Monday, December 22, 2008

FCAT - The New 'F' Word

I recently had a conference at my son's high school to go over his IEP and find out why he's failing. I asked why only one of his teachers had called me - the week before grades went in - to tell me he was going to fail if he didn't pass the exam. Out of seven teachers, four of whom knew he had a 'D' or 'F', I got only one call and that one was too late in coming.

After expressing my displeasure, you know what I was told? "In all fairness to them, they have a lot on them this year because of the FCAT."

WHAT?

For those of you unfamiliar with the FCAT, allow me to explain. The FCAT is the year end student assessment test. It is supposed to measure student success in meeting educational goals throughout the year. Under the Jeb Bush administration, it was implemented to replace the California Achievement Test and has been used ever since.

Theoretically a more thorough assessment instrument, implementation of the FCAT has done more to ruin the education system in Florida than any other single event. Teachers no longer have the flexibility to lead their students through the lessons at a comfortable pace. They can't work at the speed of the students. Instead, they have to push to cover 'X' amount of information prior to FCAT. They are now, in effect, teaching the test.

What happens to students like my son who are struggling to keep up? They get further behind and fall through the cracks because the teachers are too busy to help them.

As a parent, this angers and saddens me. It angers me because no test should put so much pressure on every student, teacher and school in the state. The kids are terrified of it. The teachers talk about it in whispers like it's a dirty word. Administrators wield it like a sword above the heads of their staff because funding depends on scores.

I used to teach high school. I know the pressure teachers are under for their students to succeed. Even with upwards of 30 students (36 in one class when they all bothered to show up), I was expected to track individual progress. I was required, by mid-quarter, to notify parents of their child's impending failure. Not a week before grades went in.

I didn't have e-mail, it didn't exist. I didn't have a computer program to help me with my grades, planning or paperwork. Yet I had the same expectations for student success as teachers do now. So, when I get the explanation, "...because of the FCAT", do I have any sympathy at all? No!
The sympathy just about died after my son nearly failed the 9th grade. It suffered further when he nearly failed 10th. It's totally dead now and that one sentence killed it. There is no hope for resurrection or resuscitation. It is completely, totally and irrevocably gone.

Because of the FCAT, my child cannot be successful. Because of the FCAT, I am in the untenable position between a rock and a hard place, trying to decide what's best for him and how to get him through the next year and a half of school. Because of the FCAT, teachers struggle to keep afloat, juggle their paperwork and teach their students. However, I will not accept that because of the FCAT, the teacher has no time to call me. Try to feed that line to someone else, because I'm not buying it.

I invite comments both pro and con, but no profanity please. I reserve the right to edit or delete inappropriate posts.

Monday, December 01, 2008

In the Midst of Madness

Finding time to write is something every author deals with. Some of us have more time to devote to it than others, but still find that life intrudes. I just spent the month of November taking the National November Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) challenge. While it's invigorating to test my writing abilities, it also tests my patience.

For those of you who have never heard of NaNoWriMo, I'll explain. The participants make the personal commitment to write a 50,000 word novel beginning November 1st and ending November 30th at midnight. There are no money prizes, no one reads the novel but you, it doesn't even have to be perfect, it just has to be done. For this, you get a caffeine addiction, sleep deprivation, frazzled nerves, numb fingers, a nifty little logo to put on your web site, a printable certificate and the satisfaction of knowing that despite everything, you persevered!

It's amazing how quickly life intrudes when I set a goal like this for myself. Everyone in the household becomes "needy", particularly my twelve year old son. Things he could do for himself suddenly take on far more importance, meaning that Mom has to get up and take care of it. The phone becomes my enemy. I can go for weeks at a time when the phone won't ring, but once the November challenge begins, it rings all the time. I'm not being paranoid, I kept track! The week before NaNo began, I had a total of five phone calls in a week - one of which was for me. As of November 1st, I had at least that many a day - and most of them for me.

Meals are another thing that interfere. Deciding what to fix becomes a major decision that I usually leave to the last minute. Grocery shopping becomes a task that eats into my writing time, irritating me further. When I get home, the actual preparation is the most annoying because it's accompanied by complaints about the meal.

NaNoWriMo is not the only time that these things are problematic, I simply use that as an example. During any given day, the precious moments I have to get the ideas out of my head and into written form, are limited. I don't know about other authors, but my family fails to recognize that what I am doing is actually "work". To them, it's Mom sitting at the computer - again. Old hat, since ninety percent of my free time is at the computer. If I'm not writing, I'm reading what I wrote and editing it with a mixture of brutality and care. The words, "I'm working", don't make much of an impression on three hungry boys.

Somehow, in the midst of all this madness, I find enough time to get things done. The precious words get faithfully added to the text even as my eyes cross and my head hits the keyboard. Life, though it interferes, is what I draw from to fill my books with lively conversation, anecdotes and action. So, though I may resent the interruptions, I welcome them, because it shows me that I am a part of life, not set apart - and that is truly a writer's richest resource.

Undiscovered by Dellani Oakes

Kent Griswald is a high powered movie executive known for his micro-managing and aggressive supervision of a movie from beginning to end....