Principal: Kids turning into 'test-taking machines'

Performance pay law will bring additional standardized tests to schools

Lauren Rowe interviews a 9th grader at Ocoee High School about standardized testing.
Lauren Rowe interviews a 9th grader at Ocoee High School about standardized testing.

OCOEE, Fla. – In the student government class at Ocoee High School, students have spirited debates about changes they want to see take place in their school.

But there is no debate when it comes to how they feel about the amount of standardized tests they have to take every year.

"I think they believe it's really going to help us understand the subjects, but, really, it's just really stressing us out when we can go more in depth in class and studying in class rather than take a test," said Terrell Lewis, a 10th grader at the school.

His principal agreed.

Bill Floyd said during the last nine weeks of the school year, his instructional staff handles standardized testing for about five of those weeks in some capacity.

"Parents need to wake up to what's going on in the schools," said Floyd, who thinks kids are being turned into what he referred to as test-taking machines.

Floyd is concerned about the additional testing that is on its way as a result of a new law.

SB 736, or the 'Student Success Act,' will tie teacher salaries to performance.

More than half of that performance will be determined by student gains on standardized tests beginning during the 2014-2015 school year.  The other half is tied to how well teachers score during classroom evaluations.

Each school district, in conjunction with the Florida Department of Education, is mandated to come up with the mechanism of testing and evaluating teachers on their own.

"Orange County Public Schools is currently exploring an end-of-course model that would use student prior performance in other related courses for growth," said Dr. Vickie Cartwright, the senior director for accountability, research and development for OCPS.

The once a year, end of course testing has Floyd and teachers concerned.

John Parmenter is the math specialist for Ocoee High school.  As part of his job, he analyzes testing data and figures out how to improve student test scores.  He said there have been times where just a few students have scored low enough to skew the entire school's performance.

Now that these test scores will be tied to his pay, he is alarmed that his colleagues might become too focused on the test.

"They feel so much pressure that sometimes it's more important to teach for the test or worry about the test than look at the whole child and see what the child really needs," said Parmenter.

Sen. David Simmons, the chair of the Florida Senate's K-12 Education Appropriations Committee, said the point of the law is to hold teacher's accountable.

"I believe there are less than 5 percent of our teachers who are not doing a good job, but those 5 percent can do a lot of damage and we need to let them go find another job, that's all," said Simmons, R-Seminole.

Simmons said that only half of the teacher's performance will be determined by testing to take into account the scenario that a few bad test-takers could skew the score.

Floyd and Parmenter brought up concerns that students gains will be measured from an end of the year test, and not fairly represent whether or not a teacher actually helps grow their pupil.

"You can't put all your eggs on that one day test. That's just not a good situation," said Parmenter.

Simmons seemed to be under the impression that school districts would be setting up a test at the beginning of the year and then one at the end of the year.

But the Florida Department of Education and the Orange County School District said that is not necessarily always going to be the case.

Cartwright said there will be some classes in which a pre-test and a post-test would be necessary, but some courses will rely on FCAT scores from one year to the next.

"Because districts have been given latitude on how to measure student mastery of the content that are aligned to the standards, each district may have a different approach. It is not a cut and dry scenario of providing a pre-test and then a post-test due to many things that may impact the amount of growth seen between the two assessments, said Cartwright. "OCPS is diligently working on a method that would consider those things in a fair and equitable manner for all teachers."

Floyd is also concerned with the way the law will affect teachers at lower-income schools and his ability to hire dedicated teachers.

Local 6's Lauren Rowe will explore those issues during a second report on Local 6 News at 7 p.m. Friday.