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High Stakes Testing i n Florida: Media Portrayals and Parental Realities by Jennifer Gilroy Hunsecker A thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts Department of Anthro pology College of Arts and Sciences University of South Florida Major Professor: Elizabeth Bird Ph.D. Jacqueline Messing, Ph.D. Rebecca Zarger, Ph.D Date of Approval: November 14 2007 Keywords: accountability parents, fcat, educational anthropology, media Copyright 2007 Jennifer Gilroy Hunsecker
Dedication I would like to dedicate my thesis to my parents, Gary and Jane Hunsecker. Thank you for instilling in me a love of learning and for encouraging me to follow my dreams. I would also like to dedicate my thesis to my husband, Joel Holtry. Thank you for su worth it.
Acknowledgments I would like to thank my advisor, Dr. Bird, for her gui dance in formulating, developing, reformulating, and writing my thesis. I would like to thank the other members of my committee, Drs. Messing and Zarger, for always being willing to help me when I asked or to listen when I had a question. I would also li ke to thank the dynamic duo of Dr. Yelvington and Dr. Cruz for selflessly assisting me both with recruiting and methodological issues. It would be unfair not to mention the other members of the USF Anthropology Department. Thank you for offering suggesti ons, pointing me in the direction of potential interviewees, and for the willingness to listen and offer advice. A big thank you goes out to my yoga teacher, Angela, for helping me to relieve my stress through focusing on my breath, offering gentle guidan ce, and going out of her way to help me find research participants. I want to thank all of the parents who agreed to be interviewed. You took time out of your busy lives to talk to me, a complete stranger. I hope to someday be able to return your kind g estures. Finally, I would like to thank my friends and family for all of their support and encouragement throughout this process. While I may not always say it (or show it), your love and encouragement has helped me to make it this far. Thank you from th e bottom of my heart.
i Table of Contents List of Tables iii List of Figures iv Abstract v Chapter One: Introduction 1 Research Question s 2 History of the F lorida C omprehensive A ssessment T est 8 Education in the Tampa Bay Area 1 3 Ch apter Two: Literature Review 1 9 Purpose of Education 19 Anthropology and Education 22 Policy Analysis 26 Privatization of Education 27 Accountability and Standards 28 31 Purpose of Standardized Tes t ing 35 High Stakes Testing and Teachers 3 7 High Stakes Testing and Families 40 Media and Education 45 Conclusion 46 Chapter Three: Re search Design and Methodology 4 8 The Methods 4 9 Archival Research 4 9 Content Analysis 50 Free Listing 52 In terviews 54 Sampling 5 7 Method of Analysis 5 9 Chapter Four: Results and Discussion 61 Content Analysis 61 Free Listing Activity 6 9 Discussion of Interviews 71
ii Parental Understanding of FCAT policy 74 Government Goals for E ducati on 74 Purpose of the FCAT 7 6 Who supports the FCAT or N ot? 7 8 Is the FCAT an Effective Policy? 7 9 Link Between N o C hild L eft B ehind and FCAT 83 FCAT Ma terials and Who Pays For Them 83 Will the Test Change? 8 5 Lived Reality of the FCAT 8 7 Im Education 8 7 Teachers 8 7 Curriculum and Instruction 8 9 Stress 92 Children Who Fail 94 Impact of FCAT on Parents 9 5 I mpact on Parental Involvement 9 6 Parents and Stress 9 9 Impact on Voting 100 Perceived Lack of Power to Influence Poli cy 101 Sugg 102 Conclusion 10 7 Chapter Five: Con clusions and Recommendations 10 8 Other Issues: Power and Politics 11 5 Connections Between the Literature and Findings 118 Recommendations 120 Conclusion 1 24 References 1 26 Appendices 1 45 Appendix A: Interview Guide 1 46 Append ix B: Informed Consent Form 1 47
iii List of Tables Table 1: Revi sed School Grading Scale 14 Table 2: Data on Public Schools in Three Tampa Bay School Districts 17 Table 3: Results of Free Listing Activity 70 Table 4: 10 Mo st Commonly Listed Words 71 Table 5: Interviewees, Their Ch ildren, and School Grades 72
iv List of Figures Figure 1: Appearance of FCAT i n Newspaper Articles by Year 6 2
v High Stakes Test ing in Florida: Media Portrayals and Parental Realities Jennifer Hunsecker ABSTRACT In 1998, Florida implemented a system of standardized testing known as the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT). While initially designed as one among many to ols to assess student and school progress, the FCAT has become a high stakes test. Schools whose students fail to meet certain benchmarks are in danger of losing their s chools to choose another, more highly rated school) while parents must contend with ever broadening educational policies. The implications of this policy have been far reaching. Textbook makers now market individualized textbooks that teach FCAT content, schools hold FCAT pep rallies, and some schools hold celebrations at the end of FCAT testing. Both parents and children report feeling stress during FCAT testing time and numerous educators have left the field in protest of the emphasis placed on one mea sure of student achievement. The impact that the FCAT and associated policies have had on Florida families is the subject of this thesis. Archival research was gathered from the St. Petersburg Times surrounding coverage of the FCAT and a content analysis was conducted. Interviews were carried out with parents of elementary school children surrounding the issues discovered to be most relevant in the content analysis. A comparison of the content
vi analysis and interview data showed that some of the issues covered most extensively in the media were not the most significant to parents. One of the most reported on issues, the proposed changes (or lack thereof) to FCAT policy by Florida governor candidates in the 2006 election, was not the most important issue to parents, who were far more concerned with the amount and types of homework and associated stresses their children felt. Recommendations include giving parents a greater voice in the media by creating a guest columnist section and holding advisory meet ings between high ranking Florida officials and parents of current schoolchildren.
1 Chapter One: Introduction Florida D "This [the FCAT] is about over testing, over testing to the point that we define school as preparation for a test." Miami Dade Schools Superintendent Rudy Crew, as quoted by Carl Hiaasen, 2007 As a child of the 1980s, I grew up taking standardized tests: the California Achievement Test (CAT), the Iowa Test of Basic Skills (Iowa), the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment test (PSSA), the Stanford Binet Intelligent Scale (IQ test), and the SAT. O nly two of those tests had any bearing on my future: the IQ test and the SAT. The IQ test was used to group students into cohorts according to intelligence in my middle school. The SAT was used to determine the quality of college that I could gain accept ance into and to determine whether I was worthy of a scholarship. As a10 year old, I did not understand the significance of the IQ test and took it lightly. As a high school student, I developed severe test anxiety and refused to prepare for the SAT. As a result, my scores were lower than my grade point average would have predicted and I became somewhat bitter about standardized tests. I felt that it was unfair to base my admission to college on my test scores from a high stakes test when my grades were more reflective of my work ethic and intelligence. Imagine my distress when I learned that children as young as eight are forced to take such high stakes tests as a condition to pass the third grade. As an undergraduate in Chicago and then as a gradua te student in Florida, I have witnessed many children and
2 parents whose lives revolve (in part) around high stakes tests. There are books, commercials, remedial programs, and tutoring centers dedicated to assisting children in passing these tests. The di scourse and rhetoric surrounding these tests, particularly in Florida, has become an insidious force in the lives of many. Anyone who is involved with elementary or secondary school in Florida feels the impact of high stakes testing, whether it is a teach er who spends most of the year preparing children for the test, parents who coach their children to perform at their peak, businessmen and women who capitalize on new opportunities to make money, or support staff who can receive bonuses simply for working at a high performing school. Even those without children are not immune to its prevalence, since the news media so frequently report on stories related to education policy and its impacts. Research Questions A t the core of this research project was my be lief that in the United States, governmental emphasis on standards, high stakes testing, and accountability was getting out of hand. As I began to research the subject, I learned that I was not alone ( Cuban 2004 b ; Goodman et al. 2004; Jones, Jones and Ha rgrove 2003; McNeil 2000; Meier and Wood 2004; Sacks 1999) From books written on the historical failure of the business model to improve American education (Cuban 2004 b ; Jones, Jones, and Hargrove 2003 ; Sacks 1999 ) to those that chronicle state level ef forts to implement high stakes testing (McNeil 2000 Sacks 1999 ) to those written by educators and journalists discussing the flaws with the federal high stakes testing policy of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) (Goodman et al. 2004 ; Jones, Jones, and Hargrove 2003 Meier and Wood 2004; Sacks
3 1999 ) it is clear that many across the nation are dissatisfied with the impact of high stakes testing. Other media, especially print and television news, have focused on the change in education policy in the United States over the last 50 years. More often than not, these news stories focus on changes in educational policy at the school, district, state, and national level. While many of the stories include quotes from members of the public, rarely do the articles show t he impact that educational policy has on families and children, as will be demonstrated in chapters 4 and 5. However, anyone who talks to a parent or an educator knows that the impact of policies like the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT) and NCLB has been perceived as wide and far reaching, likely in ways that no one could have predicted. Children are increasingly feeling pressure and stress to perform well on tests at early ages, while parents feel pressure to ensure that their children are adequately prepared for testing. Businesses that promise to prepare children for taking high stakes tests have sprung up while publishing and textbook companies vie for the rights to write the tests (and market preparation materials). Schools districts and administrators feel pressure to ensure that their school as a whole performs well on the tests (regardless of the many factors outside of their control) in order to avoid public shame or government takeover. Teachers feel pressure to keep their studen ts scoring well in order to keep their jobs and earn bonus pay. Educational anthropologists have documented the se impacts through studies of state level high stakes testing policy across the nation, focusing on states like Texas, Massachusetts, and New York that have invested heavily in high stakes testing prior to
4 the enactment of the NCLB Act (Fine et al. 2007 ; Johnson 2007; Lipman 2005, 2004, 2002; Salinas and Reidel 2007; Sloan 2007; Valli and Chambliss 2007 ; Valenzuela et al. 2007 ). The majority hav e suggested that such policies, though intended to improve curriculum and ensure that all children learn are, in reality, having the opposite effect (Fine et al. 2007 ; Johnson 2007; Lipman 2005, 2004, 2002; Salinas and Reidel 2007; Valli and Chambliss 2007 ; Valenzuela et al. 2007) Other researchers have suggested that these policies have aided teachers in improving their teaching practice (Sloan 2007). Are education policies that emphasize high stakes testing along with standards and accountability accom plishing what their authors had hoped? Are fewer children being study of a different nature: one with more time, researchers, and funding Additionally, this is clearly a n area of research that has taken hold within the educational anthroplogy community An area that has been neglected (with the exception of Johnson 2007) in anthropological and educational studies of federal and state testing policies is the impact that s uch policies have on parents of school aged children. As Salinas and Reidel (2007) indicate it is important to understand who benefits and who loses under policies because public policy is designed to be responsive to the needs of communities. Following the call to consider the needs of the community, I chose to focus my study outside of the school context. The question that I hope to answer with this thesis is this: what impact is high stakes testing policy having on parents ? Specifically I will attem pt to answer how the high stakes education policies of one state, Florida, has impacted parents 1 in the 1 Although I intended to interview both male and female parents, I was largely unsuccessful in reaching male interviewees. This was largely due to the sampling methodology that I employed: because I utilized
5 Tampa Bay area. Using parents in the Tampa Bay area as a case study will illuminate the impact that high stakes testing policies have on an under studi ed, yet important group of stakeholders and will suggest further areas for research on the impact of policies like the NCLB Act. I chose to focus on the Tampa Bay area (defined, f or the purposes of this research as Pasco, Hillsborough, and Pinellas counti es ) because it has been my home for several years and because I believe it is fairly representative of the rest of the state Florida has seen an steady influx of new residents since the 1980s, though this rapid growth is slowing somewhat (Florida Office of Economic and Demographic Research 2007). Like other parts of the state the Tampa Bay area has seen a steady influx of new residents beginning in the 1990s and continuing today ( Department of Strategic Planning and Technology 2006). The current popula tions of these three counties vary: Hillsborough County had roughly 1,157,738 people in 2006, Pinellas County had roughly 924,413, and Pasco County had approximately 450,171 people ( US Census Bureau 2007). Pasco County covered the most land area (744.85 s q miles) and was the least dense (462.8 people per square mile). Hillsborough covered 1,050.91 square miles and was populated at 950.5 people per square mile. Pinellas covered 279.92 square miles and contains 3,291.0 people per square mile (US Census Bur eau 2006). The majority of the new residents are migrants (as opposed to babies) either from other parts of the United States or from foreign countries (Florida Office of Economic and Demographic Research 2007). snowball sampling, most of the participants tended to be similar. From the first woman that I interviewed, no other women were willing or able to refer me to a male interviewee. Thus, while I use the word parents, in reality this study is comprised of mostly mot
6 This creates a tremendous amount of diver sity aged population leading to unique challenges for policy makers and educators alike. Initially, I had hoped to study how high stakes testing policies had changed is has been documented extensively via surveys and interviews ( Barksdale Ladd and Thomas 2000 ; Boyd et al. 2006 2005; Cimbricz 2002 ; Hill 2007 ; Lomax et al. 1995; Smith 199 1 ; The Southeast Center for Teaching Quality 2004 ) the anthropological and educati onal literature is not as robust with in depth ethnographic studies (exceptions include Lipman 2004, Sloan 2007, and Valli and Chambliss 2007) This project, for a variety of reasons, did not come to fruition. As an alternative, I chose to examine how t he FCAT has impacted the lives of parents of elementary school children, a subject that has widely been ignored in scholarly literature. In the educational and anthropological literature, the focus of most research is either at the micro level: the impact on learning and curriculum, as well as how life inside of schools is changed by testing ( Allington and McGill Franzen 1992, Carnoy and Loeb 2002, Fine et al. 2007, Hill 2007, Mulvenon et al. 2005, Sloan 2007, Smith and Rottenberg 1991, Valli and Chambliss 2007 ) or at the macro level: discussion of the widespread social and economic impacts of high stakes testing ( Apple 2004; Fine et al. 2007; Lipman 2005, 2004, 2002; Salinas and Reidel 2007 ) This thesis is an attempt to shift the focus of analysis from t he classroom and about the nation as a whole, to focusing on areas in between: homes, schools, and public spaces. A component of this research project is to examine the role of the media in parental understanding of and opinion about the FCAT and high s takes testing in Florida. I am particularly interested in determining the topics and frequency of discussion of the
7 FCAT in print media in the Tampa Bay region. How often do newspaper staff write about the FCAT? What topics are covered? Are members of th e general public writing guest editorials or letters to the editor concerning their feelings on the FCAT? Are there topical areas concerning the FCAT that are not being reported on by the print media? By answering these questions, I hope to show that whi le the media are on target with their focus on topics of interest to parents, they do not provide enough information on the impact that testing has had on parents and their children. To determine the answer to these questions I completed a content analy sis 2 of the education reporting in the St. Petersburg Times My content analysis produced four sing the broad topical areas, I created an interview guide designed to answer the following questions: How do parents understand the FCAT and policies surrounding it? How has it (or will it) eir lives in response to the FCAT and do they plan to make any changes in the future? Do they feel that they have a voice or a say in the testing policy, either at the school level or at the state/federal level? Has the FCAT impacted their level of polit ical interest or their decisions about what politicians to support? And finally, do they feel that the FCAT is having the intended effect, that is, do they feel that it is improving the state of education in Florida? Answering these questions helped me t o assemble a picture of how parents viewed the purpose of the FCAT, and how it was or was not having the desired effect in their lives, 2 By content analysis, I mean that I gathered data in the form of newspaper articles, read the articles, summarized the theme of the article with a word or phrase, and looked for larger patterns in my codes (Bernar d 1994).
