Friday, May 25, 2012

The Florida FCAT Has Failed My Daughter

My oldest daughter is ten this summer. She was diagnosed with Central Audio Processing Disorder half way through her first year of first grade. I say first year because the limitations of CAPD combined with the standard rote learning and sound-it-out spelling the school system uses were a recipe for disaster and at the end of first grade the first time she couldn't read at all. Once she received the classroom accommodations for her disorder (a quiet room to test in and preferential seating that placed her near the teacher so she could hear), she became a straight A student.

For two years she maintained a 4.0 GPA while being active in extracurricular activities. She maintained the 4.0 GPA despite a mid-year move from Alabama to South Carolina and a much stricter school district. When we moved to Florida in the summer of 2011 we expected no less from her. Sadly, this is where we encountered our first failure in the Florida school system. My daughter's IEP was lost between South Carolina and Florida. Both school districts claimed the other had the IEP, and the first nine weeks in our new home state were a nightmare.

Packed into an overcrowded classroom with no accommodations available our daughter failed. Despite conferencing with both the teachers she had during that time period and speaking with school councilors, a quiet room for testing was not possible without an IEP.

My daughter was shattered. She was heartbroken. Hard work at home, hours of practice, even a perfect understanding of the material couldn't compensate for the fact that she was overstimulated in a crowded room. During a test the sounds of children talking quietly after they finished, chewing on pencils, and coughing were enough to disrupt her concentration. CAPD is not something that can be controlled by medication. No procedure will erase this from her life. All we can do is train her to work with what she has and adapt the environment around her to best serve her needs.

Asking for a quiet room for my daughter to test in is no different than asking for a wheelchair ramp for a student who has lost use of their legs. It's different than asking for a teacher that speaks ASL when a student is deaf.

In the second nine weeks a new teacher was hired, the classroom was split, and her original teacher returned from maternity leave. My husband and I fought hard and finally convinced the school to reevaluate her and institute a new IEP. Once in place, her grades began to climb.

The teacher told us that it was unlikely our daughter would be able to obtain a high GPA for the year, she was too far behind and digging herself out of a list of failing scores. Our daughter persevered. She worked hard all year long and finally closed out the year as a student on the A/B honor roll. She meets or exceeds all standards for her class. She's reading above her grade level and one of the top math students in her class.

She also failed the third grade.

Not because of her grades. Not because she accumulated too many absences. Not because of missed homework or bad behavior.

She failed the Florida FCAT.

She failed one poorly written, badly administered test, and now the state of Florida wants her to repeat the third grade.

73% of fourth grades failed the written portion of the Florida FCAT this year.
SEVENTY-THREE PERCENT. Not because three out of four children can't read or write, but because the Florida FCAT is a poorly designed test.

Despite numerous reports showing that standardized tests do not accurately report student learning, and in some cases hinder the actual learning process, the state of Florida insists that this is the best way to ensure our children have a good education.

The school has an emergency option in place for children who have failed, there is summer school. This isn't your ordinary summer school where a teacher catches you up on math and reading, no, this is Learn To Bubble summer school with another standardized test at the end. Twelve weeks of Learning To Bubble followed by another standardized test in another crowded classroom.

I told the teacher, with all due respect, that we won't be taking that option. Every summer I've developed a summer school curriculum for my children based on the state guidelines for the coming year. My oldest daughter will start on fourth grade math and vocabulary, she will also have science, art, music, geography, and history lessons that the school no longer offers. We will go on field trips, get messy, and have fun. Field trips are too expensive for the school, and her class hasn't experimented with anything messier than markers this year.

This fall, she'll continue on to fourth grade. At home. At this point homeschooling is the only way I can ensure my child has an adequate education that will prepare her for college and adulthood, not as a future Bubbler.

My daughter didn't fail the Florida FCAT.

The Florida FCAT failed my daughter. It fails to prepare her for a bright future. It fails to provide her with a good education. It fails to evaluate her actual academic standing within the guidelines set by the state of Florida.

I would love for my daughter to go back to her school next year. She likes her teachers. She wants to be with her friends and compete on the basketball team again. I believe that social interaction is crucial for children her age. She needs to be in school, learning to coexist and interact and work with people who aren't exactly like her.

But she doesn't need to repeat third grade.

She is an A/B honor roll student, and the only way she will be returning to the public school system next year is if she is enrolled as a fourth grader.

If you'd like to read more about the problems with the Florida FCAT and other standardized tests you can start here:
The Florida Education Association's stance on the FCAT
The report on the the FCAT Fiasco from NEA Today
Pinellas Classroom Teacher's Association reaction to the FCAT results
Seven Reasons Why Standardized Tests Aren't Working from

If you'd like to get involved in the fight against standardized testing or read about why extracurricular classes like art and music should be reinstated into the classroom curriculum you can start here:
Parents Across America
The US Department of Education RESPECT Vision document
Why the Arts Are Crucial from

If you'd like to suggest solutions or good homeschooling programs for a fourth grader interested in reading in robotics, please leave a comment below.