This week the Florida Department of Education released scores on the state's writing test that showed a drastic drap in this year's scores, with only 27% of fourth-graders receiving a passing score of 4, on a 6-point scale, compared with 81% last year. The Board of Education quickly met to address the problem and decided to lower the passing score to 3, which put proficiency back at 81% for this year's test. The change is significant because it is used to calculate school grades and may be used to calculate teachers' pay.
So why did this happen in Florida? It seems to me that Florida is doing the right thing by trying to provide more rigor in its schools. Nobody would argue that our graduates need and deserve to be completing with the best graduates from all over the world. We know that education is one of the key factors in making our children competitive in the national marketplace. However, to just raise the expectation without providing the foundation is a ridiculous way to the top. I don't think any teacher that is in the trenches is surprised that the road crumbled along the way.
Teachers have known for a while that spelling and conventions would be taken into account this year on the writing test, but where was the professional development, the curriculum, the expertise that helped teachers make that transition? It was just a couple of years ago that teacher were told that content was everything and that spelling and conventions didn't matter at all, so teachers changed what made good sense to most of them and began to emphasize content over spelling and grammar. You can't expect 4th graders to all of sudden have four years of knowledge about spelling and conventions after teachers were told to de-emphasize it.
The state has said that one of the changes would be the quality of details expected this year so you would assume that if the scores fell so drastically this would be a place that students did not meet the expectation. Again I ask where was the professional development for teachers to help them make this transition? The state has said that one of the prompts that 4th graders were expected to write was, "Suppose someone had a chance to ride a camel and to write a story about what happens on this camel ride." If details were to count for so much this year, why would the powers that be choose a prompt that might be so foreign to Florida's children? This was a FLORIDA prompt so wouldn't something about manatees or dolphins or even alligators be something that Florida 4th graders might be more familiar with and be able to provide more details about? If the expectations is that details be provided wouldn't something that most Florida children have some background knowledge about be a better starting place? Camels!!! Really?
Most of the teachers that I know are ready and willing to work hard on behalf of our children. Most of the 4th grade teachers I know have said that they taught every single minute and taught their children every single that they know to teach. They couldn't have done any more to get them ready. They didn't get into this profession because of the money (of which there is little) or the great vacations. They came because they cared and because they are service-oriented. They want to make a difference. They want to touch lives. As cliche as that sounds, it is the simple truth. Teachers are willing to do whatever they need to do to provide a quality education to their charges. For many of them, it is their own personal children that are being effected. They cannot, however, continually be the scapegoat for every disastrous decision that is made, of which they have no input and little power to change. Give them strong leadership with a well thoought out path. Give them the proper, continuous, on the clock, quality professional development to make the expected changes and they will rise to the occasion and rigor WILL increase in our state.
Our children simply deserve better than the ridiculous political back and forth that is swirling over their heads right now.