Failing Children, Accountability and Testing [FCAT]

© copyright 2006 Betsy L. Angert

Dear reader, as you review this treatise, please consider, the parallels.  Pedagogy and poverty are poignant concerns in Florida and throughout the United States.

The results were announced; Florida students overwhelmingly failed the science portion of the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test [FCAT].  More than two thirds of the population tested below grade level.  Science instructors are looking at the recent test results as an opportunity.  They have a chance to improve their curriculum.  The Science studies departments are planning more hands-on instruction.  They intend to attend seminars on how to best prepare students in the summer.

J.P. Keener, the supervisor of secondary science education for Broward County promotes the positive.  This official says, ????we’re in a good position to line everything up to attack this exam seriously.”  Then, the administrator adds, “Now, the last part is the kids, and that’s the unpredictable part.”

The Broward County Director stresses the science test is not and will not be tied to graduation.  He extrapolates; students will have little incentive to excel.  However, even when an assessment test is attached to the ultimate reward, students in Florida still fail repeatedly.  Pupils that were unable to pass the mandatory FCAT high school exit exam after one or two trials are allowed to take the exam again.  Reports reveal that even when students have taken the tests on multiple occasions; a large number do not demonstrate mastery.

The Miami Herald reports, “Only a small and shrinking fraction of students who retook the state’s graduation test managed to pass.” 

Statewide, about 11,600 students — 8 percent of the state’s seniors — are expected to miss out on a diploma solely because of failing the exam, according to Education Commissioner John Winn.  Last year, that number was about 7 percent.

Just 12 percent of seniors and 14 percent of juniors passed the reading test in Miami-Dade County, continuing a steady decline.  In Broward County, 13 percent of seniors, and 19 percent of juniors passed.

Results on the math test were slightly higher, with passing rates ranging from 20 percent to 35 percent in South Florida.

Danielle Boyer, Chairwoman of the Social Studies Department at Miami’s Edison Senior High suggested, ????they’re worried a lot and stressed a lot.”  In her school, there is a large foreign-born population.

Ms. Boyer spoke of how they struggle.  She said, “They want to obtain their high school diploma; they understand its vital importance.”  Nevertheless, these students still are unable to pass a test they have taken before.  Chairwoman Boyer then offered, ??many students in the high-poverty Little Haiti neighborhood must work or care for siblings, which cuts into their studying.’

However, I wonder if all those that fail are new immigrants.  I have personally observed and experienced many new émigrés excel.  Education is important to them and they see this as a path towards prosperity.  I offer this recent New York Times article as evidence of my contention.

  • Immigration Math: It’s a Long Story, By Daniel Altman.  June 18, 2006

    Within the text David Card, a Professor of Economics at the University of California, Berkeley says, “You can expect a child of immigrants whose parents have 10 years of education to do a lot better than a child of natives whose parents have 10 years of education.”  Card continues, being a child of immigrants, “sort of boosts your drive.”

    My suspicion is the country of origin may play a role however, as Professor Card and others note the structure of the family definitely influences what will come.  Experts contend, as I too experience and believe, a more important factor is poverty.

    Currently, nineteen percent of the children in Florida live below the poverty line.  They have not seen prosperity in their personal lives, and many struggle to imagine that it could be real.  Approximately ten percent of Florida families are defined as poverty stricken.  Close to five percent of married couples are at or below the poverty line.  Life in Florida can be grim.

    I have lived in this state for seven months, and sadly, the results of these tests do not surprise me.  I had reason to spend time in some of the schools and on each occasion, I was astounded.  Granted, thus far, I have only been in the public schools and a large portion of the population in this South Eastern state receives their training in private institutions; nevertheless, there is an attitude here that seems pervasive.  I will identify it by quoting the oft-heard statement, “Welcome to Florida.”

    Each time I struggle to locate a product or a person to assist me in completing a project this declaration is uttered.  This sentence is rarely recounted with a sense of sincerity; it is delivered sarcastically.  People here accept that if you need a service, supply, or a solution to any problem, you are not likely to find these here in Florida.

    In schools, from what I have witnessed, there is an assumption among many students, “school is just” a stomping ground, a weigh station; it holds no real worth or value.  Pupils empathically assure me, “kids will be kids.”  Learners I spoke with assured me they have no interest in being treated as wise and thinking individuals; they rather be thought of as “children.”  They say aloud, there is far less responsibility if others think of you as a youngster, a teenager, or an adolescent.  Few have serious expectations for them selves.  They do not want others to “require” “too much” of them.

