Julie Delegal: Florida and the Common Core: A Badass teacher speaks out

Chocolate Slim – The Ideal Supplement

There are many ways how you can lose weight but, using healthy supplements could be the best one. Chocolate Slim is an ideal weight loss food because it gives you an opportunity to enjoy your favorite treat, chocolate and at the same time lose weight.

This is part five of a six-part series presented in partnership with Folio Weekly.???The name is not open for discussion,??? said Donna Mace, a Duval County fifth-grade teacher at Chimney Lakes Elementary, referring to the Badass Teachers Association.

The 34-year veteran teacher is a founding member of the group, which uses social media to spread its message. Mace said that the BATs attracted 26,000 members over the course of its first two months. Their mission is to ???reduce excess testing, increase teacher autonomy and include teacher-family voices in legislative processes that affect students.???

Mace said she worries that the math and language arts standards, and the resulting teaching strategies, may not be developmentally appropriate for younger students.

???Their brains aren???t ready yet. I don???t think it???s necessary for the little guys to grasp algebra yet. It???s OK to save that for a few years.???

This fall, Duval Superintendent Nikolai Vitti acknowledged the developmental difficulties faced by young students when he suspended testing in science, art and music for students in the early grades. Facing a number of grievances filed this year by the union, Duval Teachers United, Vitti relented on the number of tests for K-2 students, citing the burden it places on teachers. He also acknowledged that this year there are more ???frontloaded??? tests, which are aimed at gaging students??? starting points at the beginning of the year, as well as more interim assessments.

Most tests being used in Duval this fall are Curriculum Guide Assessments. Duval teachers developed these tests after they were tasked with writing curriculum guides that incorporated Florida???s Next Generation Sunshine State Standards.

???Florida???s standards are already more aligned to the Common Core than the average state???s,??? Vitti said.

???They???re very close,??? Mace acknowledged. Currently, students in grades 3-12 are being taught a blended curriculum based on both Common Core and Next Generation Sunshine State Standards. Grades K-2 are using Common Core exclusively.

But Mace said it???s not the standards per se that bother her most. ???A lot of it is what good teachers have always done. I???m not fearful of all this ???go deeper.??? That???s fine.???

What???s not fine, she said, is the testing.

???We???re using the test inappropriately. They weren???t always so high-stakes. The difference is how we???re using them now, to label schools, to grade students.???

Mace said she worries that the narrow focus on reading, language arts and math will prevent many students leaving elementary school from being able to take interesting electives in middle school. To a fifth-grader who has a ???bad day??? on test day, she said, ???Too bad. You won???t get to take certain subjects.???

Instead, students who don???t make the cutoff will be placed in remedial classes, which is a punitive move because those students will lose time for electives. For some students, that can mean the difference between staying in school and dropping out.

???Kids lose what makes school fun,??? Mace said.

Mace also echoed Florida teachers who have objected to tying half of their performance evaluations to student scores on high-stakes tests including whatever test comes along to measure Common Core learning.

???Now we???re evaluating teachers on [the tests] even basing their salaries on it,??? she said. ???We don???t know if it???s valid. We don???t get to see it. Parents don???t get to see it. We just take someone???s word for it. It???s scary.???

As a young social studies teacher in North Carolina, Vitti said he began his career under the accountability paradigm and doesn???t know anything else.

???What is not measured is often not done,??? he said.

???The pressure on children is horrible,??? Mace countered. ???This is a child???s life getting determined way too early, and I can???t even look at it [the test].???

Teaching to the Test?

Mace said that the pressure of high-stakes testing, whether it comes from FCAT or a Common Core assessment, cuts into the ???teachable moments??? that students and teachers both relish in the classroom.

???It impacts being able to stay on something longer because the students are interested. I can???t help them explore because I have to move on,??? Mace said. ???You never know who???s going to spark on what.???

As mother to two children who attend St. Johns County schools, Colleen Wood agreed. Wood founded the grassroots organization 50th No More and serves on a national board with reform critic Diane Ravitch. Wood???s children are two school grades apart, but, with the advent of the Common Core, have had vastly different experiences with the same teacher in the same subject. While the older sibling enjoyed three days of class time to write and produce a play, for example, the younger child???s class was given only one half-hour.

???We talk all the time about how we want creativity, collaboration, out-of-the-box thinking,??? Wood said. ???But we seem to be moving to a system that doesn???t allow time for that.???

Vitti empathized with Wood???s point.

???As a teacher I loved to talk about the post-Reconstruction period,??? he said. ???But I knew I had to get to World War I. It???s always about pacing.???

However, Andy Ford, president of the Florida Education Association, said there???s more than just pacing to worry about.

???We???re focusing on the [summative] test, so we???re backing up trying to predict performance with interim tests, and that takes away from instruction.???

Vitti said he understands that there is a ???degree of angst??? among teachers.

As principal of Homestead Middle School in Miami-Dade County, Vitti essentially banned talking about the FCAT as a way to avoid feeding that angst.

???I???m not going to talk about the test,??? he said. ???I???m going to talk about teaching kids. If we teach this, we don???t have to worry about the test, because they???re going to be great.???

Vitti noted that schools and states can???t compare themselves to each other if the standards are different. Wood agreed on that point and said that Common Core State Standards is ???very important??? to her friends in the military who move from state to state.

Vitti added that numerous sets of state standards could hurt our nation in the global economy.

???We???re one of only a few industrialized countries that don???t have a national curriculum,??? he said.

???I want the Common Core to come, and I want a Common Core assessment because I want to show the nation that Duval County ??? apples to apples ??? that our kids are going to be better prepared,??? Vitti added.

Next: Part 6, What???s next?

 Author: Julie Delegal

Julie Delegal is a lifelong Floridian and a graduate of the University of Florida. Since 2009, she has been a contributing writer for Folio Weekly, Jacksonville???s alternative weekly news magazine. A former PTA President and County Council member, Julie has emerged as a leading local voice on public education. Additionally, Julie writes for the family business, Delegal Law Offices, an employment law firm. In conjunction with her husband, Tad, she has advocated for appropriate educational services for special needs children for more than a decade. Julie continues to write and raise children in Jacksonville, Florida. Find Julie on Facebook, and on Twitter @julieinjax.