8 as well as to show the specific ways in which it impacted their lives. Armed with the interview guide, I conducted semi structured interviews with twenty five parents and asked them to participate in a modified free as well as to elicit cultural domains related to the FCAT. To answer how the FCAT impacts parents, I utilized int erview transcripts and a coding system to analyze a combination of interview and free listing data which I compared with the findings of the content analysis. As I shall detail in Chapter 4, I found that parents lacked intricate understanding of the pol icies surrounding the FCAT and that they largely felt powerless to combat the stressful situations in which it places their families. To combat these feelings, parents s, more wealthy parents may completely disengage from the public school system in Florida and will send their children to private schools where the FCAT is not an issue. To poli cy evaluation reports prepared by private firms or government offices (such as the Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability or OPPAGA) to policy makers and for parents to organize to make their opinions heard at the state level. His tory of the F lorida C omprehensive A ssessment T est and created a set of academic standards for Fl 2004:1 ). The standards were named the Sunshine State Standards (SSS) and were the basis upon which the FCAT was developed. However, the chain of events leading up to the
9 development of the FCAT and the surrounding high stake s policy is a little more According to the Florida Department of Education (FDOE 2007 b ), the movement 3 story of Statewide Assessment Program (HSAP) website) with the passage of the Educational system, particularly to gather student achievement data for comparison purposes (HSAP 2007). The first state assessment test was conducted during the 1971 1972 school year and tested second and fourth grade students in reading (HSAP 2007). State assessment testing was expanded to other subject areas and grades for the next two schoo l years. In 1974, the Educational Accountability Act was revised to specify the grades and subject matters to be tested and to require the schools to create an annual school report for parents (HSAP 2007). The next amendment to the Educational Accountabi lity Act was added in 1976 and indicated that students must pass a basic literacy test in order to receive their high school diplomas (HSAP 2007). Students who did not pass the test were awarded a Certificate of Completion (HSAP 2007). The 1979 1980 sc hool year was the first in which Florida students with disabilities (taking the standard test) were given test accommodations including untimed tests, large print tests, and testing in small groups (HSAP 2007). The next testing development in Florida was t he advent of a writing test, introduced in 1982 (HSAP 3 include some sort of performance revi ew (in this case it is a test (the FCAT)), a overseer (or several in this case, including the state and the public), and pay for performance (teacher bonus plans and school recognition funds).
10 2007). Throughout the 1980s, the FDOE contracted with various entities (University of South Florida; Florida State University; Scholastic Testing Service; Dade County; and Instructional Design, Develop ment, and Evaluation Associates) to create, modify, or assess tests (HSAP 2007). The shift toward the current iteration of the Florida Comprehensive Achievement Test began in the 1990s (HSAP 2007). Then governor Lawton Chiles proposed Blueprint 2000, a measure designed to give more control over education to schools at the district level by allowing each district to make spending and curriculum decisions previously made at the state level (Kleindienst 1991, Nickens 1991). Individual schools were eligib charged with creating School Advisory Councils to assist them in doing so (Kushner, Carey, Kromrey 1996). The School Improvement and Accountability Act (also known as Blueprint 20 00) was passed in 1991 (Kleindienst 1991, Nickens 1991). According to early newspaper accounts of the law, the focus was on giving control back to the local level. 1992 was the first year that the Florida Writing Assessment Program was introduced (AABB 2 007). This program tested fourth grade students on their writing ability and is the precursor to the Florida Writes component of the FCAT given today (AABB 2007). In 1995, HSAP indicates that contracts were solicited to develop and administer a new stat e assessment test. CTB/McGraw Hill won the contract and held it until 1999, at which point Harcourt Educational Measurement replaced them. During this year, the state also adopted the design for the FCAT, the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Design (AABB 2 007). The following year, 1996, the Sunshine State Standards (SSS) were
11 adopted, the FCAT was approved by the legislature, and preliminary testing of the FCAT was approved for the following year (AABB 2007, HSAP 2007). The full roll out of the FCAT occurr ed in 1998, testing children in grades 4, 5, 8, and 10 (AABB 2007). The data from those tests were used to develop grading guidelines of the FCAT (AABB 2007). Eventually, in the year 2000, students from grades 3 through 10 were required to take one or mo re forms of the FCAT (HSAP 2007). Stakes which were linked to student and teacher performance began to be attached to testing with the election of Education Commissioner Frank Brogan in 1995 (Maxwell 1995). Brogan proposed many initiatives to privati ze education, ranging from utilizing vouchers to merit pay for teachers (Maxwell 1995, AABB 2007). In 1997, Commissioner Brogan introduced the School Recognition Program, designed to reward schools that performed best on the FCAT with additional funds (AA BB 2007). While the Florida Legislature passed this program, it remained unfunded until 1998, when Governor Bush lent it his support. In its current form, it provides $100 dollars per student who attended the school full time in the previous year (FDOE 2 007 a ). This at least one performance grade category from the previous year a ). In 1999, the Florida legislature adopted the A+ Plan for Education, a plan design ed to grade schools based on student test scores and to implement a voucher system. It gave parents of children whose schools received failing grades for two consecutive years an option to attend another school of their choice (AABB 2007). The legislatio n also amended the original law authorizing the FCAT, by expanding the grades in which students were
12 required to take the FCAT, added a science test to the FCAT, and mandated passing the FCAT as a condition of graduating from a Florida high school (AABB 20 07). Since 1999, the legislature has created a minimum grade needed on the FCAT to graduate from high school, added a provision that third grade students must receive a grade higher than level 1 on their reading FCAT score in order to pass to the fourth g rade, required teachers to create an improvement plan for middle school students who receive a grade lower than level 3 on their FCAT, and changed the writing portion of the FCAT to include multiple choice (AABB 2007). So what, exactly, is the FCAT? Ac cording to the Florida DOE (2007:13) The Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT) is part of implementing higher standards. The FCAT, an assessment test administered to students in grades 3 through 11, contains two basic components: criterion referenced tests (CRT) measuring selected benchmarks from the Sunshine State Standards (SSS or Standards) in mathematics, reading, science, and writing and norm referenced tests (NRT) in reading compre hension and mathematics problem solving measuring individual student performance against national norms. It is worth mentioning that students who attend private schools or who are homeschooled are not required to take the FCAT. Critics of the test say th at the FCAT encourages rote memorization, forces teachers to narrow their curriculums and pedagogical techniques, and is an effort to privatize education by taking failing schools out of the public domain and turning them over to private enterprise through charter schools and vouchers (see results chapter). They are also quick to point the finger at former Governor Jeb Bush, as Tampa Tribune article, Governor Chiles was in office when the FCAT was proposed, developed,
13 and implemented ( Kleindienst 1996 ). high stakes test and is likely the reason that the test is strongly associated with Bush, rather than its true originator, Chile s (FCAT Scan 2007, Hiaasen 2007 ). The A+ Plan for Education is what links the FCAT to the NCLB Act. According to the federal Department of Education ( US DOE 2007 ), NCLB was designed nts, greater local control and flexibility, and an emphasis on doing what works based on scientific the school their child attends and focuses on accountability (AABB 2 007). Both policies stakes tests, purportedly in order to improve the lives of children and their families. However, it seems that there are many ways in which local cont rol of schools could be increased without implementing high stakes tests, just as giving parents a choice about the school their child attends could also be possible without tests that are linked to nancial resources. Education in the Tampa Bay Area In Florida, school districts correspond with county boundaries making all schools receives a letter grade rangin g from A to F. This is commonly referred to as a a ). These grades are based on points that schools earn by having their students achieve a score of level three or higher on the reading, mathematics, and writing sections of the FC 2007:50) in reading and math. The final category for which schools earn points toward
14 2007:50). For every categor y, the school is able to earn up to 100 points. One point is given for every percentage point of the student body that is at or above the passing standard (the levels change yearly and by category). Therefore, if 100% of the students earn the passing mar k or above, then the school is awarded 100 points in that category. Prior to the 2006 2007 school year, a school had to earn at least 410 points (out of 600, or a 69% score) to receive a grade of A. However, the guidelines have been revised (to incorpora te a new science test). The new scores are calculated out of 800 possible points and a score of 525 points (or a 66%) or more will be necessary to earn an A rating. The table below lists the past and present scores that correspond to each school grade. Table 1: Revised School Grading Scale Grade Score prior to 2006 (score out of 600 points) Scores for 2006 2007 and beyond (out of 800 points) A 410 + 69% + 525 + 66% + B 380 409 63% 68% 495 524 63% 66% C 320 379 53% 67% 435 494 55% 62% D 280 319 47% 52 % 395 434 49% 54% F <280 <47% <395 <49% Students in schools who receive the F designation for two consecutive years are eligible to attend another school of their choice under th e Florida A+ Accountability plan (FDOE 2007 a ). School grades are publicized on the Internet, in newspapers, and via other forms of media. Critics of the A+ Accountability plan have pointed out that it is possible for schools to earn A grades but not make Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) under the NCLB act (Matus 2007 b Pinzur 2003) U is determined by the percentage of students score a three or higher on the FCAT (this is (FDOE 2007 c ) In order for AYP to be met, this percentage
15 must increase by at least one percent every year with the end goal that 100% of students will make AYP by the year 2013 (FDOE 2007 c ). The AYP standard differs from the school grades in that a school could feasibly receive enough p oints to receive an A grade, but still not have all of its students performing at the proficient level. This points to the According to the Florida Department of Education, the FCAT is designed to measure the individual, while the NCLB is more concerned with groups of students (Pinzur 2003). School failure is not the only way in which a student and his or her family is eligible to choose the school they attend. In the S choo l D istrict of H illsbrough C ounty a program called Hillsborough Choice Options allows parents to select and apply to up three schools in their attendance area (boundaries of which are drawn by the district level school board) (SDHC 2007). Other options al low parents to apply to magnet schools (special schools that offer specialized theme programs, often geared toward math or science curricula), to apply to attend charter schools, apply for McKay scholarships (scholarships that allow children with special n eeds to attend private schools), apply for the NCLB Choice program (this program allows parents of students in Title 1 schools to apply to attend a school that is making adequate yearly progress), or to home school their child ( FDOE 2007 a ; SDHC 2007; DOE 2 007) In Pinellas County School District (PCS) schools were subject to a federally mandated busing program (which had been implemented to end segregation in schools) 2007 ) allows parents of children about to enter kindergarten, sixth grade, and ninth grade
16 district). Parents are also able to apply for a change in schools during other ye ars (this is voluntary, unlike in the previously mentioned years). Applicants are accepted based on er iteration as the district seeks to keep students in neighborhood schools, yet maintain desegregation (PCS 2007). Students are also able to attend magnet schools, charter schools, apply for McKay scholarships, be home schooled, or apply for the NCLB Cho ice program (PCS 2007). The options are somewhat limited in Pasco County schools (PCSD 2007a ) If families wish to send their children to a school that is not the closest school geographically, they must file an application for a change of school (PCS D 2007 a ). Applications for the following school year are accepted until March and are only accepted for schools that are not over capacity. Most schools have a limited number of openings for transfer students (PCSD 2007 a ). Other options, like magnet sch ools, charter schools, McKay scholarships, NCLB Choice, and home schooling are also available to parents in Pasco County (PCSD 2007 a ). On the whole, students in Pasco County schools are much less able to access schools non neighborhood schools than is the case in both Pinellas and Hillsborough County schools. are independently governed, free standing public schoo ls that offer parents and students an alternative public education outside the traditional school district system a ). Interested parents, community members, and financial sponsors work together to create a charter for
17 the school, establish a lo cation, and provide financial resources for the school. Students are recognized as attending a public school, their teachers must hold a valid Florida (PCSD 2007 a ). The o nly difference is that charter school teachers are not employed by the school district, but by the individual school (PCSD 2007 a ). Table 2: 2006 Data on Public Schools in Three Tampa Bay School Districts Student enrollment Number of public schools Nu mber of charter schools Number of instructional staff Hillsborough 192,022 206 231 11,104 Pasco 63,849 72 4 4,570 Pinellas 112,127 167 6 6,776 Info in table taken from: F DOE website, SDHC website, PCSD website, and PCS website As Table 2 shows, the S chool District of Hillsborough County (SDHC 2007) is the largest (enrollment wise) school district in the Tampa Bay area. In fact, it is the eighth largest district in the country (SDHC 2007). While Pasco schools have the lowest population, they also hav population) within the next five years (PCSD 2007 b ). In short, the population of the greater Tampa Bay area is large and is growing rapidly. In Hillsborough County, there are currently no schools with the F designation, although there are sixteen schools with a grade of D (FDOE 2007 c ). Similarly, in Pasco County there are currently no schools with the F designation (FDOE 2007 c ). There were three schools with a D grade (FDOE 2007 c ). Just as in the cas e of Hillsborough and Pasco County schools, Pinellas County School District currently has no schools with the F designation (FDOE 2007 c ). There are six schools in Pinellas County (five high schools and one elementary school) with a grade of D (FDOE 2007 c ) Each district is assigned
18 an overall grade based on district wide data. Beginning with the 2003 2004 school year, all three local districts have earned a grade of B (with one exception: Hillsborough earned an A for the 2005 2006 school year). Clearly the majority of Tampa area schools are doing something right in the eyes of the State of Florida. Policy makers in Florida have clearly shifted from a focus on improving education by involving parents and teachers at the local level to statewide, public a ccountability with high stakes testing. Through a set of policies (which I will henceforth refer to as the FCAT) designed to punish low performing schools and reward high performing ones, former Governor Bush and other lawmakers chose to focus their effor ts on applying a business accountability model to the world of education. The following chapters will explore in greater detail what the literature says about accountability and educational achievement, how the FCAT has impacted parents of elementary scho ol children, and will suggest ways these impacts can be addressed.
