This week, an email and a news story caught my attention, and seemed illustrative of the problems that plaguing education right now.
The news story was that Florida has release rankings of its school districts, rating them from highest to lowest, based in large part on their district-wide performance on the state's standardized test, the FCAT. Ironically, the state's education commissioner said the idea was to "broaden the conversation" about education in Florida. Apparently he thinks "broadening" means the same thing as "narrowing"-- as in narrowing our view of successful education to meaning "high test scores." To no one's surprise, lower income, higher poverty counties scored near the bottom of the list. The commissioner indicated that we must stop making excuses for schools with high poverty populations.
Obviously, we want those students to do better, but on more than just tests. But a ranking like this one, where half the districts are going to rank "low" and some poor district is going to be in last place, is going to create winners and losers by its very nature. And that being the case, do we really think our high poverty districts are ever really going to pull themselves out of the basement on such a rating? Are we hoping for the day when our Title 1 schools outrank our wealthiest schools? Is this likely, or even, in the end, desirable?
I can't think of a single good result that could come out of such rankings, including a "broadened" discussion. The only thing such a ranking can do is make some districts that are already doing pretty well feel good about themselves and others to have a huge dip in morale. This is the whole problem with our obsession with data writ small.
The email I got this week informed me that all our school's computer labs are being commandeered from February to May this Spring. The computers will all be reconfigured so that they can only be used for FCAT testing, FAIR testing (a several times a year reading assessment), and State End of Course Exams.
So much for using technology for learning. So much for my students working on Wikispaces, researching online, typing and printing essays during class time, and working on their novellas this Spring. Assessment now trumps actual learning. This is our obsession with assessment to the detriment of teaching write small.
We are obsessed with rankings and data, winners and losers, and we are so busy checking to see if the pale if full, there's no time left to fill it.