    Within the framework that is their life, they cannot truly imagine more than what is.

    “I am still young,” is an oft-heard mantra.  The inference is I will have time to learn later, “maybe when I am in my thirties,” said one student.

    A few students discussed their education with me; the consensus was it is not that important in their lives.  Many learners expressed a lack of opportunity.  Others wanted none.  They majority assumed they would work in a trade.  Few aspired to attend college.  A four-year degree was unthinkable.  Numerous pupils were surprised when I broached the subject.  Among those planning to enroll in a University, there was an amazing pre-occupation for play.  They said college and academics would come later.  For now, it seems, class lessons are not to be taken seriously, little is.  The future is too distant to consider.

    Fortunately, I did meet a lovely high school student on the Tri-Rail.  She was planning for her career and looking forward to college; she knew exactly where she wanted to go.  However, she was not as I typically encountered in this state.  Interestingly, she is among the masses that attend a private school here.  I strongly suspect the private pupil is another class of student.  Still, I worry.  Was the FCAT test given statewide; were private and public school students included in the results.  This possibility troubles me and I would hope it troubles those residing within this state.  I have spoken to a few and again I am told, “Welcome to Florida.”  Florida seems to think itself different and in some ways, it is.  However, I fear that it is not.

    In Florida, poverty and apathy may be more insidious, more obvious; yet, no less invasive than it might be elsewhere.

    Florida, with its triple “A” [AAA] credit rating is among the poorest states in the country.  The state has mega-money; the people living here do not.  This, I believe is among the many reasons that students in Florida struggle.

    According to A Research Report by Bruce Nissen and Jen Wolfe Borum, titled Working Poverty: Low Wage Workers in Florida,

    Florida is a low wage state and many in Florida are working full-time and still poor.  Women, minorities, and immigrants are all more likely to work and still not escape poverty.  Florida has an unusually high percentage of low-wage jobs, due to its tourist-related economy.  Even more children live in poverty. Fully 19% of Florida children lived in officially-defined poverty in the year 2003.

    The overall poverty rate for persons in Florida as measured in the 2000 Census was 12.5 percent.  This rate is slightly lower than in 1990 when 12.7 percent of the state’s residents lived in poverty.

    Despite a decline in the poverty rate, the number of persons living in poverty increased by nearly 22 percent during the decade and totaled just under 2 million persons in 2000.  The number living in poverty in 1990 was 1.6 million persons.

    Poverty rates varied greatly by age and by family composition.  While nearly one out of every five children in Florida lived in poverty in 1999 (17.6 percent), less than 1 in 10 of Florida’s 65 and older population had income below the poverty threshold (9.1 percent).  Older children, ages 5 through 17, had a poverty rate of 17.2 percent in 1999–lower than Florida’s youngest children but substantially higher than the elderly population.

    Poverty rates vary greatly by race.  Individuals who reported that their race was black alone were more likely to be living below the poverty level at all ages.  Black rates ranged from 2.3 times the white rate at ages 18-64 up to 3.6 times the white rate at ages 65-74.  Poverty rates for persons of all other races (including individuals who reported more than one race) fell between the rates for whites and blacks.

    “Florida has performed badly for quite some time.”  This from a report titled “Is Florida’s Economy Underperforming?” by Dr. Bruce Nissen of Florida International University, Center for Labor Research and Studies

    In March 2004, Nissen wrote

    It [Florida] is a low wage state by any standard.  Depending on the measure used (hourly wage, annual wage, median wage for a family of four, and so on) the state pays wages somewhere between 85% and 95% of national averages.  This usually places the state somewhere in the thirties out of the fifty states.

    Money in Florida is a beguiling dynamic.  There are those that have ample amounts of dough and those that do not.  The disparity is astounding.  Eighty-percent of workers are employed in low income, service jobs.  Twenty percent do much better.  Many of the wealthiest persons, nation-wide retire here; yet they do not have school age children and therefore may demonstrate little interest in education issues/funding.

    If a student comes from money, they receive more.  Money buys.  A pupil marinating in poverty will drown in it.  The rich will receive a richer education.  The poor will plunge further into oblivion.

    In Florida, in inner cities nation-wide, and other poverty-stricken areas educators are distressed; however, in Florida, the accepted and expected apathy looms larger.  Many have given up, students among these.

