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On eve of testing season, teachers call for a time out

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Time will tell whether Joanne McCall is right about angry parents setting lawmakers’ “hair on fire” is accurate. The Florida Education Association vice president lit up a news conference Tuesday when she elaborated on an answer given by FEA President Andy Ford.

The teacher’s union annual pre-session listing of flaws in the Florida school accountability system this year included results of a survey of 20,000 members who overwhelming gave the system a failing grade.

The packet of information the FEA provided reporters contained talking points reporters have heard since the birth of the Republican majority at the state Capitol.

“The amount of money spent by tax dollars has only served to enrich publishing companies. State testing of students every year is a huge waste of money and time and the stakes are too high,” one anonymous educator wrote in response to the survey.

Ford was asked why he thought after a nearly generation-long campaign against standardized testing that this is the year that lawmakers will hear the FEA complaints. (The public school testing season begins this week and runs through the end of the academic year, but as this calendar from Miami-Dade shows it can be a year-long event .)

“Just because the Legislature isn’t hearing us doesn’t mean we’re going to change our position,” Ford said.

He then began a three-minute discussion about the history of education reform and the complexity of learning, psychology, and standardized testing when McCall gently nudged him away from the microphone.

She began speaking as an FEA vice president, but as her remarks grew more strident it became clear she was also talking as the mother of a public school student.

“I think they are hearing us,” McCall began slowly. “I think there is so much pressure and momentum building from the parents organizations, and we have had a couple of districts that said we want to opt our kids out, and that’s a movement. And then the commissioner said you can’t opt your children out.

“I’m not sure who can tell me what my child can and cannot do but apparently the commissioner can tell me what my child can and cannot do but the bottom line is parents are hopping mad and they are angry,” McCall said with a Bulworth look in her eye.

“At least the senators are feeling the heat,” McCall continued. “That’s why they had their workshop to get their bullet points. That’s not why so much they were work-shopping it and weren’t so interested in hearing all of the stories, they just wanted a quick solution. Because their hair is on fire and we know their hair is on fire and we will be here to provide the assistance they need to put it out a little bit but it is not a one-stop quick fix,” McCall said.

“I don’t believe the public or the parents are going to let this go because this is too critical for those of us who have children in the public schools.”

The Palm Beach Post has more on the FEA’s Assess the Test news conference here.

Ford said that with a growing opt-out movement and civil rights groups becoming engaged there is a window of opportunity for this legislative session to initiate change.

Although he confesses to being one of the students who became lost when public schools transitioned from mathematics to the New Math in the 1960s, he has done the political calculus on the lawmakers’ blackboard at the state Capitol. His hopes are tempered by an expectation that Jeb Bush will run for president on an education platform, and Ford said his allies at the state Capitol would work to protect his legacy.

Also Tuesday, Gov. Rick Scott signed an executive order to stop administration of a language test for high school junior until lawmakers have an opportunity to address the issue.

The test is redundant, part of an end-of-the-year assessment for the 10th grade.

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