Student Encouragement for the FSA

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Michelle Hamlyn
Michelle Hamlyn signed this petition

Preparing students for "testing season" is like being on an NFL team vying for a spot in the Super Bowl, when you know only two teams can play, and only one can win. All eyes are constantly on you, watching whether or not your team will catch the winning touchdown to bring you to the biggest event in America. Like the NFL, we provide all of our students "game plays", "strategies", "cheerleaders", "coaches", and mental "training". However, the Department of Education wants everything we provide to our students eliminated during "testing season".

The Florida Department of Education has officially made the decision to eliminate the use of incentives and encouragement to our students during their FSA testing "season". The Department has not been forthcoming with the information on the new regulations. We, the teachers, have had to find this information out through social media and were pushed to find the legitimacy of the information on our own.

As a teacher, it brings great concern and sadness that we as teachers are no longer afforded the opportunity to; encourage our students to do well, provide them with a small snack (especially as a Title 1 school) or even attempt to keep them awake as they sleep through the entirety of the test. We are told time and time again to teach strategies and differentiate our instruction, yet the Department of Education has cornered our abilities to help our students be successful on the "most important" tests of their academic careers.

More importantly, the testing anxiety and stress that comes during "testing season" for students increases two fold. In fact, psychologists have proved that the suicide rate amongst 10-14 year olds doubles during "testing season". A mother explains the gut wrenching story after her son hung himself after failing the FCAT. "Her son had to repeat the third grade. That happened five years ago, and she says the damage continues: “Currently, [he] could be driving with a learner’s permit but he refuses. Why? Because ‘eighth grade kids don't drive.’ If new friends saw him they’d know he’d failed a grade… Retention is repetitive and lasts a lifetime. It's never far from his mind, just as seeing him blue and hanging from his bunk bed sticks in mine.” Perhaps this tragedy could have been prevented with a little encouragement, love, and support, from his teachers during this stressful time. You can read Ms. Brady's personal story here at: https://www.alternet.org/2016/07/perils-standardized-tests/

It is also to be noted that "researchers, educators and psychologists say several factors are responsible for the spike in suicides; however, pressure from standardized testing is high on the list of reasons".

Quite a few of the students this year that are in intensive reading blocks are in there because they slept through the tests or they say simply didn't try. This comes directly from the voices of our students. On a daily basis we hear, "I should have just tried on the FSA, then I would have a fun elective like my friends, instead of 2 hours of reading everyday". From the outside looking in, it feels like our students and we as teachers, are being set up for failure with the new policies and protocols put forth by the Department of Education. 

While we understand that the Department of Education is concerned that the encouragement teachers provide may cause students to change their answers in fear of being wrong, there are several other testing strategies that can and should be utilized. We as teachers should be allowed to provide reminders of the testing strategies that we have taught throughout the entirety of the year, even if it means providing verbal encouragement like "Hey, you can do it, it's going to be alright" or providing "reinforcements" because "I know you didn't get to eat dinner last night because you are living in your van with nine other family members, here's a granola bar." 

The teachers working with Florida's students should always have input as to what works and what doesn't work at the school level during FSA testing. This is especially important because it is so heavily weighted in our VAM scores. The new regulations put forth will not help our students or the teachers who have worked tirelessly with them during the school year. 

Please consider signing this petition to allow teachers the ability to provide positive encouragement, gentle reminders, reinforcement, and generalized support to our students. If the Super Bowl allows players to use all the support they received during their season, why can't our students continue to have the support they received during their school year. At the end of the day, who is the Department of Education truly "rooting" for? 

Sources:

https://www.alternet.org/2016/07/perils-standardized-tests/

https://www.huffpost.com/entry/middle-school-suicides-double-as-common-core-testing_b_59822d3de4b03d0624b0abb9

https://www.northjersey.com/story/news/2017/07/14/america-sees-alarming-spike-middle-school-suicide-rate/418700001/