Bull-Hockey and Other Prohibited Test Prep

The word “Prohibit” means “to forbid (an action, activity, etc.) by authority or law.”

The word “Bull-Hockey” means… well, you’ll have to figure that out on your own, but here’s a hint: it smells a lot like accountabaloney.

The vast majority of law abiding citizens do not consider prohibited activities to be optional; yet, school boards across the state appear to be allowing prohibited activities related to test preparation (which has been insidiously replacing authentic education activities) to occur despite the boards’ legal responsibility to prevent this from happening.

Title XLVII of the Florida Statutes defines Florida’s K-20 Education Code. If you search all 14 chapters (1000-1013), the word prohibit (or prohibited or prohibition) is used 153 times. Fifty of those times delineate what should “not” be prohibited, another 43 times prohibit actions by the DOE or activities in post secondary education. The remaining 60 “prohibits” apply to local school boards and districts.  Some are common sense such as prohibiting the use of condemned buildings (1001.42.11(e)) or prohibiting the building of schools on contaminated sites (1013.365(3)). Some support basic constitutional rights protecting free speech (1003.4505) and prohibiting discrimination (1000.05). A significant number (almost 30) discuss student behavior and discipline (for example prohibiting illegal drugs, weapons on campus, bullying, and hazing, all in Chapter 1006).

There are surprisingly few uses of the word “prohibit” in statutes associated with instruction and assessment at the K-12 district level. I found 5. Two are found in section 1008.22(3)(f) which contains a list of prohibited activities related to the statewide standardized assessment program. These Prohibited Activities are the subject of this blog.

In a Monroe County School Board Workshop on April 26, 2016, the Board spent a significant amount of time discussing a revised version of School Board Policy 2623, titled “Student Assessment.” Policy 2623 reflects the language in Chapter 1008 of the State K-20 Education Code.   You can watch the board’s discussion here (starting at about 1:10:00).

At 1:20:05, School Board Member, Captain Ed Davidson, discusses the section of the policy entitled “Assessment Preparation” (page 6):

Assessment Preparation

No school in this District may suspend the regular program of curricula to administer practice assessments or engage in other assessment-preparation activities for a Statewide, standardized assessment. However, the Board authorizes schools to:

  1. distribute to students sample assessment books and answer keys that are published by the Florida Department of Education;
  2. provide individual instruction in assessment taking strategies without suspending the school’s regular program of curricula for a student who scores at Level 1 or Level 2 on a prior administration of the Statewide assessment;
  3. provide individualized instruction in the content knowledge and skills assessed, without suspending the school’s regular program of curriculum for a student who scores at Level 1 or Level 2 on a prior administration of the Statewide assessment or a student who, through a diagnostic assessment administered by the District is identified as having a deficiency in the content knowledge and skills assessed; and
  4. administer a practice assessment or engage in other assessment preparation activities for the statewide assessment which are determined necessary to familiarize students with the organization of the assessment, the format of the assessment items, and the assessment directions, or which are otherwise necessary for the valid and reliable administration of the assessment, as set forth in rules adopted by the State Board of Education.

Regarding this portion of the policy, Captain Davidson said, “While this is a technical statement, I think, functionally, we violate it fairly regularly.” He claimed he wrote a note on his copy that said “Bull-hockey!” He went on to say “We do this ALL the time… we should be honest about it… the parents are certainly aware we are doing it.”

Yes, we are.

Parents might say the ENTIRE regular curriculum has been suspended and replaced with “fill in the bubble” test prep worksheets, science lessons have been replaced by reading passages, students practice formulaic writing with FSA-like writing prompts, math homework involves eliminating the wrong answer from a multiple choice question, and students requiring individualized instruction are frequently pulled from their regular classes to sit at a computer and be “remediated” with one computer program or another that is designed to get students (i)Ready for the state exam. What if much of the year is spent in activities resembling “assessment preparation”? Who is responsible for that?

The “Assessment Preparation” section of Monroe County’s Policy 2623 is a restatement of F.S. 1008.22(3)(f), which is nearly identical with the exception of the opening paragraph which states (emphasis mine):

(f) Prohibited activities.A district school board shall prohibit from suspending a regular program of curricula for purposes of administering practice assessments or engaging in other assessment-preparation activities for a statewide, standardized assessment. However, a district school board may authorize a public school to engage in the following assessment-preparation activities:

 

These “Assessment Preparation” activities are NOT optional, they are prohibited and it is the school board’s legal responsibility to assure that prohibited test prep activities do NOT occur in their district. For the district to change the title of the section from “Prohibited activities” to “Assessment Preparation” suggests the District is hoping the board won’t take their responsibility too seriously.

How did we get to the point where public officials openly ignore mandatory prohibitions? This is clearly the result of high stakes accountabaloney. Teachers hope test prep will improve the student scores their evaluations and salaries depend upon. Schools hope test prep will boost their school grade, possibly qualifying them for A+ funding or at least keeping them from receivership. Districts create test focused curriculums in the hopes of maintaining their district grades. Some superintendents and administrators receive bonuses based on student test scores. Companies create and market test prep; feeding on the fears of low test scores to expand their market share. Computer programs are given catchy names, like iReady, so everyone will know they are designed to make kids “ready” for the test. When everyone is rewarded (or punished) based on student test scores, test prep becomes inevitable. The concept of a high quality education becomes a forgotten remnant of the past.

Test prep has become so ingrained in the system, it can be difficult to recognize it and we wonder if local school boards can do anything to stop it? At least they could try. The first step is to recognize test prep for what it is. We thank Captain Davidson for speaking honestly about it. Now, we hope he will do more.

Parents around the state must contact their local School Boards and demand the board members put a stop to these prohibited activities. Remind them this is their legal responsibility. Constantly practicing for testing is PROHIBITED! Disrupting the regular curriculum to prepare for tests is prohibited!  Why have our kids been subjected to a curriculum FULL of prohibited activities? It is time for School Board Members to start paying attention to the amount of “prohibited” activities occurring in their districts.

We agree with Captain Davidson, this definitely smells like “Bull-Hockey”.

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