    Still, experts do as they do.  They evaluate the system and the science scores from a pedagogical point of view.  They look at the superficial, the tally, and teaching solutions.  Some of this talk is good and necessary.  I agree; we, as educators must look at the validity of standardized testing and teaching to the tests.  We must assess the systems within Florida.

    Academicians must study the notion that says, providing students with a two-tiered testing system is optimal.  We must wonder whether Florida is the model it is purported to be by those that support uniform testing.  Are two types of testing, low and high stakes examinations enhancing understanding; do they advance test-taking skills.  Is teaching to these [silly] tests worthwhile?  Are students learning lessons that will last a lifetime if curriculum is rote?

    Educators must continue to promote creative curriculums.  Obviously, those that are not imaginative, inspired, and inventive are not working.  Still, I think the science scores must be evaluated more broadly.  we as a society must be honest with ourselves.  Education does not begin or end in our schools.  What happens in our nation’s homes does matter.  Parents and poverty teach more than professional educators might.  To be truly effective, I think we, as a society must evaluate education as a whole.  What an individual learns at home, on the streets, from proprietors, and from social order teaches more than we might think. Florida’s culture teaches its students to not expect much.  What happens in the students’ world cannot be separated.  The sum is far greater than the parts.

    Plunge Into Pedagogy and Poverty . . .

  • Family, Functioning, Fables, and Our Future ©

    Today two things occurred back-to-back; I heard a portion of an interview on National Public Radio.  The interviewee was Rich Cohen, of “Sweet ??N Low” fame.  He was discussing his latest book, aptly titled, “Sweet and Low” and his family.  Mr. Cohen offered philosophical interpretations of family and how writing this book and speaking of it helped him to discover that all families have their stories.  I was in the car when I heard this discussion.  I was so mesmerized, that though I had arrived at my destination, I did not move.  I sat in the parking lot, listened, and reflected.

    Then I came home, and as I routinely do, I turned on the computer.  I logged into My Left Wing, and saw the lead headline, Stories of Good & Evil, By the bluebird of happiness.  Captivated by the title, in part, because I have never believed in the concept of “evil,” I read.  Though in some respects this was a political post, it took me to a familial place.  I commented and then proceeded on with the evening.  However, the thought stayed with me.  We are so much a product of our up bringing.

    To this diary, I responded . . .

    “the tales we tell.”  I was twenty-one before I ever read or had read to me, a Grimm’s fairy tale, or any other such stories.  My Mom only read poems to me.  Late in my life, I discovered she only read me inspirational poems.  She often recited these from memory; we both did.

    “I was raised to believe, and I still do, people are basically “good.”  At times, they make some poor choices.  These are part of the growth process, a necessary evolution.

    I do not believe in evil and cringe when GW repeatedly espouses the word.  Nor do I think there is sin.  This may have given me what some think is a distorted view of life, and that, for me is fine.  Very late in life, a beau turned to me and said “People are negative and unhappy.”  I immediately retorted, “No, they are not!”  I never imagined.

    The tales we tell, do teach.  My brother once asked why my Mom and I are always telling stories.  He was raised in a different home until his adolescence and was not used to such narratives.  I told him, the best way to learn is to relate; through stories, we do this.

    GW and the gang know.  Thus, we have nonstop Video News Reports.  Even when reprimanded by the Government Accounting Office, the drone goes on.  Propaganda when presented as an anecdote is very effective. It is only the giving that makes us what [who] we are.  – Ian Anderson.  Jethro Tull . . . Betsy

    A day or two before, also on My Left Wing, there was a discussion of Malcolm X.  It was the anniversary of his birth, quotes of his majesty were offered.  I recalled reading of Malcolm’s life and I was in awe.  His journey was such a magnificent progression.  He went from being a man that advocated self-defense, self-preservation at any cost; a violent price was not too high, to being a man of peace.  Nevertheless, as I read many of the comments, I noticed the focus was on the man’s early endeavors and deliberations.  His evolution was virtually invisible.  I offered my observations and another discussion began.  This too, took me to my family, or my experience of them and what they taught me.

    I wrote of how, for me, “war is never an option.”  I was writing to one that believes, throughout history major change was brought about by violent revolution.

    I too think our visions are similar; violence is our only departure.  With one exception that I had forgotten about until the novel incident, I was not yelled at until I was 39 years of age.  I think when our reality is lacking in brutality our perspective differs.

    It seems that we all know our cycles and history.  Imagining what is unimaginable is a challenge.