19 Chapter Two: Literature Review Anthropologists point to a holistic viewpoint as one of the hallmarks of the discipline. In that vein, I explore the issue of high stakes testing in t he literature from multiple perspectives. Specific areas I focus on include an exploration of the purpose of education, what anthropologists have theorized about education, a discussion of anthropological views of policy analysis, privatization movements, and how high stakes testing has impacted teachers and parents. I finish with a discussion of the importance of studying the media as another site of socialization for youth as well as their parents. In doing so, I hope to show the ways in which ways hig h stakes testing can impact education and address why parents may have concerns about it. Purpose of Education One component of the debate surrounding NCLB and high stakes t esting relates ical persuasion, arguments can be made that the purpose of education in the United States is to create loyal and/or informed citizens, reproduce the existing social order, or produce skilled One proposed purpose of education is to instill national values into the next generation of citizens ( Hall 1999). National education systems serve as a network for receptive youth ( Ha ll 1999). For a current example, one needs look no further than the debates over whether evolution should be taught in schools, which rose alongside the
20 increasing power of the Christian right in U.S. politics. The educational system is viewed as an effec tive medium for inculcating new generations with the values of previous generations. Alternately, the educational system can be utilized to create a productive and loyal workforce to drive the economy. Hall (1999) suggests that as globalization increas ingly becomes a force to be reckoned with, governments are turning to their educational systems to produce the sort of workers who will be both loyal and competitive on the worldwide scale. Such efforts to target the education system to produce workers ca n be viewed through the increased emphasis on science and mathematics education starting in the 1950s (Mintz 2004) and continuing through the present ( Borman et al. 2005 ). In a similar vein, other scholars view the education system as a site of social reproduction. According to Connell et al (1981), a capitalist nation begets stratification within its education system, just as it does within its economic structure: people will always be stratified based on the resources they have in life, whether this is in education liberals saw in the inequality statistics evidence that the education system was failing theorists of another stamp saw it as succeeding --in carrying ou t its normal social Willis (1977), author of Learning to Labour British youth who are used to illustrate the social reproduction inheren t in a capitalist system. The lads are teenage boys from working class families who could utilize their education to raise their social class but ultimately are unable to do so because of the
21 conflicting messages they receive through interaction with one another about the desirability of social mobility In essence, they are unable to gain social mobility through education, suggesting that social reproduction is an inherent and insidious force within education in capitalist countries. Hall (1999) points o ut that Bourdieu challenged the idea of schools as the site of social reproduction, suggesting instead that schools were sites of Gonzalez (2004) suggests that the debate over the purpose of education is diametrically opposed between those who want to prepare children with tangible career skills versus those who want to train children in critical thinking skills. In other words, some believe that the purpose of education is to prepare tom skills while other believe that the purpose should be to teach thinking and create an informed citizenry. High stakes tests encourage teaching children tangible skills that are easily tested by multiple choice and short essay tes ts instead of critical thinking skills that do not directly provide students with a demonstrable skill, but in the long run benefit the child (Gonzalez 2004). While social reproduction, worker skill training and citizenship building, and teaching critic al thinking skills in schools are competing arguments 4 it seems as what the government intends when it creates policy. Instead, the most likely purpose for educat ion lies at the intersection of these theories: that it is to create better citizens, better workers, critical thinkers, and partially to reproduce the existing social order. 4 These three theories are not the only ideas that have been pr oposed to explain the purpose of schooling and education. However, they are the major theories that I was able to uncover in my literature review and thus will be the only three covered in this paper.
22 Variables change from location to location, making it difficult to say with certa inty which purpose is the dominant factor that shapes education in the United States. Anthropology and education H igh stakes testing is a topic explored by researchers from many disciplines. What can an anthropologist contribute to the dialogue? Accordi ng to Jacob and Jordan (1992:255) researchers from other disciplines place the responsibility of education in the ution of schooling, and the Gonzalez (2004:17) suggests and learning, that is, the relationships among power three issues: power, knowledge, and identity that shape the experience that humans have with education, both formal and informal, as well as policy related to education. Hall (1999) writes that anthropology is parti cularly well suited to study these issues (power, knowledge, and identity) because the discipline itself has been examining its relationship to these issues, particularly power and knowledge, over the past few decades. The advantage is that the discipline has been working through concepts that other disciplines have yet to acknowledge. Anthropological studies of high stakes testing are relatively few in number ; none have focused on the state of Florida Those that I was able to find detailed the effect s that testing has had on students of color ( Fine et al. 2007; Salinas and Reidel 2007; Sloan 2007; Valli and Chambliss 2007) and were conflicting in their findings. Sloan (2007 :25 ) discusses the impact that high stakes testing has had on teachers : it is
23 increased their stress and is driving them to quit the profession. He points out policies that seek to standardize, noting that they need to take care in launching these attacks without ethnog raphic data to back up their claims (Sloan 2007). Salinas and Reidel (2007) analyze the high stakes movement in Texas, where they find that minority groups have been successful in utilizing the court system to make their voice heard in state level educati on policy. They point to the need for further opportunities for public input into an increase in the diversity of assessments used to evaluate children (Salinas and Reidel 2007). Valli and Chambliss (2007) desc ribe the impact that NCLB can have in the classroom by examining an English for Speakers of Other Langauges (ESOL) class. They found that the pressure of tests increased the amount of time the ESOL teacher spent reviewing test materials and strategies and decreased the time spent utilizing pedagogical techniques advocated by second language acquisition experts (Valli and Chambliss 2007). Finally, Fine et al. (2007) point to concurrent rise of high stakes testing increasing diversity (particularly of language) in the United States. They find that while some members of the education community have resigned themselves to a future of testing and accountability, others have et al. 2007:91). They find ways to reach out to immigrant youth and communities to incorporate these differences into their education. While each of these articles approaches the topic of high stakes testin g from a different angle, they all point to the need for further ethnographic study on the impact that policies like NCLB have on educational achievement, particularly for linguistic and ethnic minorities in the United States.
24 impact that educatio nal policy can have on the diverse populations that many schools encompass is the concept of culture. Anthropologists are well known for this concept one that has gone through multiple iterations over the last 100 years. Culture was initially defined as the (1871/1958:1), a definition that eventually came to be viewed as too static and rigid for postmodernists because it suggested that culture was an unchanging characteristic of people. Currently the conception of culture is more flexible, taking into account that people have agency and can act on the behaviors and norms they were taught. Anthr opologists interested in entering into the world of education research were early champions for the use of the culture concept in education because they believed it would aid integration and teacher understanding of students different from themselves (McDe rmott and Varenne 2006). Educational researchers and educators have latched onto this concept with increasing vigor. However, as anyone who reads educational current use of anthropology in education. Gonzalez (2004) suggests that historically culture served as a stand in for race, which makes its adoption in education troubling given that the culture concept has been used to justify the failure of minority children. Curr ent authors such as Ruby Payne (and that other cultures are not (Gonzalez 2004). An example of the sort of argument used by
25 cultures lack important components that allow other cultures to succeed in education and in life. Thus, the idea of culture has been used in place of the idea of race to explain why certain types of people are successfully in educational achievement while others are not. Other authors,(such as Ogbu, Levinson, and Jacob and Jordan to name a few) many of them anthropologists, view the cause of the failure of minority children as related to difference theories, t mainstream (what is taught in school) lead to the failure. These authors are often horrified when deficiency theorists explain that certain cultures are lacking essential elements necessa ry for success in modern America. McDermott and Vareene (2006) suggest that, simply put, those in education have gotten the idea of culture totally wrong. They write that instead of aiding educators in broadening their horizons, culture has made it possi ble for educators to reduce people even further to simple categories. Additionally, educational anthropologists have contributed to the knowledge base on how schooling affects identity formation ( Echeverria 2003; Fordham 1993; Gonzalez et al. 2005; Holland and Eisenhart 1990; Levinson 2001, 19 96 ) as well as broadening the field of educational research to processes taking place outside of the classroom ( Basso 2000 Ginwright et. al 2005, Gonzalez et al. 2005, Nespor 2000 ) While all of these contributions continues to be the concept of culture. As t he discipline refine s its ideas about the culture concept, other disciplines are not as quick to change their ideas, particularly if the old concept continues to work for them. If educational anthropologists wish to counter efforts at implementing cultural deficit thinking into policy, they must become more
26 effective at establishing interdisciplinary dialogue. One way to do so is to become a member of the policy makin g community. Policy A nalysis examination of policy differ from that of a political scientist? Part of the answer lies in the point of view taken by the policy analyst. Anthro pologists tend to examine the intended as well as unintended effects of policy and include more stakeholder groups in their analysis. They do so in order to capture varying stakeholder perspectives and to understand the layers of impact that the policy ha s had (McNeil and Coppola 2006). Another important component of anthropological policy studies is that it attempts to bring out not only the overt agenda of policy makers, but also hidden agenda(s) (McNeil and Coppola 2006). Doing so allows the researc her to understand whether the policy is having the effect intended by the policy maker (McNeil and Coppola 2006). gains power nderstand what it is Goertz 2006:695 ). Such qualitative questions are necessary because they expose the (often) hidden reality that quantitative data cannot. Aggregated data in numerical form are usually what policymakers use to show reality and to determine how their policy is working (McNeil and Coppola 2006). By doing so, politicians often create and enact policy without awareness of the impac ts that their decisions have or whether what they have created will really have the intended effect.
27 To sum up the difference between an anthropological analysis of public policy and that of a non anthropologist, the answer comes down to intent of the fi nal publication/research. McNeil and Coppola (2006) suggest that ultimately, many policy analysts and evaluators wish only to determine whether the to the formal guidelines set forth by the policy, rather than answering quest ions about the unintended effects of the policy and its impact on broader communities. Anthropologists, particularly those who consider themselves applied anthropologists, seek to broaden the discussion of policy impacts and create dialogue with the impac ted parties. Education, a contentious subject because of its high cost to taxpayers and its importance in shaping scientists have pointed to a movement to implement polici es that take education out of the public sphere and make it a privatized good. Privatization of E ducation One of the biggest debates in the United States concerns the push by government, at the federal and state levels, to privatize previously government p rovided services such as healthcare, welfare, the prison system, and education Many researchers have described charter schools, voucher systems, and high stakes testing as components of this push in the education sector (Bartlett et al 2002; Lipman 2002, 2004, 2005; Sirotnik 2004; Cuban 2004 a ). The beginnings of the modern privatization of education movement have been traced to the early 1970s (Mulvenon et al 2005, Cuban 2004 a ) with the increased emphasis on standards, accountability, and teacher effectiv eness. Bartlett et al. suggest that this push was d riven by the recession of the early 1980s for tax dollars to be spent more efficiently They write that the government turned
28 toward private business models to streamline spending, specifically in education because it comprises a large portion of the national budget (Bartlett et al. 2002). Private business in capitalist societies is driven by the market and choice; by applying the idea that ervices, the government attempted to replicate the sink or swim model of businesses 5 (Bartlett et al. 2002). Accountability and Standards At no time in the history of U.S. pub lic schools have those responsi ble for schools been unaccountable 04 a :19) Cuban makes this rather bold statement at the beginning of an article on the history of accountability in United States schools. While some educational historians may disagree with him, the evidence indicates that as long as there has been public education in the United States, the parties responsible for overseeing that education were held responsible by parents and the community at large (Johanningmeier 1985, Cuban 2004 a ). Understanding that historically, the public has been dissatisfied with t he state of education in the United States, regardless of the presence or absence of accountability, removes power from policy makers who utilize discourses of accountability and standards. Policies such as the Florida A+ Plan and the NCLB rely on public acceptance of the idea that the cause of educational inequality is lack of accountability rather than structural and racial inequalities manifesting through education achievement. During the 1950s, the United States federal government became involved in education legislation designed ultimately to produce more scientists in order to keep the 5 That is, if a business is effective and efficient, a s well as provides what its customers want, it will be successful. If it does not streamline its services and delivery of these services, the customers will become dissatisfied and shop elsewhere, thus forcing schools to be effective to retain students (a nd tax dollars).
29 United States competitive with Russia (and other Communist nations). By producing more students who were competent in math and science, the federal government hoped to produce more scientists who would produce technology (such as weapons and spacecraft) that would place the United States in a position of power over their enemies (Cuban 2004 a Johanningmeier 1985). With the increased attention to educational achieveme nt it became clear that some students were not receiving the same quality of education as uban 2004 a Johanningmeier 1985). This knowledge became the springboard for a host of federal and state policies 1985). The most recent national iteration of accountabil ity policy is the No Child Left combining high stakes testing with school takeovers, mandated standards, and teacher accountability (Lipman 2004). With the 2001 passing of P resident George W. NCLB, neoliberals successfully started a nationwide process to integrate private business models into public education. These models are implemented through state level monitoring implemented in the form of high stakes tests. I f resistance is attempted the United States federal government will intervene, either by withholding funding or by closing the school ( US Department of Education 2007) This heightened state of surveillance (Lipman 2005) and accountability creates a stru cture where teachers are forced to conform to certain practices because of increased likelihood of government interference or consequences if they do not. Hamann
30 (2003:441) writes that the standardization movement promotes the view that there is a approach ompels us to ask what knowledges are being (2003:442) them to c omply with standards not of their choosing Why is centralization of standards problematic? Rothstein (2005: 174) states that Abandoning local control is dangerous because pedagogy is complex, with few final answers and a need for ntability rules have forced some schools to pay more attention to basic skills for disadvantaged students, but have also created incentives to narrow curricula so that little more than basic skills will be taught to many students. A final concern, alluded to by Rothstein, is the standardization and nationalization federal and state level government is increasingly involved in determining the look and feel of curric She suggests that such policies target ethnic minorities in the United Stat (2005). Researchers (Anderson Levitt 2003, Bartlett et al. 2002, Lipman 2005) fear that increased centralization of curriculum will have the deleterious effect of creating a homogenous national education system that works well for no one and sends the elites into private schools, where the faculty have more freedom to choose curriculum and pedagogical practices. The combination of these global level forces (privatization,
31 nat ionalization of education, and increased accountability) creates a structure in which teachers are treated less as professionals and more as incompetent workers, whose every move must be monitored and scripted in order to ensure that they do not fail (Lipm an 2005). When t eachers are deprived of their ofessional knowledge as their pedagogy becomes centered on teaching standards required by the state or federal government; the consequence of disobeying (in Florida) is potentially losing their yearly bonu s or losing their job because their school is taken over by the school district or state (Whoriskey 2006). In this way, a global force (accountability and high stakes testing) implements a structure of holding individual teacher s accountable for situation s that are partially beyond their control (poverty, history, ethnicity school funding) while simultaneously taking away their decision making power, thus exerting control over them. 6 In part, the debate ov er high stakes testing is one over the proper way to address students excel in the American system of education while others do not. One problem that critics of the NCLB Act ( and the philosophy behind high stakes testing ) point to is that these policies fail to economic background can play an equally important role in their ability to learn as much as does the quality of their school. Schemo, a reporter for the New York Times, points this out in the 6 The word failure is enclosed in quotation marks because of the view of myself and others that students who do not achieve according to externally imposed standards are not necessarily failing to be educated, but only failing to be educat educated.
32 2006). In this article, she cites research that shows children from wealthy families are privy to much more inform al education outside of the classroom than their poor counterparts. Similarly, Muller (2004) writes that sociologists first began to suggest that 1960s, with the publication of James 7 (Ravitch 1983). M any anthropologists have critiqued this sort of argument, one that puts the blame on student socio economic background for placing the blame of school failure onto the students rathe r than on the structure of the school These a rguments suggest that if all students could become identical to white middle class children, then they would succeed in school. They fail to acknowledge that cultural differences are not deficits ( Jacob and J ordan 1993 Levinson and Holland 1996) Another attempt to explain the failure of certain groups in school was made by of Joh n Ogbu (1992 ). He is famous for the voluntary/involuntary minority concept, which explained that the successes or failures of stu dents were due to whether their ancestors had voluntarily immigrated to the United States or were brought by force ( Gibson and Ogbu 1991, Ogbu 1992 ). People belonging to ethnic and cultural groups whose ancestors were brought by forcible means to the Unit ed States were less likely to succeed in school because they viewed school as a means to assimilate them into the dominant culture and wanted no part of it ( Ogbu and Gibson 1991, Ogbu 1992). Thus their failure was not failure at all, but a type of resista nce to a lifestyle that they had been forced into. This 7 wer e the most important factors in their educational achievement. This study was used to help end segregation (Ravitch 1983).
