You may or may not have seen this viral video of 9-year-old Sydney Smooth schooling her school board on the hypocrisy of standardized testing. As the parent of a 9-year-old daughter who is currently feeling the pressure of the FSA (Florida’s standardized test), I applaud her for speaking up to school administrators. I have a somewhat unique perspective in that I’m the parent of six kids, several of whom will be taking the FSAs this year, and I’m employed in a middle school in Florida.
As a parent, I can say with certainty that the standardized testing in Florida has sucked the love of learning right out of my daughter. As an educator, I can say that teachers aren’t any happier about this than parents are.
My daughter, like all kids, used to have an inherent love of learning. She enjoyed going to school. She had a natural curiosity and couldn’t get enough information to satisfy her never-ending questions about life. She loved her teachers and would ask them for extra homework when she had learned all the current lessons and was bored.
Now, however, she starts crying and complaining of tummy aches the moment I wake her up in the morning. She doesn’t want to go to school. She has been convinced by teachers and administration that if she fails her upcoming FSAs, she’ll be held back. She melts down every night, stressed over the homework designed to prepare her for these tests (which is sometimes as many as 20 pages). She’s only in the third grade!
This same daughter has gotten straight A’s every single quarter that she’s been in school. She has demonstrated a proficiency in all subject areas. She regularly tests above grade-level in reading and math. I’m not writing this to brag about what a brilliant scholar she is, but to show you that even a bright kid who has excelled and has experienced no problems with education can struggle and be overcome with anxiety over testing.
I cannot seem to convince her that it is nothing more than one test. No matter how hard I try to explain that it is not the determining factor in whether she’ll be successful or not in her life, she’s terrified she’ll be a failure if she doesn’t pass it.
Florida does indeed retain students if they perform poorly on the FCAT (Florida’s state test prior to 2015 when it was replaced by the FSA). I’ve personally had many 15- and even 16-year-old students in middle school. They should be sophomores in high school, but they were held back one or more times. No wonder everyone is scared! Certainly if a child needs another year to gain proficiency in the standards being taught, holding them back should be the last course of action, only approached after all other resources such as tutoring and intensive programs have been exhausted.
I can tell you, teachers and administrators aren’t any happier about this situation than parents and students. The entire school year is devoted to learning how to pass the FSA. There’s no time to teach anything but the standards on which the students will be tested. There’s certainly no time to indulge a child’s curiosity or encourage their love of learning.
Look at it this way — can you imagine your career hanging on the ability to pass one test? Your past performance or mastery of concepts is irrelevant. Your prior evaluations don’t matter. Your stellar record means nothing. You must pass this test to keep your job. And every single day from August through April, your boss reminds you that you need to pass this test or you’ll be demoted. You aren’t given enough time to do your work because you have to practice taking this test every day.
Yes, you can fight the mandatory retention if your child fails the FSA. You can make sure their teachers and administrators look at the whole picture, including their grades and performance for the entire year, and if they did well enough on other assessments, they could still be promoted to the next grade. But shouldn’t administrators be doing this anyway — looking at the whole picture? I know I sure wouldn’t want my worth determined by the results of one test. Would you?