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Kids collateral damage in anti-universal standards war

September 3, 2014
Lehigh Acres Citizen

At the urging of unhappy parents and educators who say they are fed to the gills with escalating standardized testing mandates, a school board majority voted last week to "opt out" of statewide testing requirements.

That action came contrary to the guidance of School Superintendent Nancy Graham.

It came against the advice of School Board Attorney Keith Martin.

And, perhaps worst of all, it came without even a tentative replacement plan.

With kids and grandkids in the system ourselves, we understand the frustration of parents and teachers.

We praise those who had the courage to say enough is enough.

But the board action taken Wednesday was at best, hasty.

At worst, it has the very real potential to do great harm to the children whose education we entrust to the district's care.

What the board has done is make Lee County students the front-line pawns in the highly politicized Common Core, anti-universal standards, too-much testing battle being waged nationwide.

That is something we cannot endorse - kids as collateral damage in the anti-universal standards holy war.

Attorney Martin provided for the board a detailed outline of potential impacts to students and the district. By "opting out:"

- Students will not be able to complete state graduation requirements needed for a high school diploma. Those requirements include passing the 10th grade FCAT.

- Students in high school and middle school may not be able to earn class credits if state required end-of-course tests are not given. That could result in either the inability to receive a diploma or mandated on-line "remedial classes" to avoid the loss of that class credit.

- Opting-out could affect elementary school students in kindergarten through third grade who are entitled to "intensive reading instruction" based on low test scores. Third graders whose reading levels are not at grade level may not have that deficiency corrected. Currently, if Jenny or Jeremy can't read, they are retained in third grade to give them the boost needed to succeed at the higher grade levels.

- If schools are not to be "graded" by the state and so receive an "incomplete," students in low-performing schools may not be able to transfer to a better performing school as required by the state for those assigned to "F" or "D" schools.

- Schools may lose a variety of funding, impacting programs at all levels but especially affecting students with special needs. Funding based on testing requirements include "recognition dollars" for improving school grades; Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) dollars and Title I money.

The state also could "withhold the transfer of state funds, discretionary grant funds, discretionary lottery funds or any other funds specified by the Legislature until the School District complies with the law" and declare the district ineligible for grants.

A quote attributed to Dr. Graham, perhaps, said it best.

"This will hurt children. There is no way around it ... ," she is reported to have said following the vote.

There are better ways to handle the issue of cumbersome testing mandates that are not only defensible, but minimize the potential for grave harm to students who only get one shot at a good education - the very-easy-to-endorse impetus behind the anti-testing/testing/testing wave.

We urge the board to rescind its decision.

If none of the three "yes" votes step forward to allow reconsideration, the new board needs to make this its top priority.

- Citizen editorial



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