December 5, 2009

Are central Florida schools flouting Florida law limiting test-prep?

I have heard from teachers and students in three area districts (Hillsborough, Pinellas, and Hernando counties) that secondary teachers in some subjects are being ordered to spend the first 10 minutes of class suspending the curriculum and teaching material from another class. In the case of two counties (Pinellas and Hernando), I have heard stories that math teachers are being asked to teach 10 minutes of reading--not include word problems in math, which is certainly appropriate, but teach reading (a subject very few of them would have certification in). In one county (Hillsborough), I have heard a report from a student that a high-school anatomy teacher has been asked to spend 10 minutes reviewing other science subjects (and the emphasis appears to be in chemistry), probably to prepare students for the 11th grade FCAT science comprehension exam.

In 2008, the Florida legislature added a section to the existing law on assessment (F.S. 1008.22(4), if you're curious), specifying limits to what schools can do to prepare for tests, specifically

STATEWIDE ASSESSMENT PREPARATION; PROHIBITED ACTIVITIES.--Beginning with the 2008-2009 school year, a district school board shall prohibit each public school from suspending a regular program of curricula for purposes of administering practice tests or engaging in other test-preparation activities for a statewide assessment.

There are a number of exceptions to this prohibition--school districts can distribute sample test books, teach test-taking skills in limited quantities, etc.--but the spirit is clear: schools are not supposed to be engaging in test-prep that is a substitute for instruction. And taking time away from math class to teach reading, or away from anatomy to teach chemistry, looks like it's clearly prohibited.

It's also counterproductive from an administrative standpoint: if you wanted to add reading instruction, why would you ask a math teacher to do it? I should be clear: these are unconfirmed reports rather than documented examples. But if these reports are true, this clearly looks to be an end-run around ordinary curriculum policies requiring a certain amount of instruction in the classes to get more instruction or more test-prep in for high-stakes subjects.

There is one additional legal problem with this practice: there are both state and federal policies about teacher qualifications. I bet it's illegal in a number of respects to assign math teachers to teach reading and then report that everyone instructing in a subject is properly certified.

I have contacted the three districts in question to ask where the policies required by the law are. If you are aware of any specific examples (and I would need the school, date, class, period, and witness for sufficient documentation), please contact me by e-mail (sherman dottish-thingie dorn at-symbol-stuff gmail.com).

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Posted in Accountability Frankenstein on December 5, 2009 10:35 AM |