    This may not make sense; however, it is my truth.  Once exposed to aggression, I feared I might adopt the pattern.  I witnessed it too frequently and it was so very memorable.  Actually, I did not experience it regularly; it only felt as if I had because it was so unforgettable, unbelievable to me.  What did happen is, my desire to understand caused me to study.  I developed an expanded sense of empathy and a far greater belief in the need for consideration.  Rather than become what I feared, once exposed to such aggression, I became more compassionate or at least I work to be.  May you live long, learn much, and feel fulfilled . . . Betsy

    Still, I realize that what I learned from living within the framework that I did, was not as my siblings learned.  Actually, it is very, extremely different.  My sisters and I share the same bloodline; yet, who we are as people, what we believe, our experiences, and interpretations of life are very different.  We do not even think of family in the same way.  Parallels are rare.

    My brother and I do not share the same biological parents.  However, I have known him since he was an infant.  Over the years, we spent much time together, though one would never know.  That his analysis of events and family members varies is not surprising, though it is interesting.

    I am continually struck by how little any of us knows; yet we think we know it all.  Well over a decade ago, I realized I know nothing with certainty.  I do not even comprehend what I profess to understand.  I am forever learning.  I believe we all are though I share my story so that you might reflect and tell me what is your truth.

    One of the greatest lessons I ever learned was one that occurred in an instant.  My cousin Alvin and I were speaking.  We were discussing family, and my confusion.  I seem to have alienated my sister.  We had been close friends for decades, and then suddenly, we were not.  I had my theories and I was sharing these with my wise and wonderful cousin.  I mused that my sister, let me call her Audrey, was telling me a story.  I thought and likely said to Alvin, though I do not recall with certainty, for this happened long ago, “I know exactly how she feels.”

    Alvin replied, “No, you do not.”  None of us knows exactly how another feels.  While we may be similar, and have similar experiences, none of us is the same.”  He continued on stating, we can attempt to empathize, to sympathize, to understand, and certainty we must listen; however, we can never know how another feels.  No two things, people, positions, possibilities, probabilities, or policies are ever the same.

    I was immediately struck.  It was and is so true.  Though this incident occurred decades ago, I decided never to use the phrase again.  Accidentally, I trust it has happened.  I said the dreaded sentence, though I recall, a time or two as the words tripped off my tongue, I immediately took them back.  I, since that day know to apologize for a habit I mistakenly adopted before I was made more conscious.

    As I travel through the universe, the world, the Internet, and my life, I am continually amazed at how unique we all are, similar; yet never the same.  I suspect our likenesses are less substantial than we realize, though I believe our differences are equally smaller than we might imagine.

    People posture and often think they know what someone else means when they speak; rarely do we.  Stories are left out to save time.  Society states, “Keep it short and sweet.”  [No pun intended Mr. Cohen.]  However, without the details we are mired in a mirror image of ourselves.

    Thus, we stand strong, seemingly certain, when we have little information.  We profess to know the facts when we know nothing.  I wonder how many of us have pondered the fiction of “facts?”

    A fact in itself is nothing.  It is valuable only for the idea attached to it, or the proof which it furnishes.Claude Bernard [1813-1878 Leading French Physiologist]

    I ask each of us to share our tales, to talk, to take a moment to relate and contemplate.  Do we understand our family, our selves, how we all function together?  Are we aware of the fables that define us?  I invite you to reflect with me.  I believe our future might benefit from a bit more thought-fullness.

    References of Interest . . .
    “Sweet and Low,” By Rich Cohen
    Stories of Good & Evil, By bluebird of happiness.
    Freaky Friday Open Thread, By Maryscott O’Connor
    Grimm’s Fairy Tales

    Education. Empty Heads, Full Hearts

    © copyright 2006 Betsy L. Angert

    I have seen the look before, the focused eye, the stare full of hope.  Years ago, I thought it was fear and for some it was.  However, later many told me it was not for them.  Pupils told me where their minds were in those first moments, what they were thinking as I shared my classroom standards with them. Many said they were focused on my face, my words, and me.  Some stated that in the very first seconds they were scared; they had never heard a voice so certain and firm while still being so calm and caring. They were in awe.

    Shock filled their minds. There was no screaming, yelling, or rage; I was merely resolute.  I offered stories to explain my stance.  I asked if there are questions.  I requested that they participate.  I actively wanted to ensure that there was a complete understanding.  Students have said they appreciated this opportunity, the exchange.  They had heard the “rules” from other instructors; however, mine were different; they provided for choice. For most, my presentation was also unusual.  However, more than the vast majority understood my words.  I knew this by their behavior.

