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Putting Education Reform To The Test

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New Book Looks At The History And Future Of Testing In U.S. Schools

Anya Kamenetz is an education reporter for NPR and author of a new book on testing in U.S. schools.

Anya Kamenetz

Anya Kamenetz is an education reporter for NPR and author of a new book on testing in U.S. schools.

Lots of people think there’s too much testing going on in schools right now. It’s one of the most contentious issues in education.

Lawmakers want to scale back the amount of time Florida students spend taking tests.

But at the same time, Florida is rolling out a new test tied to new math and language arts standards — known as Common Core.

NPR education reporter Anya Kamenetz researched the history and use of standardized exams for her book, “The Test.”

Kamenetz sat down with WLRN’s StateImpact Florida education reporter John O’Connor to talk about what students are losing — because of all the tests.

Q: What was your view on testing before you started work on the book and did it change at all during the course of reporting and writing it?

A: As I began to be an education reporter, first I was a higher education reporter. And I was very enthralled with, sort of, innovations in higher ed. And when I turned my attention to K-12, partly because I had a child of my own, I realized that there was very much less scope for, sort of, innovation in K-12.

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Essay: How To Teach Brown V. Board To A Class Of All Black Students

The Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial in Washington, D.C.

zrfraileyphotography / Flickr

The Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial in Washington, D.C.

Editor’s note: As schools around the country celebrate the Martin Luther King, Jr. birthday holiday, we’re reposting this essay from former South Florida teacher Jeremy Glazer about race in education.

Here’s a question: How do you teach a class of all black students in an all black school that Brown v. Board of Education ended segregation decades ago?

That isn’t a hypothetical question, but one I remember clearly asking myself. I was teaching American History for the first time in one of our nation’s many embarrassingly homogeneous schools. I could not, with a straight face, teach my students that segregation had ended.  They’d think that either they or I didn’t know what the word segregation meant.   

But, as a beginning teacher, I was afraid of telling too much truth.  Brown’s legacy is not a hopeful story about law, or government, or progress, and it seemed like a particularly cruel lesson in power, racism, and injustice.  I wanted to be both honest and gentle to my students and probably failed at both.

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Amateur Radio Club Connects Miami Students With Space Station

A student asks a question of European Space Agency astronaut Samantha Cristoferretti while Dade Radio Club of Miami president Miguel Garate looks on.

John O'Connor / StateImpact Florida

A student asks a question of European Space Agency astronaut Samantha Cristoferretti while Dade Radio Club of Miami president Miguel Garate looks on.

At first, the kids in the auditorium at Richmond Heights Middle School weren’t sure they’d hear a voice above the ear-burning static.

Dade Radio Club of Miami president Miguel Garate kept signaling the space station.

“NA1SS, NA1SS, this is Richmond Heights. Over,” Garate said repeatedly, trying to hail the space station.

They had just minutes before astronaut Samantha Cristoferretti would be out of range.

A voice cut through the white noise.

“This is November Alpha One, I-S-S. I read you three by five,” Cristoferretti said.

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Fewer And Better: How Lawmakers Want To Change State Testing

Students will take the Florida Standards Assessments online.

Extra Ketchup/flickr

Most students will take the Florida Standards Assessments online.

When lawmakers return to Tallahassee in March for the annual legislative session, they have a lot of questions they need to answer about public school testing.

Senators laid out their concerns about the state testing system last week at a series of meetings.

They don’t know how many tests the state requires, or how long it takes to complete those exams.

They don’t know how much the state and school districts spend on testing.

And they’re not convinced they can depend on all the results of those exams.

Sen. David Simmons – and his colleagues — wants to change that.

“We’ve got the chance here this spring to do a re-write of this so that we can, in fact, assure that we’re not over-testing our children,” Simmons said.

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The Education Year In Review — And What To Expect In 2015

Testing opponents quietly show support for speakers at an August Lee County school board meeting. The board voted 3-2 to reverse its state testing boycott.

Ashley Lopez / WGCU

Testing opponents quietly show support for speakers at an August Lee County school board meeting. The board voted 3-2 to reverse its state testing boycott.

2014 was a big year for education in Florida.

Activists in Lee County convinced the school board to ditch state testing – before the board reversed the decision a couple of days later.

Florida schools pushed ahead with new Common Core-based math and language arts standards in every grade, despite rising opposition to Common Core across the country.

And education was a top issue during the governor’s race.

Barry University political scientist Sean Foreman sat down with StateImpact Florida to talk about what we learned in 2014, and what’s next in 2015?

Q: The big story this year was on testing, and we saw some – in at least one county kind of an open revolt against the statewide testing requirements. And we’re starting to hear legislative leaders talk about changing the requirements as well. What do you think is going to happen and what did we learn this year?

