I posted earlier this week about my meeting with Florida's Commissioner of Education and how I left the meeting feeling hopeful because I felt like he listened! The very next day I was called to a meeting after school to hear the county's concern about proposals that are going to be voted on next Tuesday by the State Board of Education that have been recommended by the Department of Education. If I had had that information the day before, my conversation with the Commissioner would have been very different. I would have been asking deeper questions and pleading for some sort of understanding.
On the day the vote is to be taken we will be taking the 4th grade Florida Writes, the first of our state's high stakes test. In December we were informed that the cut scores for our state's FCAT would be changing. I certainly understand that the goal has always been that as the state starts meeting more of the standards, that the bar would continue to be raised. That was the idea behind increased rigor from the beginning. However, I do think it would be fairer to let counties, principals and teachers know that before they start the year instead of in the middle! There is no question that the new scores will cause a dip state wide. I get that. Our Leadership Team has been looking at how these scores will effect our school and we have been making strategic decisions with the resources that we have. Our Principal has been encouraging teachers to stay the course and to believe in what we do and to let her do all the worrying for them. (She must not be sleeping at night!)
All of that would have been fine, except yesterday we were informed of 14 new proposed changes. To be fair some of those changes will actually help us and make total sense but there is one that has me absolutely heartsick. The proposed change would be to include students with disabilities in the school grade for their proficiency score on the FCAT. It's not that I don't want my students counted. They are already held to making a year's worth of gain and count in our school's gains, but this would require them to also meet the grade standard to be proficient. While many of our students do meet this standard with intensive intervention there is a small percentage of children who do not. Children with intellectual disabilities are often doing the best they can. To even expect a year's gain is already unfair but to then also expect them to meet the grade level standard is asking the impossible. How do you tell the mother of a child that is learning how to swallow that we expect her child to be doing grade level Math of the school will be penalized? Really? For our center schools, this would mean they would be labeled an automatic F and would enter "intervene" status. Under the current guidelines the principal would be replaced and half of the faculty. The staff that chooses to be in these schools deserve a medal for their patience and compassion and for their belief. I believe they are called to this work and to think that we would change principals every year and try to find new faculty every year is ludicrous. I can't imagine what anyone that has taught these children (and I have spent nearly half my career working with significantly challenged children!) and walked with these families would even suggest such lunacy.
An even bigger worry for me is how long it would take for schools that have significant Special Education populations to begin to decide that these children are holding them back from a higher grade. How long would it be until principals and teachers and parents of general education students begin to say that they don't want "those" classes and "those" children in their schools. General education teachers with large pockets of included children are already realizing that the deck is stacked against them and as pay is eventually attached to student performance, will inclusion teachers begin to say no to pockets of children with challenging needs? A parent came in and asked me last year, "Mrs. Timmons, if teachers are paid for how well their students do on a test, who will want to teach my child?" Even though I have two healthy adult children and two healthy grandchildren, I realize that I too am part of the population at risk. It would only take an accident that left a child brain damaged or the birth of a new grandchild with disabilities to put me right there with these families. Each of us could be walking in those shoes tomorrow. We MUST do what is right for children.
If you agree, PLEASE make your voice heard while there is still time.
Commissioner Gerard Robinson - Commissioner@FLDOE.org
State Board of Education Member - Lynn.email@example.com
You can also complete the State Board's survey form about the changes.
The Commissioner's response was just posted.