    Today, those gazes caught my attention again.  They continue to fill my mind.

    It has been a long time since I saw those stares.  I was living and working in an oasis.  I had forgotten.  For years, I taught in California, a state that rates low in education.  However, I taught only in exceptional pockets and my purse was full.  I saw students full of life and light.  They were energetic, enthusiastic, empathetic, and seeking enlightenment.  The students in Irvine, for the most part want to learn.  Parents are involved and encouraging.  Yes, there are exceptions; however these are a few and far between.  Those that are lost seem to have a lifetime of reasons to be so.

    I had forgotten. I had long ago accepted Irvine as the “norm.”  Then I moved.  I intentionally did my research.  I chose to live in an affluent community, one that I thought comparable to the Orange County oasis I had lived in for years.  Thus far, it is not.  There are similarities, and stark differences. There are not necessarily evident in a study of demographics or other statistics.

    I intentionally searched for a city with a college or two.  It seems from my observations and experience that youth seeking an education guide a greater community.  The young often have more buying power and influence that the elders, no matter where the locale.  Great minds gravitate to cities with Universities, at least that was my belief.  I saw this in Irvine.  I have yet to witness it here.

    As a child, I lived this.  My Mom always chose to live in cities full of culture.  She investigated, where were the educational institutions.  Each time Berenice decided to move, she would begin her search by asking where the professionals, intellectuals, and academics lived.  I did this too.  Admittedly, the weather was my guidepost; still, the essence of erudition was my mission.  I expected to find this in a population such as this; I have not.

    Today I entered a class. The students had never seen or experienced me before.  This was only my third day teaching in this city.  I began class as I always do; I shared my standards.  The climate in this class differed from my Irvine world, though I knew it would.  As I said this was my third day teaching in this city and in this state.  I am overwhelmed by what is not.

    I have discovered that here, unlike in California, private schools are extremely popular.  Perhaps that is where students similar to those I once knew are. I know not.  I do acknowledge that when I first heard of all the exclusive institutions, I thought this is as it is in California as well.  Now I wonder; is it?  In my neophyte state, wisdom says this is different.  As of this writing, I do not have enough information, though I plan to learn.  I will investigate, ask, read, look, and listen.  However, I digress.

    Today, the numerous looks of anticipation captured my attention. The unspoken thanks, the gratitude expressed by those that welcomed the stillness in the room, and the feeling that my standards were appreciated by those that reflected a desire to learn drew me in.  When there is a great contrast between those wanting knowledge and those lost in a world of whims, an observer can only be struck by those expectant eyes.

    When pupils push for the removal of a distracting and disruptive student, a teacher, a parent, an elder can be moved.  It is refreshing to realize that no mater what the situation, many still have what is too easily lost, the desire to learn.  As I drove home and thought of the day, an ancient song rang in my head.  The title, “Tears of a Clown.”  Granted the song speaks to a lost love; nevertheless, I think when we lose our love of learning, we are lost.  Our greatest love is gone, that pleasure we feel when we are growing greater, strong, and knowledgeable.

    I am glad and grateful; there are those that still hope.  This is good.  It is a pleasure to realize that given the opportunity to study in a focused manner, to be taught more than mere facts, or gain greater knowledge than conventional circumstances provide, students still choose to grab on, even if it is a novel experience.

    Resources that may be of interest . . .

  • Education Defined…Policy or Pupils Passionately Pursuing By Betsy L. Angert. Education Resources Information Center (ERIC)
  • Classroom Discipline Resources About
  • Improving Students’ Decision Making Skills By Robin S. Gregory and Robert T. Clemen
  • Students As Decision Makers Soundout
  • Inquiring Students Want To Learn, By Kim Howey. Brigham Young University Magazine
  • Parent Involvement in Schools! Education World, Incorporated. February 2, 2006
  • Study Shows Buying Power of Youth. iMedia Connection. September 08,2003
  • School District Demographics System Institute of Education Sciences U.S. Department of Education
  • Best Places To Live 2005 CNN Money
  • How Parents and Families Can Help Their Children Do Better in School. KidSource OnLine
  • Profiles of Private Elementary Day Schools & High Schools
  • Nurturing Children’s Natural Love of Learning By Jan Hunt, M.Sc. The Natural Child Project