Friday, May 25, 2012

The Florida FCAT Has Failed My Daughter

Please forgive me while I indulge in a very personal discussion.

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 Education.com

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 Edutopia.com

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.

23 comments:

  1. Does Florida not adhere to the IEP when administering state tests? It's the law in Kentucky. I would think you have legal recourse if they made her take a test without her accommodations.

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    1. The state has a standard for administration. The best the school could offer was a "quiet room" for Eldest and the other 20-odd children who need a quiet test environment. Twenty children is not a quiet room.

      I could, and may, pursue the IEP violation. But if I do that the school and her teacher will be the ones punished. I don't believe it's their fault.

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    2. You know the situation best, but we are fanatical about following the IEP during testing, and at the teacher level it truly is care for the child, but at the administrative level, it's fear of lawsuits. When the stakes are as high as they were for your daughter, it's absolute negligence not to provide her legal accommodations.

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    3. This school has been bad about the IEP, we had to fight to get what she needed. My biggest fear is that going at it with the IEP angle will only create a hostile environment next year. This is a rural k-12 school and we're the outsiders. Our family hasn't been here for five generations.

      I did offer to sign a waiver stating that the standardized testing format is against our religion if the school would agree to ignore her test scores.

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  2. Oh my. As a teacher at Sylvan Learning Center, we've encountered too many of these kinds of stories. Normally some child is "too disruptive" or has problems focusing in a crowded room. Not necessarily to your daughter's levels, but enough to be cause lower grades. When we work with them one-on-one, they positively explode with growth. Good for you for being willing to pull your daughter out of public schools so they can't humiliate her with another year of 3rd grade.

    I'm sorry I don't know much about homeschooling curriculum. Sylvan rocks, but we're ridiculously expensive for most people and don't cover all the topics you've listed.

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    1. Most school are ridiculously expensive, luck for me I've been teaching in one form or another for the past ten years. I have practice developing curriculum for classes, and I have all my old science texts. There's also a virtual student program that we might look into for her.

      Someone has also suggested private schools, although I think the state standardized test will still be honored there.

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    2. Private schools are exempt from the FCAT. They typically use the Iowa or NEDT for evaluation purposes. When transitioning from one to the other (public to private, and vice versa), only the school transcripts, i.e. course grades, are reviewed with behavior records. And using the IEP argument qualifies your child for retesting, which you might be able to have done at another Florida school that has her legally mandated accommodations available. Failing her takes money out of the school's & district's coffers, so it's in their best interest to fix this mess.

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  3. I have so much I'd like to say, but won't because the vast majority of it is negative - mostly towards the public school system and standardized testing. You've said a lot of what I think above in your post.

    What I want to say is more for Eldest: don't give up. Don't let them convince you you're "not good enough". Don't let them tell you you're "defective" because you can't pass their stupid standardized tests (which they've ADMITTED aren't useful). You're a smart, wonderful person with a bright future.

    Liana, I hope you find a good homeschool curriculum for Eldest. I'll ask around. I know a few homeschooling families and I'll see what they recommend. I'll DM you on Twitter once I have something for you.

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  4. One of my girls (I co-lead an activity day group) is homeschooled. But it's through that online K-12 program which her parents (and she) really seem to like. I'm generally opposed to home schooling because of the socialization issues (I've never met a person that was homeschooled who wasn't uncomfortably awkward in social situations save this girl), but there are valid reasons for home schooling. This is definitely one such instance where it's warranted/valid.

    Also, I'm not sure if you know Nisa Swineford here on the internets but she uses K-12 as well for her two boys.

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    1. I've always been hesitant because my girls love school. Eldest adores her teacher. She loves her friends. There's never been a day where she hasn't been excited about school.

      But I can't look her in the eye and tell her she failed third grade. She didn't fail. She's passed all her tests. She's done all her homework. She's learned everything she needs to know.

      She's too smart and her self-esteem is fragile because she's the oldest in her class. She's already going to be 18 her entire senior year. I'm not willing to let her be 19 and in high school.

      If she'd failed classes and was struggling, it would be different. If I honestly thought she wasn't ready for fourth grade, it wouldn't matter. But she isn't failed and she is ready.

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  5. Standarized testing is stupid. Period. I hate that schools gear their teaching towards tests. It's so wrong.

    My heart goes out to poor Eldset. She sounds like such a wonderful, bright young lady.

    If you end up homeschooling, I strongly suggest joining a homeschool group for classes and moral support. I was a part of two here in Ohio. Oberlin College students taught me swimming lessons, I took Bio and Chem from a doctor (one student's mother), acted in plays, socialized, etc.

    Some good curriculum:

    English - Abeka Books: http://www.abeka.com/ABekaOnline/ProductSearch.aspx?grade=&subject=LANGUAGE,LANGUAGE%20VISUAL&title=&sbn=

    My sister got maybe a thirty-two on the English portion of the ACT (I was prolly a 25, but yeah), and we did their English/Language books almost all the way through.

    Math - Saxon Math: http://www.christianbook.com/saxon

    My mom and I butted heads over this subject, but I got passing grades, and when testing time came I did well.

    Those are the only books I remember. Hope that helps!

