Teachers Union Criticizes Florida's 'High-Stakes Testing' for Disabled Students
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The Florida Education Association is making its voice heard against Florida's high-stakes testing, saying the assessment tests have "disturbing consequences" for students with disabilities in Florida.
On Wednesday, the teachers' union released a new video criticizing Florida's education accountability system and the requirement for all students to take either the FAA or FCAT test. According to the FEA, testing, not Florida's children, has become the focus for Florida’s education.
“Our kids are more than a test,” said FEA president Andy Ford.
The video features several students at the Polk County-based Karen M. Siegel Academy, a special school for students with complex disabilities. Many of the students featured are in wheelchairs.
Only a small number of Florida’s student population is allowed to take the FAA, an alternative assessment test to the FCAT. School principal Donna Swindle says the assessment is perfectly fine for 75-to-80 percent of those students, but not when it comes to students with multiple complex disabilities.
“When you get involved with students with multiple and complex disabilities, they’re different than the other students who take the Florida Alternate Assessment,” said Swindle.
Teachers argue in the video that the FAA is not appropriate for these students, in particular because it requires teachers to read the test to students. In some portions of the test, the teacher is required to show drawings to the student, which can pose an issue for students who are blind.
“I feel like it’s disrespectful to the student in many cases,” said teacher Kathleen Nall.
Other family members of disabled students called the assessment “disrespectful” to severely disabled students.
The video goes on to say, if the FAA continues to judge schools and teachers, other schools and special needs teachers may “cease to exist.”
“These high-stakes tests are valued above everything else by those who set education policy in Florida,” said FEA Vice President Joanne McCall. “We need to bring some sanity to this testing madness.”
The video drew fire from Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Florida’s Future, which criticized the FEA for using students with disabilities to promote a case against testing.
“Accountability benefits all students, and we continue to see that in Florida’s results,” said Executive Director Patricia Levesque. "Just last year Florida’s fourth-grade students with disabilities scored second in the nation among their peers in reading. Florida recognizes that there are circumstances in which the state’s tests are not appropriate, and a process is in place to protect those students.”
Under Florida law, all students in Florida public schools are required to participate in the state assessment tests. Most students take the FCAT, but with the Florida Standards’ implementation right around the corner, the FCAT will soon be replaced by another test. Under special circumstances, students with severe disabilities can apply for a special exemption from testing, but those requests have to be approved by the superintendent and the state education commissioner.
The issue is gathering steam with legislators.
Rep. Karen Castor Dentel, D-Maitland, filed a bill earlier this month that would make it easier for students with disabilities to receive testing waivers and House Speaker Will Weatherford said legislators needed to do something about the issue “for sure.”
It’s unclear, however, what the effect of a new assessment test will be on students with severe disabilities. A new assessment test has not yet been chosen to replace the FCAT, but Florida Education Commissioner Pam Stewart said she expects to make a decision on its replacement in March.
Reach Tampa-based reporter Allison Nielsen at Allison@sunshinestatenews.com or follow her on Twitter at @AllisonNielsen.