Exams like the FCAT take away from teaching time, puts unneeded pressure on children, unfairly punish students, teachers, schools and entire systems, and deny the rights of children to a quality education and teachers' due process. That's what teachers, administrators and a parent said, and more, during a Thursday press conference at the Lee County Public Education Center in Fort Myers.
Exams such as the FCAT are mandated by the state and are used to grade schools, overall systems, students and even teachers.
Those who spoke at the press conference said the exams have created a burden on teachers, with little or no educational value, since results don't come in until after the school year.
"It has achieved nothing academically, but has created a pressure-packed atmosphere on our children, parents and educational professionals," said Mark Castellano, president of the Teachers Association of Lee County.
Lori Fayhee, who heads the group TNT (Teaching not Testing), is the parent of a fifth-grade student who chose to keep her son out of school during FCAT testing this week.
"High-stakes testing are the only areas where parental rights don't count. The only alternative other than keeping my child at home is to have him refuse to take the test," Fayhee said. "Over 40 percent of students in grades three through eight fail the FCAT; in nine and 10, 50 percent, and those with learning disabilities, 85 percent. I'm not ready to gamble with my son's education and childhood."
Schools are penalized if too many students opt out, Castellano said.
Kelsey Lewis, first-grade teacher at Rayma C. Page Elementary, said lawmakers have replaced responsibility for teachers with accountability, and that students spend 60 hours testing every year, roughly 10 school days, and high schoolers approaching graduation are constantly being tested, including the SAT, ACT, and more.
"FCAT is the worst offender in taking away the joy of learning and is not an accurate measure of student growth. It's a snapshot," Lewis said. "I know which students are struggling. I don't need a three-week long test to tell me long after the students have left for summer."
Bonnie Cunard-Margolin, language arts teacher at the North Fort Myers Academy for the Arts, showed a complicated mathematical equation, called the VAM (Value Added Measure), which evaluates teachers, and her score. The VAM is then used to help determine funding.
"Somewhere in this equation is my child. If you could tell me which letter represents him, I'd appreciate it," Margolin said. "I recently watched 'The Hunger Games' and this is what we have in our schools. Our kids are being sent into this arena to compete against each other so we can get funds to run our schools."
Kristy Kutz, assistant superintendent of teaching and learning, said all they want is a relief of the pressures associated with high-stake testing and common-sense solutions that can be made at the local level.
"We are united in the fact we want our children to be the focus. No matter what, we will do our best every day when we walk into the classroom," Kutz said. "We must think with common sense in terms of accountability."