33 explanation for minority student failure has come under a substantial amount of criticism Part of the obje approach is the understanding that any sort of group (particularly a cultura l group) is not homogenous. There are a range of ideas and values within groups as well as a range of expression There are also more nto American cultur e: g eographic location, class, ability level, gender, and family and community support are also important ( Fine et al. 2007, Gibson 1997, Jacob and Jordan 1993, Levinson and Holland 1996) Second, researchers have found many examples of groups that do not dichotomous categories fail to incorporate several important groups of immigrants including: economic immigrants, refugees, guest workers, illegal workers, and immigrants from former colonies (Gibson 1 997:432 436). The categories fail to explain the behavior of groups such as Hmong immigrants documented by Stacey Lee (2005). Among the students studied by Lee 8 dicho (Lukose 2007:407). Instead, many anthropologists today suggest that there is a mismatch between student knowledge and expertise and that valued by teachers and educational professionals ( Gonzalez et al. 2005, Jacob and Jordan 1993, Lee 2005, Levinson and Holland 1996). Levinson and Holland 1996: 7 ) this theoretical framework suggests that while schools 8 generation Hmong immigrants, who are refugees.
34 value a particular sort of know different sets of knowledges and abilities. This framework can be used to understand why some groups of students do poorly in schools: they have been prepared to be competent in areas that may differ drastically from what schools affirm (through grades Holland 1996). Levinson and Holland (1996) caution that the cultural difference approach obscures the ways in which c ertain knowledges come to be viewed as highly desirable They suggest moving beyond both O g 1993)) and the cultural diff that culture is not static, and that both larger societal structures and i identity both within and outside of schools (Levinson and Holland 1996). While the cultural production approach proposed by Levinson and Holland does not specifically provide an explanation f it does expand on the idea of cultural difference to take into account structure and agency, as well as the fluidity of identity and culture. Understandi ng that anthropologists take a culturally relativistic approach to education is essential in understanding their critiques of high stakes testing policies.
35 Purpose of S tandardize d T esting The introduction of standardized testing in public schools came into full swing with the growth of psychology and educational measurement tests, n otably the Stanford Binet Intelligence Scale (Gould 1996). The purpose of standardized testing is to provide both teachers and wider audiences with data on student achievement so that teachers can gear their teaching and content to their students and so t he public can ensure that teachers are providing an adequate education (Darling Hammond and Rustique Forrester 2005). However, those ideals are not always met: some teachers or districts do not have the time or resources to examine student achievement dat a and testing information can be used control (Darling Hammond and Rustique Forrester 2005). Additionally, as Muller (2004) points out, while tests might show that there a re gaps between groups of students, it does not actually mean that the students with lower scores are learning less than the students with higher scores and the opposite can often be true: students with lower scores may have made more gains in learning, bu t because they started behind, they end up behind. In her book High Stakes Education (2004), Lipman clearly states her belief that high 1984 While the discourse surrounding high stakes testing centers on equality and giving every child an adequate education, the reverse is actually occurring: by placing such importance on one educational indicator, more children are being failed by the education system While Lipman suggests that this is intentional, I am not so sure. Sirotnik (2004) suggests that the true problem with standardized testing is that it
36 provide an a children who do not do well on standardized assessments, such as anxious children and children of color. Darling Hammond and Rustique Forrester (2005) write that there are fo ur basic motivations for implementing high stakes testing in an educational environment. They are: to exert control over the classroom level curriculum, to standardize curriculum on a large (geographically speaking) scale, to gather data about student lea rning, and to ensure that all students are learning certain fundamental skills and concepts (290 292). The implications for teachers in this scenario are particularly bleak if the motivation stems from the first two: control and monitoring of school and c lassroom level curriculum and content. Such tests take power away from teachers through a variety of means: score well on the FCAT a bonus, making the names of those tea chers public, and sanctioning schools who score poorly as well as rewarding schools who score well. By making public the results of these tests, teachers are encouraged through a being the shame of not earning extra money, not earning a teaching reward, or being forced to find a new job because their school was closed down, all because their students did not conform to standards that a n unknown actor (or actors) set ( S mith 1991). Teachers who attempt to exert their agency over the system risk losing bonuses and ultimately their career as a teacher. High stakes tests push teachers to resort to new
37 methods to enable their students to perform at the expected level, regar dless of what their professional training has taught them to do (Smith 1991). High Stakes Testing and Teachers In a survey conducted by the National Education Association (NEA), 69% of its 2006). Only four percent of the NEA members surveyed indicated that the current iteration of the NCLB was acceptable (NEA July 4, 2006). According to the St. Petersburg Times, the FCAT has had a demoralizing effect on Tampa Bay area teache rs, a ). One source of contention among teachers concerning the movement for high ) them; that is, it forces them to follow externally imposed standards and curricula, neither of which they were able to give input into. In Chicago, one of the originators of high stakes testing policy, Lipman (2004) observed that teachers feel that not only has their autonomy been taken the classroom are in conflict with the v ery reasons they became teachers. There are no with these undermining forces is perf ormance pay, or teacher bonuses linked to student scores on the FCAT.
38 According to the St. Petersburg Times such plans were first proposed in 2002, after the FCAT had been implemented for six years. Purportedly, teachers and teachers unions have aided in the design and implementation of programs that are so difficult that only a handful of people qualify for the bonus every year. These impossible standards were created by teachers who did not support the bonus plan to begin with and made it difficult actions, have attempted to revise the teacher bonus policy in order to better implement their original vision (Winchester and Matus 2006). According to one Pasco County distri quarters of the way hester government officials and classroom teachers. To illustrate this point, Winchester and Matus cite one Pinellas County teacher (who was given a teaching excellence award) who indicated that she felt teacher bonus programs were unfair, while a Department of increasi It is clear that the majority of teachers do not care for high stakes testing and it is not difficult to see why. Smith (1991:9) points out that even well performing schools attempt to raise their scores year school. Smith indicates that teachers believe that administrators above them are directly
39 many teachers reported feeling profe ssionally unsatisfied preparing for tests an activity they universally considered distinct from teaching itself. important point, which is that an important reason teachers lack buy in to testing is that they feel it is unrelated to teaching and learning. In order for them to value it, policy makers would have to determine what aspects of testing they do not value and see as unrelated to teaching and learning and what, if anything, can be done to change that. One performance at one point in time, rather than over a period of time (Smith 1991). While one purpose of standardized testing is to force teachers to conform to a when high stakes test oriented accountability measures have been emphasized in American schools, the use of methods focused on the teaching of complex reasoning and Hammond and Rustique Forrester 2005). This is partially because standardized testing causes teachers to worry. Smith (1991) documented five categories of teacher reactions to stand ardized testing: negative emotions surrounding the release of test scores to the public, worry about the impact of the test on students, beliefs that the test results are an inaccurate reflection of student ability, the test(s) as a co nstraint on creative or innovative pedagogy, and the deprofessionalization of teaching. Similarly, Herman and Golan (1993) found that in practice, standardized testing causes teachers to gear their curriculum content toward the test content, believing that they were able to i is because teachers feel they must conform to an externally mandated standard. This in
40 turn causes teachers to feel a los s of control over their classrooms, feeling that the more government has turned their attention to regulating and standardizing classroom practices, the less they are able to effectively do their job (Barksdale Ladd and Thomas 2000). To create more balance in the present discussion, it is important to point out that teachers can gain from the push to implement high stakes tests. The standards attached to these tests can guide teachers to ensure that they know what they must cover and can assist them in knowing what their students should know if they are to be on par with other students at the local, state, and national levels (Darling Hammond and Rustique Forrester 2005). These tests can potentially be an important source of data on student knowledge and can be useful for improving instruction on the individual level, provided that the inf ormation is utilized by teachers. High Stakes Testing and Families It was difficult to find literature that discussed the impact high stakes testing has had on parents. One article published in the Phi Delta Kappan specifically discussed reactions of pare nts to the A+ Accountability program in Florida (Goldhaber and Hannaway 2004). There is also a body of literature that discusses the importance of parent involvement on educational achievement. Beyond that, the existing research is largely tangential to my research question. Goldhaber and Hannaway (2004) conducted focus groups with parents and teachers concerning the effect that the voucher system has had on education in Florida. They found that parents at both ends of the grading scale felt pressure to do well on the FCAT, a finding unexpected because the authors had expected only sanctioned schools to
41 have stressed parents. They also reported parents expressed concern over the amount of aber and Hannaway 2004). success and achievement level. Whether the support is shown as the parent volunteering in the classroom or assisting the child with homework at h Waterman 1998). H owever, there have been some researchers who have suggested that h volunteering or to communicate involvement is limited to the home (Lee and Bowen 2006). Watkins (1997:9) suggests that there are multiple factors that impact a pare experience that parents, students, and teachers have with one a nother (Watkins 1997). Particularly important are the interactions that parents have with their children related to education. If such interactions are negative, children tend to disengage from school and their performance suffers (Zellman and Waterman 1 998). It is clear that parents who are they succeed or fail, particularly if their involvement is positive in nature. Outside of school, parents often organize group s among peers to influence their advocacy groups organized around fighting for quality education for their children. I was
42 largely unable to find such groups in the Ta mpa Bay area. One group that I did find, the Florida Coalition for Assessment Reform (FCAR), describes the FCAT as stakes test that cannibalizes the curriculum, penalizes poor test takers, diverts scarce resources, traumatizes children, sh ames and stigmatizes communities, usurps local control, and turns schools into giant test prep centers ( FCAR 2007 ). Other research that I found focused on specific issues, such as test anxiety and utilized parents as one source of information among many ( rather than focusing their studies on the impact that testing has on parents or the family unit ) or was sponsored by a company with an ulterior motive (Mulvenon et a 2005, ASCD 2000). There is an overwhelming amount of literature that is critical of high stakes testing (and in the last five years, NCLB). Most of the criticisms emanate from scholars critiquing the policy themselves or via research projects with teachers who do the critiques for them. Mulvenon, Stegman, and Ritter (2005) point out tha t relatively few studies have been conducted that surveyed all of the stakeholders in a single study. Presumably this is due to time and budgetary constraints. Nevertheless, it points to an important gap in the literature: stakeholders other than teacher s and school administrators have rarely been utilized as a source of information about the impact of high stakes testing policy. stakes testing policy consisted of surveys that were conducted via telephone, internet, or with paper and pencil (Fuller 2006, Falbo et al 2003, ASCD 2000, Barber et al 1992). The findings varied, partially due to the scope of the survey, the time in which the survey was conducted, and the geographic area c overed by the survey. The oldest study, conducted
43 by Barber et al (1992:18) consisted of a item questionnaire used to assess parental The researchers found that while par ents had a general understanding of why their children were being tested, on the whole they did not understand the sort of test their children were taking or how to correctly interpret the results. Barber et al (1992) concluded that more information was n ecessary in order for parents to interpret and understand their The ASCD (2000) survey conducted by Harris Interactive and sponsored by Sylvan Learning Center and the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD) was cond ucted via the Internet and resulted in 600 responses. The majority of the survey takers (seventy two percent) were women with children enrolled in are unsure of or do n th Austin (TX) city schools was in part sponsored by the Austin Chamber of Commerce and focuses on parents as race/ethnicity, income, and grade level) random sample of 1,176 parents, the majority (seventy six percent) of whom were female. The finding of most significance was that with higher income ones (Falbo et al 2003). The autho rs also indicated that Latino
44 Latino parents. was funded by the Association of Texas Professional Educators and consisted of a survey understand. According to Fuller, what was lacking from other studies is that parents (and teachers) feel that the high stakes nature of the test is unfair. want a system that is diagnostic and evaluative and that incorporates growth in student knowledge (Fuller 2006:6) various ways that high stakes tests have impacted education for their children, all but one (Fuller 2006) rely on statistic s derived from survey responses to determine parental opinion of high stakes testing. While it is important to understand trends in the data, it is also important to understand how individual people view the test as well, both to test the survey data and to support or expand the view it provides: this is one of the aims of this study. education reforms. The National Education Goals Panel states to publicize their high stakes testing plans in a positive and easy to understand manner. The guide indicates that it was published to ease parental frustrations surrounding the testing policy. According to the forward written by Colorado governor Ray Romer, based
45 s ystem I found that my audience was frustrated with the lack of information about what heard op position to the policy of high stakes testing, it was actually frustration on the part of parents because of lack of understanding rather than actual opposition. Further in the document, the include graphics and pictures; use large print; ... aim to an 8th grade reading level the message is explained clearly and in a simple man ne r, parents will support the policy (NEGP 1998) This suggests that governmental personnel view the public as incapable of understanding public policy and may suggest that they do not think them capable of making informed decisions unless the information is watered down Media and Education Why compare parental views of high stakes testing to what the media has reported on the same topic? According to Hall (1999) in our rapidly globalizing world, many experiences are felt and lived through at least one form of media, cr eating a world where socialization does not necessarily occur face to face. Just as educational anthropologists assert that schools are sites of socialization (Levinson 1999), the argument can be made that the media can be experienced as a site of sociali zation as well (Bird 2003, Wehmeyer 2000, Page 1996). Finally, this is also not a method that is widely utilized among educational anthropologists; a review of the literature confirms that the preferred methods include interviews, Participatory Action Res earch (PAR), focus groups, and observations (Levinson 1999, Lipman 2004, Spindler and Hammond 2006).
46 Within the field of communication, studies of how the media impacts public thinking about issues have been called framing, agenda setting, and primi ng (Weaver 2007). Framing is defined as the way that the media represents particular topics, while agenda setting and priming studies look at the effects of the media frame (Weaver 2007). Here, I primarily discuss how the media frames the FCAT, because a s Reese (2007:152) precisely the way that certain attributes come to be associated with particular issues that s media ties particular important to parents. Conclusion Studying the impact of high stakes testing policy on parents and their children from an anthropological perspec tive allows a h olistic examination and interpretation of the ways that families experience the effects of high stakes testing policy in Florida (Schensul 1985). Because anthropology pulls theory and methods from a multitude of disciplines and weaves thes e parts together to create a complex portrait, the resulting ethnography provides a textured and nuanced look at what life is like for families in an era of high stakes testing (Schensul 1985). And as the literature shows, investment by parents is an impor stakes environment is long overdue. This chapter discussed important contributions that anthropologists have made to the study of educatio nal achievement, as well as input from educational researchers.
47 In the following chapters, this information will be utilized to make sense of data gathered from parents about how high stakes testing is changing the face of education.
