Milberg's Musings: Damage control

Dumbing down of standards

By Glenna Milberg - Reporter
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MIAMI - What if you found this in your child's book bag?:

Dear Student:

I regret to tell you that your work is just not up to standard.  Your writing isn't good enough to pass the class.  I realize that I'm partially to blame; you see, I only taught you what I thought was on the test.  Little did I know the scorers would be such sticklers for good grammar, punctuation and factual information. And on a writing exam, no less!

That said, I have good news for you: your substandard work doesn't matter.

The bosses upstairs decided to dumb down the numbers and lower the bar, which means you passed after all! 

Congratulations.  See you in class.


Your Teacher

Faced with failing scores for about two-thirds of students who took the FCAT writing exam, the members of the Board of Education unanimously figured out how to instantly fix the problem

They just lowered the passing grade.  Voila!

So why did 4th, 8th and 10th graders score so poorly? The test has not changed since last year.  What has changed is the way it was scored.  And only a third of the students demonstrated a grade-level proficiency in writing under the more stringent scoring system.

In the past decade, Florida education administrators have made a very big deal about holding teachers and schools accountable for how students learn. That is a good thing. But they made the FCAT the Holy Grail of accountability methods, then staked teacher evaluations and even schools' funding on it.  That was controversial from the start, especially in multi-cultural, multi-lingual urban school districts (i.e. South Florida) where countless students and schools defy the concept of "standard." 

But scrapping the standards and lowering the bar when the grades aren't good renders the FCAT pointless as measure of gains and/or losses.

What good is a measure with no constant and no attainable goal? 

The question to be answered is simple: Can Johnny (and Juan and Jean and Joao) read and write their grade level? 

Do we even know the answer to that?

PS - If you find I have misspelled any words or made any errors in grammar, please adjust your expectations.  Thank you."

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