Martinez


Jeffrey Hernandez, “whiz kid”; Jeffrey Hernandez, evil genius; Jeffrey Hernandez, testing guru; Jeffrey Hernandez, miracle principal — all contradictory but all attitudes held by different factions in the tumultuous year of his reign as chief academic officer of the Palm Beach County School District in 2009-10.
At the distance of five years, I wonder whether he had inside knowledge of what was coming statewide with the current Common Core controversy.

+Commentary: Unleash the power of school protests photo
Catherine S. Martinez is a national board-certified teacher at Pahokee Middle Senior High School.
Hernandez had built a reputation for turning around failing schools since transforming a Miami-Dade elementary school from a D to an A. Apparently, he and then-Palm Beach County Schools Superintendent Art Johnson felt that these same measures would raise scores for all the county’s schools. In addition to the changes at the middle and high school level, he introduced a lot of changes into elementary schools across the county.

This may be a prime example of the problem with relying too much on numbers. Students are not data points. They are living, breathing, complex human beings, each with a past, present and future. They are part of a larger community with varying degrees of involvement in and commitment to their schools.

Both Johnson and Hernandez were and are very smart, even brilliant people, highly educated but poorly informed on the ways to win friends and influence people.

If Hernandez and Johnson had had a better appreciation for human nature, they would have realized that communities do not react well to sudden change. They could have picked a group of schools, either through voluntary participation or forced inclusion due to failing grades, as a pilot project for the 2009-10 school year. If their measures had been successful and raised test scores for those schools, the A and B schools would have been forced to go along. If they had put together a parent advisory board, got the board on their side and explained the reasons for the changes, those same parents could have sold their ideas to the other parents. By trying to do too much too fast and being too autocratic, they made enemies and brought about their own downfall.

In the brief months of Hernandez’s oversight, there were crowded School Board meetings with speakers lining up outside the door to complain about the changes. Websites, Twitter hashtags and Facebook pages such as “Testing is not Teaching” were created. Numerous protesters attended every meeting waving signs until Hernandez was demoted and eventually forced out. Some of the changes were scaled back or eliminated. Art Johnson lost his job a little while later.

In 2011, the Florida Legislature passed the ironically named Student Success Act, which mandated teacher evaluations be based on their students’ growth on standardized test scores. This new law also mandated the gradual introduction of end-of-course exams (EOCs) for every course. This was supposed to be phased in over time, and this (2014-15) is the year that all exams should be implemented, even for performance classes like visual arts, band, chorus and physical education.

The statewide trend in education now is similar to what was happening here in 2009 during Hernandez’s period as chief academic officer. Teachers are treated like widget-makers in a widget factory with students as widgets.

At a recent School Board workshop, which was a joint meeting with state lawmakers, there were empty seats and no one outside holding signs for the legislators. The workshop was also very predictable. Everyone talked about how much they had done for education and listed a few personal concerns, but nothing that would grab more than a sidebar in the newspaper the following day or a few minutes on the evening news toward the end of the broadcast.

Our School Board has raised objections about excessive testing, but the board knows that the state is going to exert any pressure it can to bring the board back in line.

That’s what happened in Lee County, which voted to opt out and then reversed itself after the state threatened consequences — including loss of funding and students denied graduation.

We’re still waiting for the outrage statewide to have the effect it had in Palm Beach County five years ago.

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