48 Chapter Three: Research Design and Methodology Originally I did not intend to study the impact of the FCAT outside of the classroom. My first proposal suggested that I conduct participant observation in third and fourth grade classrooms in two different schools in a lo cal school district. I would observe, over a period of months, how teaching practice changed as the FCAT loomed closer, arrived, and then ended. My hypothesis was that the amount of time focused on the FCAT would start off slowly, reach a peak and then dro p off completely. I would also conduct interviews and focus groups with teachers in both schools concerning their feelings on how the FCAT has changed their teaching practice. However, I was ultimately unable to gain entry into local schools, due either to reluctance on the part of the school administrators or Florida laws regulating the administration of the FCAT. After numerous consultations with my advisor, we agreed that doing a study of the opinions of local parents of elementary school children, an d relating this to newspaper coverage of the FCAT could be equally illuminating (given the scarcity of research on parent opinion) and more within my reach during my relatively short internship semester. As a first step, I designed a flyer with tear off flaps at the bottom indicating the topic of my study and the need for parents of elementary school aged children to contact me. My advisor sent an email to a university wide listserv and I contacted several professors in my department with children to ask for assistance in gaining access to local parents. Ultimately the email and contact with a few colleagues and professors were the key to my reaching an acceptable sample size. The failure of the flyers was partially due to my own
49 reluctance to hang them, as well as formidable opposition from the local school districts to allow me to do any sort of parental solicitation on school grounds. This was regardless of my lack of involvement with children or school staff and in spite of the fact that the study had been IRB approved on two separate occasions. The M ethods The methods that I used included archival research of the St. Petersburg Times a content analysis, a free listing activity, and a semi structured interview. The information gathered from the archiv al research was used to conduct a content analysis. I will discuss my reasons for selecting these methods and sources below. Archival Research for bureaucratic or administra tive purposes that are transformed into data for research 5). This information, while not initially useful in its original form, contextualiz ing body of work. Archival data are also useful because they provide historical information for triangulation or other purposes that may not be easily accessible to the researcher via other means (such as interviews). Rodriguez and Baber (2002) point out that while archival data have their advantages (including having an easily accessible set of data already collected), the drawbacks can be great too. Among those drawbacks include lack of control (or knowledge) over how the data were collected, difficult y verifying the accuracy of the data, and difficulty accessing the data/organizing it. For the purposes of this thesis, I decided to limit my archival research to the archives of the St. Petersburg Times
50 the number of archival sources in order not to overwhelm yourself with too much information. They also suggest making a timeline of findings in order to orient the r eader/recipient of the research findings to understand historical processes at play in the topic presented. I chose to focus on these three sources for several reasons. I chose the St. Petersburg Times because it is one of two significant Tampa Bay newsp apers, and as one of the few remaining independently owned newspapers in the country, it has a good level of credibility. It also has an easily accessible and searchable archive. The Florida Department of Education was the only source with information on the FCAT that is distributed to parents and the general public, as well as past test scores and other data about schools in the State of Florida. I was also unsure which branch of government would house historical information on policy and assumed that t he DOE would be most likely to have a history of the FCAT. I reviewed the contents of the St. Petersburg Times archives using their archive, which can be accessed at www.tampabay.com I searched for the word FCAT a ppearing in the earliest online articles (January 1, 1987) until July 25, 2007. When this search returned very few hits in the years before 2000, I searched the archives again using the few articles (less than 100 from January 1, 1995 December 31, 1999) were written about the FCAT, which is an indicator of the growing pubic significance of the FCAT after 2000. Content Analysis Once I gathered the archival data from the St. Petersburg Tim es website, I conducted a content analysis of the data in order to discover patterns or themes in the data
51 that I could utilize to shape my interview questions. Bernard (1994:339) writes that all term covering a variety of tec hniques for making books to answer questions about attitudes. The researchers coded the relevant text for emergent themes and discussed patterns that their codes reveal ed (Bernard 1994). There are other ways of conducting content analysis, but this description fairly closely depicts the process that I went through. I read all of the articles written by the St. Petersburg staff about the FCAT from July 25, 2006 t o July 25, 2007 as well as a sample of randomly chosen articles from other years, particularly focusing on articles written prior to 2000. While I read, I jotted down words or phrases that I felt described the theme of each article. When I finished, I co mpiled the list into four basic categories 9 I used these categories as the basis for writing my interview questions and as a comparison tool to the interview data. Because I do not know many parents and because of the dearth of literature on parental rea ctions to high stakes testing, I needed a source to aid in formulating a hypothesis about issues of importance to families. Conducting a content analysis enabled me to postulate that the four categories I found were the issues of primary concern to famili es in the Tampa Bay area. Without the content analysis of how the media had framed the FCAT, I was unsure of the topical areas of interest to parents and at a loss as to what areas to cover in my interview. The archival research and content analysis prov ided me with a starting point to conduct free listing and interview data from parents. 9 These were: the 20
52 Free Listing cultural domains is essential to understanding how they group and view objects, people, 1999:115) makes explicit the ways in which people think about the world around them. Examination of variation in ways of categorizing or grouping objects words, or feelings, related to the topic a researcher is interested in studying can reveal thoughts, opinions, or attitudes that even the informant is unaware of holding (Borgatti 1999). Examining groupings of objects, things, or people can also reveal how infor mants connect various seemingly unrelated events. cultural domains related to the FCAT. It should be noted, however, that the free list activity was shortened greatly due t o time constraints. Instead of asking the participants to list as many items related to the FCAT as possible, I asked for a list of five items. I also did not attempt to obtain exhaustive lists from more parents than the 25 that I interviewed. Since I d id not plan to do any sort of statistical analysis or plotting of the data, I felt it was unnecessary and counterproductive to my larger goal, which was to conduct the interview. Borgatti (1999) also points out that the items listed by each informant and the patterns that they form can be of interest in and of themselves. Informants who list more items or list items with relative ease suggest a command of the particular domain that others who struggle or list relatively few items may not command with that domain (Borgatti 1999).
53 The free listing activity was conducted as the opening activity to the interviews. I here were varying degrees of difficulty with this endeavor. Some people stared at their card and repeatedly said that they did not understand what to do or could not think of words specifically pertaining to the FCAT. I eventually realized that my directi ons were unclear and expanded on my explanation to let them know that the phrases or words might also include something they associated with the FCAT or something that they experienced during FCAT time. Usually this aided interviewees sufficiently. For ca ses where the participant was completely stumped, I often allowed them to write just one or two words or to have a conversation with me about the FCAT and then urged them to write it down phrases they used during our conversation. As they handed the index cards back to me, most participants stated one of two things: either I would find out their true feelings of hatred for the FCAT upon looking at their card or that they had misunderstood what to do (even when they had not). Many others apologized for th despite my repeated assurances that regardless of what they wrote, I would find it useful. If I decide to utilize this method in future research, I will do several things differently. I would not modify the task by sh ortening it or by giving research participants a specific number of items to write down. I am sure that many of the parents I worked with would have been capable of listing more words than five. The potential for discovering new domains would be greater as well. I would also pilot test the question before using it as a data collection tool. If I had done that prior to beginning my data collection, I believe that I would have encountered less confusion and potentially
54 gathered richer data. This method wa s useful because it helped shape my thinking about how parents viewed the FCAT, particularly when I realized that the majority listed several of the same words on their index card. Interviews Semi structured interviewing uses a structured set of question s that are asked of all informants but is flexible in that it allows the researcher the latitude to change the direction of the interview if the researcher judges it to be necessary (Schensul, Schensul, and LeCompte 1999). Schensul, Schensul, and LeCompte (1999) indicate that semi structured interviews are an appropriate way to explore cultural domains that the researcher is interested in as well as to discover new ones that informants may associate with a particular topic. They suggest grouping questions thematically, temporally, in order of least difficult to most, or by level of personal knowledge divulged (increasing as the interview progresses) (Schensul, Schensul, and LeCompte 1999). Cresswell (1998) lists the steps of interviewing as picking a type of sampling, selecting a type of interview, obtaining proper recording equipment, developing interview questions, identifying a location/locations to conduct interviews, gaining informed consent from the interviewee, and attempting to follow the interview protocol as closely as possible. These steps are primarily the way in which I structured and conducted my own interviews. Because I had difficulty obtaining access to informants via the school system or through other means, I was unable to utilize any random sampling. Snowball sampling became the default approach used. I decided that I would conduct a semi structured in person interview before I even devised my interview protocol. As an anthropologist, I prefer to conduct interviews in person, face to face with the informant so that I can
55 observe their body language and react to it as I conduct the interview. It also helps to know what is going on around the interviewee that could influence their answers, as well as their level of comfort in answering the questions. I decided to conduct a semi structured interview so that I would be sure to cover certain topics. For the first interview I conducted as part of this study I attempted to conduct an open ended exploratory interview, but found that the in formant did not have more helpful to ask everyone the same question rather than tryi ng to compare disparate topics, since my purpose was to determine what parents thought about the FCAT and how it affected them. Asking the same question but receiving different responses signaled to me that an informant had a different perspective than ot her interviewees. I grouped the questions thematically and developed four domains that I wanted to explore based on the preliminary information that I had gathered from the St. Petersburg Times I recorded all of my interviews on a digital tape recorder an d then transferred the files to my computer. I indexed (rather than transcribed) all of the interviews, writing down the times at which important conversations or topics occurred. The use of digital files facilitated this process since I could see the ti me on my computer, rather than trying to time it myself. During the informed consent process, I asked each interviewee if they were comfortable with being taped and whether they would allow me to do so. Some indicated that they did not usually like to be recorded, but when I assured them that only I would hear the interview, they all consented.
56 All interviews were conducted at a location that the interviewee indicated was e specially if they were close to the person who introduced me to them. Several of the interviews took place in coffee shops, one took place at McDonalds, and several took hat I had written unless the informant was providing answers that were unclear or seemed as though they had a lot to say about the topic. The interviews ranged from 10 minutes to close to an hour in time. The length mainly depended on how much the interv iewee had to say in response to each question and how willing they were to elaborate on their initial responses. On the whole I was satisfied with the format of the interviews and my skill at conducting them. I am fairly comfortable in one on one situatio ns and feel that I am skilled at asking for information in ways that do not make the interviewee uncomfortable. The times when informants expressed their nervousness, I assured them that there were no right or wrong answers and that the purpose of the int erview was not to test their knowledge, but to learn more about how the FCAT impacted people. As with the free listing exercise, next time, I would pilot test the interview guide prior to starting the official interviews. As I learned which questions wer e poorly worded or did not address the issues I wished to address, I made slight changes to my guide. To make future research stronger, I now recognize the need to do this as early as possible and to do it before starting the official project.
57 Sampling Although I wanted to use a methodologically rigorous sort of sampling such as a random sample or a stratified sample, what ended up working for the purposes of this thesis was a snowball sample. Because I was limited in funds, my personal network, and in time, I eventually determined that the only way I would be able to find potential interviewees would be to ask the people that I did know in the area to connect me with people who fit the criteria for my study. There were several missteps along the way t o gathering my sample population: I attempted to attend Parent Teacher Association (PTA) meetings at several area schools, only to have one principal contact the local district office, which in turn told me that I was not allowed to attend these meetings f or purposes of recruiting parents without explicit permission from their office. As I had already completed this process one time for my first thesis topic, I was rather reluctant to do so a second time. Additionally, I felt that they were being slightly unreasonable to attempt to govern my research when it was taking place outside of school hours at a forum that parents were voluntarily attending. However, upon reflection, I can see that if their policy is to approve all research relating to any activity that takes place on the school grounds, they would think that they had the right to approve my attendance and recruitment at the PTA meetings (since they utilized school resources, school personnel, and advertised through the school system). I contacted people that I knew through my time in the USF graduate program, mainly professors and other students. One professor was particularly helpful in referring me to several willing informants who in turn referred me to several more people. My advisor sent out an email to a USF listserv which garnered several more interviews.
58 When I had exhausted all of these contacts, I began to mention my project to people outside of the USF community, namely my physical therapist and my yoga instructor, who were also both g reat resources in helping me to locate additional informants. One concern I have is that because I relied so heavily on my own network to solicit interviews, it is entirely possible that a large portion of my interview population viewed the FCAT in a negat ive light because they were associated with higher education in some way. People associated with higher education are often accused of having a liberal bias; however I am not sure how much this factored into my interview pool as the two ardent supporters of the FCAT were university employees and several of the detractors were self identified Republicans or indicated that they were conservative in other areas of their lives. Another source of concern is that all but one of the parents I interviewed were wo men. I believe that this was in part due to the sampling method I utilized: because I was first referred to a woman, when asked for a list of her friends with children in elementary school she gave me the names only of other women. Only one interviewee o ffered to connect me with a father that she knew. I assume that this is also due to the fact that many of the women I interviewed had more free time than their male partners (many of them did not have jobs outside of their home). This is also due to the fact that I have different and equally important opinions about the FCAT. While my criteria was that the interviewee had to be a parent of a child currently in eleme ntary school in Florida in the end I interviewed and utilized data from several informants whose children were no longer in elementary school. These data, while not useful in getting at the question of how much parents of elementary school children know
59 a bout the FCAT or how it impacts them, was useful in determining how the FCAT has changed over time. In the future, it is clear to me that I need to begin to think seriously about my research design and data collection plans far in advance of when I star t collecting data. I also need to make an effo rt to ensure that I have equal representation of both genders in my sample unless my project is explicitly designed to target men or women. One potential solution to my lack of informants would have been to t ap into existing communities, such as church communities, community centers, daycare centers, after school programs, sites of youth activities (such as dance or karate studios). Making contacts at these locations would have given me access to a much large r and more diverse sample. Nevertheless, since my intent was to develop a rich, qualitative understanding of did yield a significant body of data. Methods of An alysis LeCompte and Schensul (1999) write that there are two ways to analyze data: deductively (beginning with a hypothesis and testing the data to check for fit) and inductively (beginning without a hypothesis and organizing the data as the researcher fi nds patterns). They caution that for ethnographers, it is difficult to claim either approach wholeheartedly because they tend to combine both approaches, looking for patterns, forming ideas, and then reforming them based on the available data (LeCompte an d Schensul 1999). In the case of this research project, I conducted my data analysis of the archival data inductively, searching for patterns related to how the public views the FCAT. I used these patterns to create a hypothesis that parents of elementar y school
60 children would be similarly affected by the FCAT and that their responses would fit into the same four categories. I used deductive methods to analyze the interview data. I am undecided about the effectiveness of this approach. While the compar ison between the two sources of data helped facilitate data analysis, I continue to wonder if there may have been a better way to design my research. Perhaps conducting exploratory focus group interviews with parents to determine the relevant domains woul d have been more appropriate. Alternately, I could have conducted the free listing task as the initial data gathering phase, analyzed the data, and then devised my interview guide from the relevant domains. Or, to completely break with the deductive meth od, I could have decided what topics I thought were relevant to parents and devised my questions a priori The work associated with my thesis is the first time that I have designed, implemented, and analyzed a research project of my own. Doing so has i llustrated the difficulty that researchers have on many levels including: access to research sites, access to informants, issues with design (validity and reliability), self doubt, and thinking of an improved plan after the research is well under way. Thi s experience has taught me the importance of doing as much research, planning, and pilot testing prior to going into the field as possible. I have also learned the value of going about data collection as self consciously as possible: taking time to reflec t on my behavior during interviews, listening to recordings before I conduct others, and trying to implement necessary changes during the interview process, rather than learning what to do better next time.