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Why Miami-Dade High School Students Are Teaching Their Classmates About Health

Diamante Sharpe leads an practice session for student health educators in the HIP program.

John O'Connor / StateImpact Florida

Diamante Sharpe leads an practice session for student health educators in the HIP program.

Abuse. Drugs. Mental health issues.

It’s tough enough for anyone to talk about those problems. It can be even harder for teens facing them for the first time.

That’s why the Health Information Project (HIP) trains high school juniors and seniors to lead freshmen through a year-long health education program. The program is in 37 Miami-Dade public high schools, plus one private school.  It has trained more than 1,000 juniors and seniors on how to teach and talk to younger schoolmates about health issues.

“What we’ve realized over the years is that peers can be very persuasive in a positive way and they can influence those that look like them,” said Risa Berrin, who started the program.

The school day is over at North Miami Beach High School. Most students have headed for the doors. But Diamante Sharpe and Erica Poitevien and about a dozen classmates are working on their lesson plans.

“So welcome back to HIP. My name is Diamante,” Sharpe tells the group. “And today is our fourth session – mental health.”

They ask those gathered to clear their desks, pay attention and offer constructive criticism to classmates to help them teach the material better.

Over the course of the year, students teach eight lessons and lead discussions.

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What Florida’s New Reading Exam Means For Your Third Grader

Third graders who earn the lowest score on Florida's new statewide reading test this school year, are still at risk of repeating third grade.

OSDE / Flickr

Third graders who earn the lowest score on Florida's new statewide reading test this school year, are still at risk of repeating third grade.

We’ve been answering audience questions about Florida’s new statewide test, the Florida Standards Assessments.

A parent asked us on Facebook: “Please find out for us parents of third graders, who face mandatory retention if they fail the new reading assessment this spring, how the state plans to deal with them. Will they return to 3rd grade after the cut scores are determined in Winter 2015?”

The bottom line: third graders can still be held back next year if they score the equivalent of a 1, out of 5, on the reading test. But those students are still eligible to to advance to fourth grade through one of state’s exemptions, including a portfolio or passing an alternative exam.

Florida students will begin taking the Florida Standards Assessments beginning in early March, with testing running on and off through mid-May. But the State Board of Education isn’t expected to set final targets — known as cut scores — until Winter 2015.

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Your Guide To The Florida Standards Assessments

We’re taking this week to help parents and students understand the new Florida Standards Assessments, which students will take for the first time beginning in March.

The math, reading and writing exam (reading and writing are combined as English language arts) is intended to measure how well students in third through eleventh grades understand Florida’s Common Core-based standards. The standards outline what students should know at the end of each grade.

We’ve pulled together the most important things to know about the new exam in this presentation. Click on the right or left side of the slide to advance or go back.

Meet Florida’s New Statewide Test

This is a sample math question from the Florida Standards Assessment. The questions asks students to...

Screen shot / Florida Department of Education

This is a sample math question from the Florida Standards Assessment. The questions asks students to fill in the blanks, but provides more possible choices than answer spaces.

This spring, Florida students will take a brand new test tied to the state’s new math, reading and writing standards.

This is the test that replaces the FCAT. It’s known as the Florida Standards Assessment, and it’ll be online.

What’s on the test won’t be the only thing different about the exam. Students will also find new types of questions.

We gathered your questions about the new exam from our Public Insight Network. Here’s what you you wanted to know — and what it’ll mean for students and schools.

Bill Younkin from Miami Beach is wondering about the fact that the exam’s online.

“What type of test will it be? How will it be administered?” he asks. “Will there be a paper and pencil alternative? What types of questions will it contain? How long will it take to administer?”

Last year, Florida students took 3.8 million tests using computers – so online exams are nothing new in Florida. But the Florida Standards Assessment is different from past exams

The new exam will be more interactive (you can see practice questions here).

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Florida Teachers Consider ‘Civil Disobedience’ To Say No To Testing

Miramar High School teacher David Ross says testing has taken more and more time away from teaching. He refused to administer an FCAT make-up exam in protest.

John O'Connor / StateImpact Florida

Miramar High School teacher David Ross says testing has taken more and more time away from teaching. He refused to administer an FCAT make-up exam in protest.

In September, Alachua County kindergarten teacher Susan Bowles refused to give a state reading test.

She told the parents of her students it was an act of civil disobedience. The Florida Department of Education later suspended the exam for this year.

Florida requires that most students are tested every year. Those results help determine which students graduate, ratings for public schools and teacher pay.

Supporters say Florida schools have improved since pioneering the use of tests. Testing forces schools to pay attention to every student’s progress.

Some teachers say they believe too many tests are bad for students. Around the state, students, parents, teachers, superintendents and school boards are discussing how to voice their opposition to testing.

But is the classroom the right place to raise those questions? Educators disagree about the best way for teachers to speak up.

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