Call it the tale of the tape. Or rather the tale of the test.
For an upcoming report for the Studer Institute, my colleagues and I have been reporting a series of stories looking at what 15 years of state standardized testing in Florida has brought Escambia and Santa Rosa counties schools.
For part of that work, I've been reading through 15 years worth of school grade reports for Pensacola metro area schools.
In that time:
— 17 of our schools have closed outright, been reconstituted as charter schools, or remixed as combination schools of different grade levels.
Some seem no worse for the wear. Pensacola Beach Elementary School was a A/B school as a public school; as a charter school it has been A's all the way.
A.A. Dixon School closed as a public elementary school with poor grades; it earned an F as a charter school in 2011. It's now a private school and doesn't participate in the FCAT merry-go-round.
— Schools that serve low-income communities seem to live on borrowed time.
Dixon and Spencer Bibbs were the only F schools in the state of Florida when the FCAT debuted in 1999. Both are closed as public schools now.
Brownsville Middle closed in 2007; so did Brentwood Middle and Wedgewood Middle. Century Elementary and Carver Middle school were combined into a K-8 school. By 2009, it was closed.
Edgewater Elementary closed in 2009, too. Hallmark and Allie Yniestra closed in 2011.
Lincoln Park Elementary, which saw poor grades and a declining student population that put it on the brink of closure, was reconstituted as a primary school serving kids in grades K-2. Their third-, fourth- and fifth-graders were redistricted to other schools.
They won't receive grades any more, because grades based on standardized testing begin in third grade.
But they'll be tested. Between Discovery Ed testing, reading testing for second graders, testing for mandatory first-grade retention, there is scarcely a child that draws breath in the public school that isn't tested.
And is that really what we want school to become?
What 15 years of data taught me is that we have taken a blunt instrument — a standardized test — and turned it into a cudgel that we use on students, teachers and schools. Tests can be a good tool to take a snapshot of what a student has learned about a subject.
When that is all we use it for.
But that's not we do anymore. We use it evaluate teachers, even when they don't teach a subject that is tested by FCAT. We use it to measure special education students against a grade-level standard we know they will never meet.
We use it make teachers focus most of their energy effort on the kids in the middle of the pack because they are the ones whose progress can earn the most points on the scoring scale.
The kids at the top? Well, we kind of assume they'll be OK regardless so we let them go on their way.
The kids at the bottom? Well, we'd like to help them, but some of them are so far behind — and will require so much effort to bring up just to par — that we end up just helping them enough to get by.
Somehow I doubt what most teachers I know got into the profession to do.
Originally published Jan. 30, 2015.