61 Chapter Four: Results and Discussion This cha pter will report on results of the media content analysis and of the free listing and interviews conducted with parents. These results will illustrate the way that the FCAT has been framed for the public, relating this to the perceptions, attitudes, and e xperiences reported by parents. Content Analysis A content analysis of stories in the St. Petersburg Times indicated that the most dissatisfaction with the FCAT. Overall, the Times published articles containing the word down by year, the number of tim es the FCAT is mentioned in the newspaper has gone up significantly from the late 1990s until today.
62 Figure 1: Appearance of FCAT in Newspaper Articles by Year The frequency of mentions of FCAT is lower for 2007, but this is because only half of t he year had elapsed at the time the analysis was conducted. In 1996, the FCAT was mentioned in a news article only once. Within three years, the number was 93, and the most recent full year recorded had an all time high of 464 mentions. The increasing nu mber of articles mentioning the FCAT can be seen as a reflection of the importance ded letters to the editor, editorials, and community events related to the FCAT. The topics that they chose to cover are also telling. As previously mentioned, there were four general topic areas covered repeatedly by the Times within the last year:
63 the Perhaps the topic that has received the most coverage over the last 10 years is the public 10 the FCAT (Andryusky 2007, Biance 2006, Colavecchio Van Sickler 2007 b Editorial 2007 a Leary 2006, Marshall 2007, Matus 2006 a Moorhead 2007, Miller 2006, Rock 2006, Staff 2006, Tobin 2006, Van Hoult 2006). Not only are articles, special series, and edito rials written on this subject, but frequently newspaper readers will write Letters to the Editor discussing their disagreement and disgust with the way the FCAT is written, administered, graded, and used to reward or punish individuals and schools (McNary 2006, Morris 2007, Otteni 2007, Zell 2007). Articles have focused on subtopics such as the unfairness of the FCAT, ideas like (Bousquet 2007, Lane 2006, Marshall 20 07, Moorhead 2007). For example, Tobin (2006) quotes David Hammons, a Democrat who calls the F CAT time consuming and It seems the teachers are only teaching what they need to pass the test, and not teaching what they should be," he said, voic ing a common FCAT complaint. an article on the upcoming science FCAT test suggested that until the test was developed, Many Florida teachers say science has been de emphasized in recent years, as schools respond to state pressure to raise math and reading scores the science FCAT could help shift that balance (Marshall 2007). Several articles (Editorial 2007, Stein and Tobin 2007) have pointed 10
64 out potential problems with the test construction and grading of the FCAT, including one (Editorial 2007 b ) that states Teachers and schools are now being judged on how much their students learn each year, yet the reading scale distorts the picture at high school. That's one reason elementa ry and middle schools are awarded A's at nearly four times the rate of high schools, why high schools last year received only $23 million of the $151 million in school bonus awards. These articles and Letters to the Editor portray the FCAT as a policy in which the general public have little influence (Adams 2006, C olavecchio Van Sickler 2007 a Miller 2006, Rock 2006). According to the St. Petersburg Times ight years later [than the implementation of the FCAT] polls show a majority of Floridians oppos e Bush's decision to make the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test the centerpiece of a strict accountability system increasingly heading in a direction other than that which the public wa nts, becoming more narrow in focus, and is such a bad experience for some people that the mention of its name causes harm (Stein 2006). Another subtext of these discussions is that the FCAT is a political tool. Democrats are quoted as discussing the fl aws with the FCAT and are depicted as the a ). An example of the depiction of Democrats is illustrated by this quote from Matus (2007 c For years, state Sen. Frederica Wilson, D Miami, has been a leading critic of the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, better known as the FCAT. But in a legislative committee meeting last month, she took FCAT blasting to new oratorical heights movements by Republicans to privatize various indus tries in Florida, with education cited as the most recent target (Editorial 2007 a Editorial 2007b, Matus 2007a, Matus 2007 c
65 Solochek 2007 a, Solochek 2007d ). Several articles have suggested that it is not actually education that FCAT policy makers are in terested in, but testing with the ultimate goal of running schools like businesses (Biance 2006, Dyckman 2001). There have been a minority of articles that suggest the opposite: that it will be good for schools to compete with one another in much the same way that businesses do or that the FCAT is working. Think tank says test based promotion is working study conducted by the conserv ative Manhattan Institute. newspaper staff, in editorials, and in Letters to the Editor. These articles were mainly written during the primary period and prior to the 2006 governor election. The majority of these pieces focused on what the two major candidates proposed to do (or not do) to the FCAT if they were elected (Bousquet 2006 a Editorial 2006 b, Editorial 2006c, Editorial 2006d Tobin 2006). Some of the time, these discussi ons were part of a larger article or series of articles that focused on the candidates and their platforms, as well as on voters (Crist, Davis, Gallagher and Smith 2006; Elia 2006; Fiorentino 2006; Himmel 2006; Leary 2006; Solochek 2007a ; Verhulst 2006). For example, an article on the leadership style of Jim Davis, the Democratic candidate for Florida governor began its piece with an illustration of that style relating to the FCAT. According to Leary (2006), rom the back of a small bookstore in Tampa, J im Davis quietly launched a war against the FCAT leadership style is thoughtful and unexpected. Other times these articles focused on attributing the FCAT to the (then) present governo r, Jeb Bush and suggesting that
66 because it was his masterpiece, it would not be changeable until a new governor was elected (Bousquet 2006 b Solochek 2006 a ). As Nickens (2006) wrote as part of an article discussing issues facing the 2006 Florida legislatu re, testing and school grading systems touch more families directly than anything else he has done. He continues on to discuss the difficulties the legislature w ill have in making changes to the FCAT while Bush remains in office (Nickens 2006). Many of these articles suggested that Governor Bush was unwilling to listen to popular opinion about this particular policy because it was close to his heart (Nickens 2006 ). In the same vein, they suggested that a different governor would be able to look at the FCAT in an objective light and see that it needed to be changed. reaction was largely n egative, as any regular reader of the newspaper knows (Farlow 2006, Hooper 2006, Tobin 2007, Yacht 2006). Proposals over the last 10 years to link ual teachers alike ( C olavecchio Van Sickler 2007 a Editorial 2007 a Editorial 2006 e Solochek 2007 d Tobin 2007, Troxler 2007, Winchester 2007 a, Winchester 2007b ). For example, in a 2007 article about one proposed teacher bonus plan (the STAR plan), the e quoted as saying "There's no pattern to it [teacher voting] except the pattern that no one likes it," (Tobin 2007). Recently, a proposed change to the teacher bonus plan was met with cautious op It opens the door, but I'm no Van Sickler
67 2007 a ). Other articles have focused on the ways in which teachers have had to change their pedagogy and c urriculum to focus on a narrow set of goals in order to get their students ready for the FCAT. Field trips are put on hold during testing time (Miller 2006), some subjects receive more focus than others (Dyckman 2001, Raman 2006) and subjects which are no t on the FCAT are not taught (Farlow 2006). Dyckman (2001) points out these problems with changing curricula in the following quote Richard A. Pettigrew, a former House speaker who now chairs the board of Audubon of Florida, tells of approaching a South F lorida school system with an offer to take its children to the brand new nature center at Corkscrew Swamp. They would learn elementary biology and other sciences in the context of an outdoor experience "which kids find more relevant than trying to learn in a classroom," Pettigrew said. They turned him down. "They said, 'Look, we don't offer anything in elementary school in science at this time because it's not tested some ki nd of science but until then, they're concentrating on reading, writing and arithmetic, which just shows you how skewed this kind of testing gets you, how far it gets you away from a holistic approach to education." This change in curriculum has caused some teachers to leave the profession (Winchester quality teachers [are] leaving the profession because of the simplistic solutions politicians like the Bush brothers have forced upon education other letter writers and illustrated in newspaper articles (Andryusky 2007, Van Hoult 2006). A subset of these articles focuses on the impact on students ( Editorial 2007 b Matus 2006b, Matus 2006 c Staff 2006, Solochek 2006 b ). Some articles suggest that more advanced students are not being intellectually stimulated because teachers are spending so much time to bring the lower performing students to passing level on the FCAT (Binder 2007, Skerritt 2007, Solochek 2007 a ). Other pieces have suggested that
68 the FCAT has stifled the creativity of teachers and students (Bradley 2007, Editorial 2006 e Solochek 2007c, Solochek 2007 e ). Others talk about the stress of not passing the FCAT, such as the article by Solochek (2006), Stress of FCAT can zap students' zeal to learn fodder for this year's race for governor reality for the students. An anxiety inducing, seemingly arbitrary reality. In summary, the articles lead to the conclusion that the FCAT is the main priority of schools and the education system, at least in the Tampa Bay area. Local school grades make up a substantial portion of the articles at the end of the school year, largely in April, May, and June. These articles tend to di scuss general trends in grades as well as point out major changes, particularly if a school receives a poor grade (Ave 2003, Dyer 2006, Editorial 2007 b Marshall 2006, Matus 2006 c Solocheck 2007, Stein 2007 a Stein 2007b, Stein 2007c, Winchester 2007 c ). This year in particular, a minor scandal was created when the St. Petersburg Times reported that the reading scores for the 2006 2007 school year were lower than in past years and then retracted the statement a few days later. The article, written by Leti tia Stein on May 3, 2007 stated that Hillsborough's third grade reading scores dropped precipitously this year mirroring a troubling state trend in FCAT results released Wednesday. This year, 67 percent of Hillsborough third graders are reading at grade level, a drop of 6 percentage points. That's the greatest annual decline since third graders began taking the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test in 2001. Within the next day, a retraction had been printed, stating that not all elementary schools in Hil lsborough county recorded lower scores (Clarifications 2007).
69 response to these types of articles usually leads to Letters to the Editor which suggest possible reasons for the grades (Chapman 2006, Long 2007, Perry 2007, Vincent 2007). The t opical areas that the Times has chosen to focus on suggest what the public in Tampa Bay might be thinking of concerning the FCAT. However, there are certainly other topics that concern citizens of the Tampa Bay area and these will be addressed below. Free Listing Activity Borgatti (1999) suggests conducting a free listing activity with no fewer than 30 participants. Because I had far fewer participants (22 of the 25 interviewees), the validity of this activity is certainly called into question. However, I feel that there is some value in presenting the data I gathered, in that they offer some illumination of what these parents think of the FCAT and associate with it. Additionally, the fact that recurring themes are present in the data suggests that the re is a measure of validity in this set. The modified free listing task indicated that parents were overwhelmingly negative about the FCAT. I devised five categories that I felt the words fit into: negative feelings, stress, politics, education, and tes t prep. Stress was the most common word listed, written 14 times (61% of parents participating in free listing activity listed it) The next most commonly written words were: anxious (4), test (4), and nervous (3). The following words appeared at least t wo times: political, Florida, prep, Jeb, stupid, and money. The results of the free listing activity are below in T able 3 Table 4 details the ten most commonly listed words and the frequency of each word.
70 Table 3: Results of Free Listing Activ ity Respondent Free List Results 1 Stress important silly uneven political 2 favorite time of year no homework home prep follow up support 3 Test primary skills Florida 4 Stress political waste sad accountability 5 Testing time consuming math read ing writing 6 Stupid non realistic too focused unhelpful overwhelming 7 Teacher mandate children school education 8 big mistake impedes education stupid misused waste of time 9 assessment evaluation state funding childhood stress realistic vs. unrealis tic expectations 10 Test stress teaching for test teachers salary school grade 11 Mandatory stress for teachers disruption long days doesn't count for grade 12 Anxiety stress nervous sleepless uptight 13 anticipation nervous long testing time preparati on anxious 14 Stressful long Florida only study hard deadlines 15 Hell Stress anxiety pressure ability 16 Stressful ridiculous nonsense I hate it inaccurate 17 Stress unreal too much why? money 18 wasted time stress on children teacher stress too much school focus on test money 19 standardized test state jeb bush 20 Stress teaching to the test school scores compensation Jeb 21 grade of school stressful for kids compulsory stressful for faculty allow a child to advance to next grade 22 anxiousness nervousness tedious good night's sleep eat good breakfast 23 money for schools teacher benefits teaching the test not much use for kids don't need it
71 Table 4: 10 M ost C ommonly L isted W ords Top 10 words from free listing activity word # of times listed 1 stress 14 2 anxious 4 3 test 4 4 nervous 3 5 political 2 6 Florida 2 7 prep 2 8 Jeb 2 9 stupid 2 10 money 2 The lists provide a foreshadowing of the topics that parents discuss most in the interviews, particularly the stress an d political associations with the FCAT. Although Borgatti ( 1999 ) suggests that this activity can uncover relationships that the participants are unaware of, I did not find this to be the case. Parents who wrote lists that were overwhelmingly negative ten ded to be the same people who expressed their disapproval of the FCAT during the interview, while those who were neutral or supported high stakes testing wrote neutral or positive words. The only commonality was that most parents associated the test with stress, either for themselves or for their children as Table 4 demonstrates. Discussion of Interviews The majority of the interviews were conducted with parents who had at least one child in elementary school. Some of the parents had children in middle or high school as well, and a few parents had children that were no longer in elementary school, but were still anxious to talk about their feelings on the FCAT. The majority of the interviewees were women (one out of the 25 interviewees was a man). The interview consisted of 14 open ended and structured questions. Parents were free to talk as much or as little as they
72 felt comfortable. Below is a table of the interviewees. The names used in it and throughout the paper are pseudonyms. Table 5 : Intervie wees, Their Children, and School Grades Name (pseudonyms) Children School grade Performance on FCAT Lisa 3 children, 2 in elementary school A passed Kimberly 1 in elementary school A passed Michelle 1 in elementary, 1 in middle school A 1 failed in 3 rd grade, 1 passed Tracy 3 children, 1 in elementary school A passed Sandra 2 children, 1 in elementary school A passed Donna 1 in elementary school A n/a Mark 1 in elementary school n/a Kathleen 3 children, 1 in elementary school C n/a Nancy 3 children, none in elementary school A passed Melissa 1 in elementary school No grade (new school) n/a Karen 3 children, 1 in elementary school A passed Patricia 2 children, 1 in elementary school B passed Carol 2 children, 1 in elementary schoo l A passed Judith 1 child in elementary school A or B passed Amy 3 children, 1 in elementary school A passed Angela 1 in elementary school A passed Helen 2 children in elementary school A passed Alice 1 child in elementary school passe d Susan 1 child in elementary school B passed Virginia 1 child in elementary school B passed Anna 2 children in elementary school A 1 pass, 1 failed Ruth 2 children, 1 in elementary school A passed Joan None in school A and B passed Rose 3 children two in elementary school A passed Samantha 1 in elementary passed
73 20 out of 25 interviewees had children who were currently attending or who had attend ed racial/ethnic identity. However, many parents indicated that they lived in an afflue nt and their parents would have no qualms with the FCAT (because they would be well prepared), parents of children at A schools indicated that this was not the case. I was school grade Parents at C schools indicated that they were satisfied with the FCAT, while many parents at A schools indicated that they were unhappy with it. The re were an equal number of parents at A and B schools who indicated that they were undecided about whether they supported the FCAT. performed on the FCAT. I had hypothesized tha t parents whose children performed well on the FCAT would support the policy to a greater extent and would feel less of an impact of the policy than those whose children did poorly or failed the test. The majority of the parents I spoke with (19 out of 25 ) indicated that their child performed at least adequately on the test and that they were satisfied the view of their parents about FCA T policy. While, as expected, parents of children who did not do well on the FCAT did not care for it, there were also many parents of high achieving students who disliked the FCAT with equal intensity. There was no one factor
74 that I could determine that would predict whether a parent would support the FCAT. As I will discuss later in this chapter, political affiliation did not impact opinion, nor did What seemed to influence opinion most was the impact that the F stress levels outside of school. Parental Understanding of FCAT Policy I chose to address the question of how well parents understood the reasons why the FCAT was developed and impleme nted by asking questions about what they believed other words, is the policy doi ng what policymaker intended?). The majority felt that the FCAT was developed by politicians with purposes other than improving education in mind. Government Goals for E ducation are. They were split between whether the government cared about education and children or viewed the education system as an undesirable expense. Regardless of what they thought education. As Donna so eloquently told me Patricia pointed to what she believed to be the deceptive practice of the S tate of Florida relying on the lottery system to provide funds for education.
