The educators in Miami-Dade county’s schools and across the great state of Florida are once again bracing themselves for the upcoming legislative session in Tallahassee. They brace themselves because the changes to how our schools operate come fast and furious once the opening gavel falls. In the last few years, we have seen massive changes to how students are tested, teachers are rated, and how our schools are operated. Teachers face massive uncertainty on how they will be paid throughout the future of their careers. Every year we hear how the legislature will change everything from the tests that we use, to how the scores of those tests will be judged all of this sometimes while the work of educating children is being done.
Right now, teachers in our schools are trying to prepare children to pass high-stakes tests that we have never seen before, and in some cases, these tests have not even been created. Some of the tests that will be used this year were field tested in Utah. Teachers are confused as to why the test would not be field tested here, or at least in a state with a similar demographic makeup to the diversity you can find in Florida. We want the best for the students we teach and are worried that this helter-skelter approach to testing combined with an obsession for using the data in ways it is not valid for, only serves to make judgments not based on facts.
During a recent committee meeting, Senators expressed concerns to Pam Stewart, the Commissioner of Education regarding how much time schools are using for testing, and test related activities. Teachers are happy that it appears their concerns are finally being heard. We believe that testing is a fundamental part of education, but it is not the end-all be-all that it seems current policy makers believe it is. We want education to be about success for children because that means that the future of our community will be successful.
As a parent of students in public schools, these issues give me another level of concern. The subject that kept me interested in school was music. I worked my way through school mainly so I could learn more about becoming a musician. I worry for my children, as well as all of the children affected by the pressure and changes brought by the emphasis on these tests. I worry that we are not providing a broad education with a focus on the creativity brought through arts, music, and other areas that draw authentic interest from children. We can do better, I urge anyone who agrees with me to let your legislators know you care about this issue, and that you support your local teachers and schools.
Fedrick Ingram is the President of The United Teachers of Dade and is a former Miami-Dade County School Teacher of the Year.