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Teaching and Learning Community Forum Addresses Standardized Testing

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From left, graduate student Xuchilt Perez; Wendy Morrison-Cavendish, assistant professor at the School of Education and Human Development; Nikolai Vitti, assistant superintendent for Miami-Dade County Public Schools; Maria de Armas, assistant superintendent, Miami-Dade County Public Schools; and graduate student Andrea Adelman.

Standardized tests such as the FCAT (Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test) are not designed for better learning or creating better students; instead, the emphasis on these exams can hijack school curriculum and prevent teachers from spending time with important subjects such as arts, music, discussions about current events, and other vital activities crucial to the development of a child.

This was the message delivered by Alfie Kohn, noted educator and writer, who spoke at the School of Education and Human Development’s Teaching and Learning Community Forum on March 30 at Storer Auditorium.

A longtime critic of education’s fixation on grades and test scores, Kohn believes that parents have to be critical about the emphasis on standardized testing, which became controversial after the No Child Left Behind Act required states to administer them in order to receive federal education funding.

“Higher scores in FCAT are probably bad news for a parent,” he said, speaking to an audience of about 100 teachers, students, and community leaders. “They should ask the principal of the school, ‘What did you have to sacrifice to achieve that?’ ”

Two School of Education and Human Development graduate students, who were former Miami-Dade County teachers, participated on a panel following Kohn’s speech and expressed concern about the way administrators in their schools created a culture in which scoring high on tests was paramount.

Xuchiltz Perez, who taught eighth grade English for many years, said that she tried to get around the system by teaching a more detailed curriculum, culturally rich and tailored to the needs of each of her students. But she always kept the FCAT workbooks on her desk in case one of her supervisors came to her class.

Nikolai Vitti, an assistant superintendent at Miami-Dade County Schools, who also took part in the forum, said that a large part of his job is to change the culture of teachers and administrators so they could improve the teaching that takes place in the classroom, including more civic engagement and higher order thinking. He said he looks for balance. “Testing and accountability are important,” he said, but principals who mandate “teaching to the test” are going too far the other way.


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