75 says so much money goes to education, but with all this money coming in from the lottery for education, the state has lowered the amount it contributes for education. peo ple, rather than helping them. Karen suggested that the government was only willing to focus on education priority is to keep the voters happy enough to keep them thought by stating that the government feels pressure from different interest groups who may argue that schools are not being run efficiently and could be streamlined to save taxpayers money. Susan stated that she believed the government wanted to educate people, but that Many parents also voiced concern over the low pay and fairly low status of teachers. Helen told me that i n her native country , Parents also pointed to issues of privatization of education, albeit with mixed feelings. While Carol stated that school choice and accountability measures reassured her that the government truly cared about having an education citizenry, Amy had this to say schools rather than providing mo lot of really looking at students as statistics and numbers and test scores as true indicators of what they can do whi ch is not necessarily true.
76 Regardless of why they believed the focus was there, many parents agreed that money was a large issue in education, whether it was in the form of poorly funded my would continue to have a supply of educated workers. Suggestions that the government was trying to save time, money, and resources or to divert those things (such as jails) were made by the vast majority of my informants. Purpose of the FCAT Somewhe re along the lines, someone decided there had to be accountability and this is what they came up with to do it, I think it was developed by bureaucrats that they were being a United States and there were many reasons for that, I just think that was the wrong way to try to correct it. ---Nancy In order to gauge understanding of the FCAT policy, I asked participants why they thought the FCAT was developed in Florida. Answers ranged from suggesting it was a way to control state spending to suggesting it was done to help students achieve, to stating that it was a tool designed to benefit politicians. There was one parent who admitted that she did not understand why it had been created. Some parents believed the purpose of the FCAT was to assist students in learning. Kathleen told me that reach and to requi re the kids to bring up their reading, bring up their math, bring up their suggested by Mark who stated that states we had
77 Others suggested that the test is a mixture of politics and a focus on raising student achievement levels. Parents seemed to believe that without a standardized achievement test, schools would be unable to prove that their students were learning. Kathleen said FCAT was cited as a tool used to promote standards, ensure th at students were learning at a minimum level, show student progress, and to compare schools to one another. s to helping the opinion Donna concurred, stating that education. And it only looks good if you have numbers to show he parents would probably disagree with this statement. Not all parents felt that it was only a tool for political gain, but also to ensure that all children were learning and that all teachers were doing their jobs. Melissa, who was unsure of why the FCAT was developed, had moved to Florida within the last few years from a northern state. She explained that her state had also had a standardized test, but that it lacked the high stakes component of the FCAT. The fact that the FCAT was used as a method of rewarding or punishing students and schools was one that was foreign to her and an explanation eluded her.
78 Who supports the FCAT, or N ot? Most parents had very distinct views about who supports high stakes testing in Florida and who does not, even t hough these ideas varied widely from person to person. There was only one interviewee who stated that she was unable to categorize the types of people who would like it or dislike it. The most common pattern was for people that disliked the FCAT to sugge st that only politicians supported it because it made them look good by suggesting that they cared about education, which many of these parents believed that they did not. The people who were undecided about the FCAT, had mixed feelings about it, or supp orted it also named politicians as supporters of it, but had no other distinct pattern concerning who they felt supported it versus who did not. The most vocal critics of the FCAT were also most disparaging of supporters of the FCAT. They often suggested that supporters liked the FCAT because they did not like to think or were not educated enough to understand the flaws of the policy. People who liked the FCAT were characterized as people who as would dislike the FCAT included all parents and students, educators, parents of students who failed, and educated people. Parents were mixed about who would like the FCAT. Many suggested that politicians would like the FCAT because they passed the legislation to make it what it is
79 today. Others suggested that parents who wanted accountability would s upport the FCAT because it ensured that their children would learn. Mark suggested that teachers probably dislike the FCAT because somebody grading myself and how well I worked or how well I do my job, espec ially if Is the FCAT An Effective Policy? To determine whether parents felt that the FCAT was an effective policy, I asked them two different questions: what factors contribute to school grade s? and how effective is the FCAT? By getting at the factors that contributed to school grades, I hoped to determine how well parents understood the school grading criteria as well as why they believed that student bodies scored well on standardized achieve ment tests. Most answers address only one of those two issues. As for the effectiveness of the FCAT, I was interested in whether parents thought the FCAT was doing what it was supposed to do (which they answered in a previous question). On the whole, pa rents seemed to think grades were factors that were beyond the control of the school. The majority of parents believed that the FCAT was not useful for improving educatio n in its current high stakes format. Only four people addressed the criteria for grading schools. Nancy stated that A schools CAT. There are other things that elaborated on this, stating
80 that statements made by Nancy, Patricia, and Susan. Parents differed on what they thought contributed to a successful school under students did well on the FCAT because of teaching to the test. Michelle said about her Tr acy said alone that earned an A. Parents also pointed out that students from a particul ar sort of earned a B because ained that by neighborhood children, she meant African American children, whose parents were likely low income. Some parents indicated that the community surrounding a school was an important component of school success. Parents from more affluent areas f elt that because they had a large parent volunteer base as well as deep pockets, their school was nd I live in a suburb of Tampa, one that many would agree is costly, low in crime, has a largely white population, and has only A schools. Kathleen, whose daughter at tends a C school stated
81 that need to bring the grades up and parent awareness. Everything now, especially through sit down with them, read with The converse of these answers were given for reasons why schools did not do well: schools that lacked resources, poor teachers, students from low socio economic status, and uninvolved parents were all listed as reasons that my inter viewees gave for why schools as a whole do not score well on FCAT. Donna summed it up by saying bad combination of apathy and lack of funding, poor management. The factors are huge. It also depends on what level of income the children are coming fro m because if you education. Melissa told me omplaining to my husband yesterday hools to do everything. So I think a lot of it is a did not proactively educate their children beginning at birth I think the main reason is what homes the kids c
82 babies on up that they might not do well on the test. have support at Regardless of whether parents understood the grading process or agreed on reasons why some schools earned better grades than others, almost all of them agreed with Tracy who said that a true measure of student academic Parents were mixed about the usefulness of the FCAT in ending the achievement gap. Kathleen stated that determine where a child is in their education but to hold it against them or the school Kathleen emphasized the impo exceptions) pointed out that the FCAT did not tell them anything new about their student. Donna said ght until he failed the FCAT. While it appeared that she appreciated learning of it, she still felt that the test was not an effective
83 effective because when I see Most parents were not opposed to the FCAT in itself. The high stakes aspect of the FCAT is what the majority of them objected to, particularly because schools receive fund ing tied to the FCAT scores. Link between N o C hild L eft B ehind and FCAT While I did not ask any questions about federal high stakes testing policy, many parents brought up the NCLB and its relationship to the FCAT. Frequently, it was in reference to th e fact that they felt that it was a misnomer and that children were being many child ren are still being failed by the school system, that funding is being cut to those schools who need it most, and that they worry that American children are still behind other nations in terms of achievement. As Kimberly said so FCAT Materials and Who Pays For Them Another issue which I did not dire ctly ask about (because I had not been aware of school, or through telephones, internet, and in the mail. Several parents were vocal in their disapproval of this type o f information campaign. The main focus of my
84 school. Parents indicated that communication from schools about the FCAT often came in the form of newsletters with instructi ons on how to prepare children for testing. Some mothers felt that these letters questioned their parenting ability. Tracy told me that phone calls from the school district are also something that parents of school aged children can expect during the FCAT testing time. Similarly to the newsletters, the prerecorded call s from district officials explained the proper way to feed and rest children so that they perform optimally on the FCAT. Finally, there was the DVD. Parents in Hillsborough and Pasco counties received This DV D presents facts about Florida student achievement, provides testimonials from parents in support of the FCAT and the school choice program, informs parents about the structure and purpose of the FCAT and suggests that the FCAT is responsible beginning to close the achievement gap in Florida (FDOE 2006). For several parents the DVD was the final insult from the schools and the state. Kimberly stated that Friday, with a big packet of information, I just saying Jeb Bush and all about FCAT which I ne ver watched because I wanted to puke. The
85 This is going to sound bad because I actually came a litt le early this morning so I Actually it changed the way I thought of the FCAT. I think maybe I was a little uninformed or else the school system has done a good job persuading me th eir way. I always thought that they kind of taught for the test...Now this DVD has convinced m The same parents who disliked the DVD and other materials questioned who was paying for them. Some parents expressed concern about who was funding the DVDs and workbooks that their children were bringing home. A few parents indicated that they thought politicians were making deals to benefit from the policies that they had created. making machine too. I mean, our text books are now FCAT textbooks. I mean, who for somebody. And I would love for Will The Test Change? As many of the participants in this research project h ave pointed out, the FCAT Since a new governor has been elected (Charlie Crist, a Republican), I wondered what parents believed would happen with the FCAT. Would Cris t change it? Would he remove it? Or would he leave it as it currently is, since he is also Republican, as was his
86 predecessor? Some parents believed that he would make changes because they believed him to be more moderate than Bush. Others indicated tha t as long as the FCAT made Crist look good, they did not believe he would have any incentive to change it. Some parents suggested that Crist would follow party lines and stick with the hing about a lot of Anna had the opposite view, stating that in the newspaper that Crist said he will not change the FCAT. Even though many of the parents did not believe that Crist would change the FCAT, many indicated that they wished he would. There were parents who hoped that Crist would make changes to the FCAT. Both Michelle and Tracy said that they have he ard Crist plans to make changes, but both remained pessimistic that the changes would not be drastic enough to make the test more aren, Kathleen, and Sandra all suggested that because Crist was a new governor, he was more likely to be open minded about changing policies made by the previous administration. Sandra, however, was not sure that this was necessary
87 Lived Reality of the FCAT I also wanted political candidates they supported, and whether they felt that they had a voice in influencing education policy. Every parent indicated that the FCAT impacted them, but diverged on the amount that it shaped their lives. Some parents were violently opposed to it and opted to show that in a variety of ways, such as disengagin school, refusing to talk about testing at home, or offering to send their children to private schools (where they would not be required to take the test). Other parents wished that AT time would become permanent, such as no homework, treats for students, and extended recess time. Universally, parents No parents who had experienced Flor that it had remained unchanged. Teachers, the curriculum and methods of delivery, and from the way that elementary educati on was previously delivered in Florida. Teachers feelings about the FCAT indicated that it had
88 changed their teaching practice, some more drastically than others. Judith stated that her teacher was unable to teach in ways she wanted, but rather felt forced to change her teaching to focus on the conten t she knew would appear on the FCAT. Karen attributed FCAT. In fourth grade, I thi nk it was particularly bad because she had a young the younger teachers coming in, that Not everyone I interviewed expressed an opinion on how teachers viewed the FCAT. Some parents, such as Alice and Helen, indicated that they had not had conversations Two other parents hinted that the FCAT could be used to punish disliked teachers. Michelle said they get in their at their performance in that way. Anna echoed this statement County, the policy is to hire a new teacher, so they usually pick the troublemakers and the hard to teach kids and so they throw in a couple of blond kids to make it several months.
89 Unlike other pa rents, Michelle and Anna touch ed on issues of ethnicity and social class, as well as student ability level in schools and classrooms It is likely that their children experienced different treatment at least in part because they had children who were labe led by the test as deviant from the norm. W hile the majority of the parents I spoke with disliked the FCAT and supported teachers who voiced similar opinions, Carol and Mark both suggested that the reason why teachers complained about the FCAT was becaus e they disliked public oversight of their teaching. Specifically, Carol said eing implemented across the state and you as a teacher now have a hey have a hard time fitting into that curriculum and usually those are the ones you hear that [are] anti FCAT, teacher that I have something that they damn well have to shoot toward. Curriculum and Instruction instruction. Even before children enter third grade, they have begun to prepare for taking standardized tests by practicing skills such as bubbling as part of their class work and homework. Once children reach third grade, most parents have observed that the curriculum centers around FCAT practice. Tracy summed it up well when she stated parents, told me that the period just prior to the FCAT was the worst in terms of focus on
90 T he rest of the year [after FCAT time] is non lot more outside time, finally, a lot more fun thing s that the teacher wants to do y. --Tracy apathy in the final quarter of school They teach right? I get that imp putting things done when he realize s the testing is over. whole, parents indicated that teachers who teach to the FCAT are imparting the lesson that students are only responsible for learning until the FCAT is taken. Some parents specifically discussed the emphasis on reading in third grade and writing in fourth grade. Judith noted Last year the emphasis was on writing and a lot of the math was not being worked on because last year in fourth grade they had to test writing, that put on it because the school wants the grade because the school wants the funding.
91 Michelle concurred and indicated that by the time her children reached fifth grade, they were unprepared in areas other than reading and writing. Karen stated that grade year, it was incredible how much time they spent practicing how to pass an parents whose children are spread widely in age told me that parents had. Karen said that her daughter was going to start taking sta ndardized tests in compete for money too, they are now starting to test in those Parents also expressed concern that not only were their children focusing in on one skill or subject area at the expense of others, but also that they way they were being taught was sub par. Anna said ssignment. He FCAT was making school an unpleasant place to learn. Judith summ ed up the concerns of many parents when she said did many more fun things: went on field trips, engaged in expe riential learning on a
92 regular basis, disposed of FCAT workbooks, the pace of homework slows, and students are allowed to have more time spent in recess. Stress The topic that concerned parents more than any other was the stress that high stakes testing has placed on their children. This stress manifested in a variety of ways. Some parents indicated that anxiety over the FCAT caused their children to have physical symptoms such as stomach aches, crying, or losing sleep. Other parents reported that thei test. Parents of children who did not worry about the FCAT still reported child stress as a it. I know other students that have stress about it. e about the stress that the FCAT created for her son is telling of the experience that other parents have had administration student, he has no reason to worry, so then we have to coach him through that, them.
93 She suggested that the teachers talking about the test and prepping for the test is what Melissa also reported that her son suffered from an immense amount of FCAT related stress There he was already worried about the FCAT, I mean even the little kids hear about the is so much anxiety even at such a young age and then they just finished the FCAT last week...He was [worried] but then, it was so funny, I think because we worked Internet and practice this FCAT Explorer, so I think he was as well prepared as he could be and I talked to him about it last w Even Sandra, who se son is in kindergarten, found herself dealing with an upset child because of the FCAT. He became upset and anxious, I could tell he was anxious talking about this test alk about it at home. Finally, Judith talked about the difficulty of having a sick child during the FCAT time. While normally staying home sick is not a big deal, during FCAT testing it can be an enormous problem.