    *hugs*
    Bethy

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  6. Good for you for doing what you need to for your daughter instead of leaving her future in someone else's hands. :) Too much focus is paid to tests that mean absolutely nothing. *hugs* And I'm sorry your daughter is having to go through this. I'm just glad she has a mom like you. :D

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  7. Unless something major has changed in the last six years, in Florida, the school district is required to allow homeschooled children to participate in extracurricular activities. She should be able to continue with basketball.

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    1. Good to know. She loved basketball this year. I'd like her to continue if she can.

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  8. Home schooling is hard I know. It puts a lot of demands on a parent, but I believe it may be far better than the state supported system. As far as I am concerned all children should be home schooled. In "my opinion" the children who want to learn will learn. In a school environment the ones who do not want to learn hold back the ones who do. I had to take second grade over not because I was dumb, but because I needed glasses and the system did not realize it till it was to late. Being held back gives children a major complex. I hope and pray it all works out for you.

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    1. Homeschooling might not be best, but it's the only option. My daughter didn't fail her classes. She isn't struggling with the material, but she is painfully aware that she has a speech and language delay that sets her apart. She already is upset because she can't talk like her peers, now the state wants me to tell her that she kept up academically all year but that's not good enough.

      We move again in eighteen months or less. When we do I want her to be ready for the fifth grade, not twelve and ready for fourth grade.

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  9. The education systems in both of our countries need to be upgraded.

    You should sit down with Eldest and talk over options with her. Being home schooled might still be better for her in the long run even if you can get her retested. It might be impossible for her to see her friends every day but there should be ways to allow her to get together with them so she keeps that contact going.

    As for the curriculum, can you get a copy from the school? Then add in any subjects that interest Eldest. Like what you do over the summer months.

    We had the opposite problem with our daughter. We taught her almost from birth so when she started school she was further along in her reading, math, general knowledge, science and history than her classmates. She found school boring because she already knew the material. Despite being given a hard time by some of the kids, she kept her love of learning and still learns all she can about anything that interests her or her friends.

    Given a choice, I would have preferred to home school her. As it was, we did everything we could to keep her interested in learning and expanding what she was studying so that she kept some interest in the school work. The best thing we ever did for her was to move and expose her to a new group of friends who were willing to accept her rather than resent her.

    Sounds like Eldest has friends willing to accept her as she is so that helps a lot.

    Good luck in figuring out a solution.

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    1. Honestly, I don't think much of the school curriculum. In the USA only the charter schools and private schools have the funding to provide a good education, and you need to be very lucky or very wealthy to get your child into those schools. My daughter's school is using outdated science books, they have no hands on projects (although there is a teacher working to change that), and they have no field trips. That's why I supplement over the summer with field trips, art, and music.

      There is an online school for the state that offers an advanced curriculum with Spanish. I'm not sure if she qualifies, but we're looking into it. My biggest concern is finding speech therapy for her if she isn't in the school system.

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    2. My two best friends both have sons with ADHD, one also had a cleft tongue when he was younger and had to undergo therapy. Luckily, here it is easy to get a speech therapist referred by a family doctor rather than going through the school system.

      Hearing what they are going through with our school systems, which have changed a lot since my girl was in them but not for the better, I am extremely thankful she is no longer in school. I'd probably be arrested for murder with what I'd have done to some of the teachers and school board members.

      I thought the education system was outdated by at least twenty years when I went through it, when my daughter went through it I knew it was outdated by fifty years in many ways although the school was trying to update some subjects, and hearing my friends complain I know the education system badly needs to be fixed.

      Even though one of my friends' two kids both took a course in computer website design, the teacher was an imbecile and used a template format that experienced web designers put out for non-computer-literate people to use. Since my friend is a website designer, she was extremely frustrated by the misinformation being given to her children. At least she can correct this one but her kids need to learn the way the teacher shows them to pass their course. However, her son has enough trouble learning some things, trying to teach him that the way he has to learn is wrong and he'll be taught the right way later only confuses him. He wants to learn the right way so he can move on to other things.

      I want to go pound on the teacher for them so I can only imagine how much more frustrated my friend is dealing with the whole thing.

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  10. Ontario instituted standardized testing when I was still in high school, and was shocked that so many students failed it (I did not) when it, too, was terribly written and often unclear in what it was seeking.

    Standardized tests are a terrible, terrible idea overall, and there's really no need for them at ANY age because they don't prove anything that the school year hasn't already covered. With your daughter doing so well after all that trouble, the school system really IS failing her by ignoring all that effort in favour of those bloody tests.

    I'm sorry you and your family are going through this. It's absolutely ridiculous.

    At least, in this day and age, arranging for social time outside school isn't usually too terrible thanks to social media, instant messengers, text messages, ect. Home schooling may be something to consider, but I have no suggestions for that, unfortunately. Good luck.

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  11. Liana did you end up homeschooling? Update please. My son failed fcat but not his grades & I'm considering homeschooling him so he doesn't have to repeat 3rd grade. Please advise.

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    1. We wound up letting Eldest retest during the summer and she moved on to fourth grade and another straight A year. I do home school over the summer, so this year I'm teaching 3rd and 5th so the kids will be ahead when they hit the fall semester.

      Since the FCAT is being phased out his performance on the FCAT shouldn't be able to hold him back this year. I'd call the school and talk to the guidance counselor about it.

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