Is there a respectful synonym for “punish?”

Accountabaloney Graphic2_SMALLIt has come to our attention that some accountabaloney terms may need to be better defined.  Let’s take a look at the word “punish” and discuss whether that word is a “respectful” word that accurately describes the consequences of high stakes testing in Florida.

On Oct 1, 2015, the  Florida Learning Committee (FLC) convened to discuss everything from accountability to class size. Last winter, in response to outcries regarding overtesting in our public schools, Governor Scott ordered the formation of the FLC, which was to be composed of educators, policy makers and parent representatives from across the state (click here for more info).   During the October 1st brainstorming session, a parent representative, Julia (Megan) Hendricks from Pasco County raised a very important issue, the issue of the high stakes connected to the state assessments.  You can watch entire meeting here (the interaction begins at 1:13:58).

“I would like to piggyback on what several  people have said about the use of assessments, because we are in actuality using it, the FSA, for much more than informing instruction, I mean there are some pretty high stakes attached. I think we’re all pretty aware of what those are as far as evaluating teachers, schools, retention…. so I’d like to even go further and be even a little bit more bold and say that we should reconsider using standardized test to evaluate and punish students, teachers, and schools.”

Commissioner Pam Stewart, immediately, interrupted the brainstorming session (which, I believe, is against “brainstorming rules”) to interject “…we at the State are not punishing…”

When Ms. Hendricks repeated her concern, Brian Dassler responded (in what seems quite condescending):

Response from Brian Dassler, Deputy Chancellor for Educator Quality at the Department:

“I’m going to say that punishing is probably not a respectful use of the word, Megan, because I don’t think it would be appropriate to assign intent there. If you would like to amend that word to something else that would capture what you are trying to say, but in a way that would be  respectful…”

Ms. Hendricks, struggling to find a “respectful” synonym for “punish”, replies that she chose the word “punish” because “that’s the way it is perceived by parents“.

Is “punish” used appropriately in discussion of Florida’s high stakes accountability system? Let’s look at its Google definition:












According to Google, punish means “to treat (someone) in an unfairly harsh way” as in “raising the achievement levels after a test was given would punish low income, children of color.”

As an aside, while investigating for this blog, we also learned that “rigorous” is a synonym for “punishing”, and, well, rigorous is one of Pam Stewart’s favorite, most often used words… perhaps we’ll save the discussion of rigor for a future blog post.

Why would parents feel the state uses FSA scores in a punitive way? What are the ways that Florida’s system appears to punish or penalize teachers, students or schools?

Here are a few examples:

If this is not punishing, or at least the threat of punishment, then we respectfully ask the DOE to please explain what they would consider is punishing?  The DOE may consider these unintended consequences, but at the end of the day, the enormity of the imposed consequences can no longer be viewed as “unintended.”

The high stakes attached to our Florida assessments ARE a huge problem and they ARE punishing students, teachers and schools, whether the DOE finds the terminology respectful or not.  If the Department of Education wants to retain any measure of respect, open discussions regarding the punitive nature of these high stakes tests are vital.  Ms. Stewart’s nitpicking of the use of the word “punish” was not respectful to Ms. Hendricks, especially since “punish” is a word that is widely used and understood throughout the state and nation to accurately represent what is happening in our schools.

Commissioner Stewart appears to be trying to hide the issue of high stakes under the rug, where nobody can see it.  However, for most parents, the problems associated with punitive high stakes are front and center. By continually choosing to ignore legitimate concerns from parents and educators across the state, it is Commissioner Stewart and the FLDOE who are acting disrespectfully.

If the DOE doesn’t want to be accused of “punishing” then it should become less punitive. If they want to regain respect, they should begin by respecting the real concerns of their stakeholders.

Across Florida, parents and educators are discussing the need to remove the high stakes from the state’s standardized testing. We respectfully request the DOE join us in that conversation.

Many thanks to Ms. Hendricks for boldly representing parents and choosing a word that accurately reflects our concerns regarding the use of FSA scores.




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