Standardized testing is lazy. It’s proxy for assessing student abilities and school performance that doesn’t actually tell you very much about student abilities or school performance.
Standardized testing is also broadly supported by both Republicans and Democrats. Whether you’re in it to slam the teacher’s union, or you’re claiming to hold schools “accountable” for education, it’s pretty easy to drum up support for a one-size-fits-all measure of student achievement.
But a lawsuit in Florida highlights the insanity of using standardized tests to assess student performance in lieu of actual student performance.
In Florida, they have a law that 3rd graders have to pass a standardized test before they are promoted to the 4th grade. It’s an old law, a Jeb Bush era law. But Obama has supported it.
Florida now allows parents to opt-out of making their kids take a standardized test. I personally wouldn’t opt my kids out of taking it: standardized tests are not going away, and learning to do well on them is a skill in itself. But some parents did opt-out: a defensible decision if you don’t like the idea of your kids being forced to take a stressful, optional test.
The problem is that some Florida counties have interpreted the law so as to fail the kids who opted-out, and are therefore making the kids repeat the 3rd grade. Some of these kids are honor students who have clearly mastered the 3rd grade. Meanwhile, other counties in the same state are interpreting the law differently, and allowing kids who opted-out to move on.
Yes, this is a story about how Flori-duh once again didn’t think through one of its laws. But it’s also an important lawsuit that is now before County Circuit Court Judge Karen Gievers. Parents of held-back grade schoolers have sued the schools. From the Washington Post:
An undetermined number of third-graders who refused to take the Florida Standards Assessment in reading have been barred from moving to fourth grade in some counties. A lawsuit filed by parents against state education officials as well as school boards in seven Florida counties says counties are interpreting the state’s third-grade retention law so differently that the process has become unfair. Test participation, therefore, is more important than student class academic achievement...
Children and their families learned in June, when they received report cards, that they would be held back, and over the summer, parents organized and raised money so they could file a lawsuit challenging the third-grade retention law. School has started in some parts of Florida, and is about to start everywhere across the state.
This is a mess and it’s ridiculous that Florida didn’t see this coming and send out clear rules to parents before their opt-out/opt-in decisions were made.
But the larger problem, the one that faces states that are more statutorily rigorous than Florida, is how to weigh standardized testing within the context of student performance.
However this works out, standardized testing will be a huge part of these 4th graders lives. It’ll be up to the parents to make sure their kids are able to succeed in these exams, and actually learn all of the things a standardized test has no ability to capture.