94 It can be frustrating, I mean your so kids, the parents, and everyone else feels a sense of urgency about it. education wis e. But because the school is graded based on improvement and numbers, pressure includes watching students earn trophies for perfect scores, listening to teachers stress t he importance of the test, and observing that the school essentially closes down during the testing period. At the same time that some children were anxious over the FCAT, parents reported that there were some positive things associated with the FCAT testing time. Many parents pointed out that they were thrilled with the lack of homework during period because you take a test and then you relax the rest of the day, you play, you have Other parents reported that their children were given goodie bags with treats in them, extra recess, sweets from their teachers, rallies before the FCA T, and celebrations when it ended. Children Who F ail While the FCAT has the potential to create stress for any child and their parents, it is particularly stressful for children who failed the test. Two of the parents, Michelle and Anna, had children who failed the FCAT reading portion in third grade. Michelle
95 indicated that until her son failed the FCAT, no one was aware that he was not at grade level in his reading comprehension because he was always able to read and passed the school level benchma rk tests. She was upset because until her son failed the FCAT, his Now for someone like him, his problem is comprehension. He can read, so he was overlooked. He could read, if you put something in front of hi m, he could read it to you with 99% fluency. But if you ask him to understand what he just go through something like that and you dive deeper to find out why. So when they did the portfolio, it became apparent that sure, he had 99% fluency but he [his low fluency level]. In fact, she told me that he would do fine and that he was reading, but rather taking tests. He has always had trouble with reading but he reads definitely at third grade level because he doe not at all clear to me. I already have thousands of dollars down in summer to be promoted or not because he has to tell him yet. Impact of FCAT on Parents Some parents felt that the FCAT was affecting them more directly than other parents. Whether it was an anxious child, homework beyond the skill level of the child, or their child being held back in school becau se of the test, those parents who felt its impact were quite vocal in their displeasure.
96 Impact on Parental Involvement Parental assistance with homework was one of the ways in parents directly felt the impact of the FCAT. Some parents reported that th eir children were bringing home increasing amounts of homework as FCAT time approached, while others were frustrated that their children had not been taught the skills to complete their homework themselves. Kimberly stated that could do [in his FCAT math workbook] and then I grid diagram and in the grid diagram was a l ocker room and a school room and a cafeteria room and you had to find the whole area of all three, combine them, in me and told me because of course I had to help him do it a nd I tried to explain to covered explaining it. She also explained nd he ly feel stressed out by the test. She concluded her discussion of homework and the FCAT by saying
97 falling behind until she was asked to assist with FCAT tutoring She stated that de appropriate do what they need, because time. Another mother, Karen, told me a about a similar scenario with fourth grade kids and the only thing from th e beginning of the year on, the only thing teachers requested I do with them was practice the FCAT with them. I f it. Honestly a part of adding more stress to those poor kids. Nancy, who no longer had children in elementary school, related the tale of how she decided to dise ngage with the school system because of a frustrating experienced related to the FCAT. involvement now, y ou show up and help at the schools. But if you want to look at might get passed around and stud wanted to see the test questions with her answers because all I had were her
98 answers on the page. I knew I could help her with it, I just needed to see what she Because something about it was like a general program used over Florida and if I saw the questions, I might pass them on to other parents who mig ht let their kids cheat. I had to go down to the school to see the questions and I had to try to just group what it was she seemed to not understand so I could try to help her with took Nancy concluded the interview by telling me that her disengagement was largely because she was not allowed to help her daughter with the areas she needed help on. A lot of it school anymore unless I have to, that really sums it up right there. And I, at one point in time, was on the school advisory board and in Virginia, I was secretary of the PTSA, and in Germany, I was on the school advisory board or school advisory committee. In Florida I tried to be involved and it just tapered finally, after that test thing, I was done. These parents all agreed that when the school no longer appeared to value their contributions, they felt it was best to refrain from assisting them. Tracy explained that the proce ss of preparing for the FCAT It m akes elementary school less appealing to thinking parents. You start to want Parents also reported that they were unwelcome at the school during the actual test. Sandra, whose kindergarten son was afraid of the FCAT indicated his school prohibited visitors. o volunteer.
99 Parents found the schools that their children were attending to be different from their own schools and unwelcoming. Unsure of how to deal with these changes, many physically or emotionally Parents and Stress Donna found that the test stressed her out more than it did her son permanent re s the extra materials coming home from school actually made her anxious. To deal with this anxiety, she focuses on feeding her children nutritious food, enforcing strict bedtimes, and skipping sporting practices that run too late into the night. Rose seconded about the test. In a similar vein, Michelle worried that failing the FCAT cau sed her child to be considered a less than ideal student. She said they know they can get bonuses if their class does w Part of the parental stress stemmed from worry about whether their child would score well on the FCAT, while some of it related to worries over the stress level of their children. Overall, parents wanted their children not to fa il the FCAT because of the
100 shame and stigma it would incur on their children as well as on them as parents. Parents indicated that they were not open about their stress with their children. Impact on Voting Parents were mixed about whether the FCAT was a n issue that would impact who vote. Those parents were asked to consider the question if they were able to vote. Eleven of the twenty five interviewees indicated that the FCAT was an important issue in who they would (or did) vote for. One person was undecided, and 12 people said it had no impact on who they voted for (or would vote for, if eligible). One interviewee did not answer the question. Of the people w ho felt that this was an important issue, Nancy, Samantha, and Susan named the FCAT as the most important issue or one of the most important issues they considered when choosing a candidate. To some parents, the issue was important enough to make them vot e across party affiliation lines. Tracy told me mean, I vote pretty much Republican and I even voted against Republicans because I felt come in and make major changes. What was striking was that even parents who were vocal in their disapproval of the FCAT, such as Melissa, Michelle and Amy indicated that the FCAT was not an issue they considered when voting. Michelle suggested that politicians were never faithful to their election platform, so she did not believe her vote would make a difference. Alternately, Alice told me that sh e believed most politicians would keep the policy, so voting would not be a way to impact FCAT policy.
101 Perceived Lack of Power to Influence Policy Across the board parents felt a lack of power to influence FCAT policy. Whether this was because they felt school did not listen to their opinion, or that they were unable to shield their child from the stress of high stakes testing, every person I talked to seemed to feel that they had little to no influence over the policy leading to political apathy While they were unable to change the written policy or the ways in which the school carried it out, they did develop their own ways to deal with its effects within their family and their home. On e way in which parents dealt with this power issue was to subvert it by refusing to talk about the test at home. Tracy indicated that they did not talk about the test except to tell their children that if they did poorly on it, they were willing to send t hem to private try to de celebrate because schools if they did not do well on the FCAT. Kimberly said Another way in which they dealt with this was to end their volunteer relationship they voted against politicians who w ere in favor of the FCAT, while other parents, such as Tracy, indicated that voting had relatively little impact
102 I feel like all three of my kids have been thrown under the bus for it in Florida biggest disservice to our kids, absolutely and I wish people would vote it out, ng to a difference other than a single vote which will never do it. Other parents wished that schools themselves would rebel. Karen suggested mphasis of it. And whatever score you get, Parents had a variety of ways of dealing with the influence that the FCAT has over their lives, most of which involve resistance through ignoring the test, offering to remove th eir children from situations where they would have to take the test, and withdrawing volunteer support for the schools. One way of dealing with FCAT that they do not turn to is voting at the state and local level since many feel that their vote will not be enough to end the FCAT. I suspect, based on comments from some of the interviewees, that this policy applies to their voting in federal elections. However, I did not ask directly about the influence of education policy on national level voting choices Only two parents were unable to discuss changes they would make to the FCAT. Both Mark and Carol expressed concern that they did not know enough about the intricacies of the FCAT to suggest any changes to it. Mark did say that he believes tying teacher compensation to the test is an important aspect of the FCAT. The other parents that I interviewed were filled with suggestions for ways to tweak the FCAT to make the
103 policy stronger or more accurate in producing data for teachers and schools to use to improve student learning. Regardless of how their child performed on the FCAT, most parents indicated that they felt their children (and children in general) should be assessed via a standardized test to ensure that the y are learning what they need to learn. However, across the board, parents disapproved of the way in which the FCAT is used to assess students. Many parents offered suggestions such as downgrading the emphasis on the FCAT or creating a portfolio of asses sment tools including report card grades, and other test scores in teachers were capable enough to know when to retain children and when to pass them without the aid of t he FCAT. Parents emphasized that it was important to keep testing in place. Mark said a good idea to test children along the way in their education to see how far along One of the most ofte n suggested changes to the FCAT was to replace it with another standardized test, such as the Iowa Test of Basic Skills or the California Achievement Test. Parents clearly dislike the high stakes aspect of the FCAT, but do not recognize that it would be p ossible to have children take this particular standardized test without attaching stakes to it. Discussing other standardized achievement tests, often taken by parents when they were children was a way that interviewees offered an alternative to the curre nt high stakes environment of the FCAT. Tracy told me that while she disliked the FCAT, the accountability aspect of FCAT policy appeals to her
104 The accountability part of it attracts you, it attracts me to it because you have to have some way to measure, you know, the education and have some level of accountability, but I think this is just way off the deep end in the wrong direction Another criticism was that the FCAT is not actually doing what is purported to do. Michelle told me this group of student might be lacking in this area, maybe I need to work on it this year or this student has problems in this area or these area s, so I need to maybe used now, pffff. Similarly, Judith suggested That I have absolutely no problem it. I t is not useful as a change in curriculum, it is not slightly different test might be more appropriate kind of learner they are and get the information about the students by the time te profile of the student and use that information to help improve their education, versus the FCAT. Rose suggested that giving children a test that was untimed might make it a more eaking up the test into smaller tests given throughout the year.
105 Another suggestion was to discuss the policy with educators, parents, and governor, I would ask the teac I would ask teachers what they think would work better and I would try to implement [that] because I think hobblin g how a teacher teaches is one of the ask which is to teach the children place of FCAT or to make FCAT more effective. Tracy suggested that because students had no input, the process was less meaningful to them. I thin k it throws the students under the bus and the students have absolutely no should be some way that the students should participate in the process and parents Susan suggested creating a committee that included parents, teachers and students to determine appropriate ways to assess student learning, as well as lessening the importance of the FCAT. A shift in emphasis from high stakes to focusing on educational achievement, hasis should think schools need grades, I Nancy suggested that
106 I terms of what is expected f or students to learn, but I think it needs to be rading that affects school grades. The poverty level of the students in the school and the background they come from is probably a bigger factor than the rest of it. Not that you might not be able to find ways that the school can deal with that, but I do Tracy also suggested Michelle said that too much weight is put on the FCAT is one that was echoed by other parents. Many of the parents interviewed expressed that there was too much weight base everything A few parents suggested that high stakes testing was not the solution to solving educational inequality. Patricia said suggested that teachers should be given more support, particularly since they often spend more time with children tha n their own parents. Anna expanded on her problem with the FCAT
107 in the system and Conclusion Parents largely fee l that the FCAT has been a pervasive influence in their lives, even though they may not understand the intricacies of the policy surrounding it. It has created stress both in their lives and in the lives of their children, while having an impact on educat ion that is not clearly positive. Both the interviews and the free listing activity reflected this tension, while the content analysis predicted these answers. The following chapter will discuss the implications of these findings and make suggestions to improve the lives of parents dealing with the FCAT.
108 Chapter Five: Conclusions and Recommendations The content analysis of the FCAT coverage in the St. Petersburg Times indicated that there were four key issues 11 that newspaper editors and writers fo cused on. This study was designed to determine how the FCAT impacted parents of elementary school children. Looking at the information gathered from the content analysis compared with the interview data is one way to shed light on this information. I wi ll demonstrate that while parents largely agreed that those topics were important, there were other topics that they found to be of equal or greater importance. An interesting finding was that, while the St. Petersburg Times reported heavily on the FCAT i with voting choices. While some parents felt that the test was unfair or unnecessary in its current format, they were also unwilling to show that feeling through their vote. S everal of the parents were in unique situations because they were not U.S. citizens. In spite of this, I still questioned whether they would consider this an important issue when it came to voting. One woman told me that, while she was unable to vote, sh e encouraged her husband to vote for the person who did not support the FCAT. More than half of the respondents indicated that the FCAT had no impact on who they voted for. Reasons discussed included the feeling that their vote would not impact policy an d doubting that politicians would enact any changes they promised to make while campaigning. For 11 They were: the 2006 Florida govern
109 parents who did consider the FCAT in their voting choice, this decision sometimes caused parents to vote for members of a party that they normally would not. One mother indicated that normally she voted along Republican party lines, but because of the FCAT, she would not vote for anyone who supported it. Another mother indicated that she would not vote for any candidate who supported the FCAT, regardless of p arty. In the few cases in which parents mentioned political party or affiliation, it was usually in keeping with the newspaper representation of the FCAT as a Republican party idea. Another topic that the newspaper focused on was school grades. Parent s largely seemed to find these grades inconsequential except to express concern over why the system of ranking schools was put into place. Several of the parents with whom I spoke the proceeding year. Parents whose children were no longer in elementary school were even more where they thought the grade fell (A/B or B/C school). Many times after I left an asked this as a follow up question if parents were unable to tell me what grade their Part of the reason they were unable to tell me was likely because the overwhelming majority of my research participants had children who attended schools in their wealthy neighborhoods. Families who have higher incomes, particularly those in which one parent does not work, likely have more time to res earch schools. These parents are more likely to have attended a successful school or have received education that taught them what a successful school looked like, making choosing a quality school
110 for their child easier than relying on the grade assigned by the State of Florida. The few attending or had attended a magnet or a charter school. In order for parents to send their children to such schools, a considerable amou interviewed a more diverse group in terms of socioeconomic status, the findings are likely to have been very different. Another reason why parents were likely unable to tell me the school grade was because this aspect of the policy is unclear to them. While the newspaper reporte d on school grades, they did not discuss the criteria that a school had to meet to earn that grade. In fact, it was difficult for me to find the criteria that the Department of Education uses to calculate school grades. Part of the reason is that the FDOE need of updating. There were several times during the course of my research that I clicked on a link, only to find that it was broken. There was often no other way to find the appropriate material from within the website (I resorte d to searching Google and using the cache function to look at the outdated web pages). Also, the design of the website is cluttered and not intuitive. Often I used the search function to locate items I was looking for because none of the categories appea red to contain the information I needed. From what I was able to find, it appeared that the school grading formula has changed several times over the last nine years. It is no wonder then, when the information on how grades are calculated is difficult fo r a determined person to find, that
111 the average parent is unaware of how the grades are calculated and what their significance is. Teachers were another subject of newspaper coverage. Articles focused on the ways in which the FCAT and associated policies have changed the job of teaching in dissatisfied with the changes in education over the last ten years. One of the major issues that teachers have protested is the pr oposal to link student scores to teacher bonus pay. reactions to this topic were varied. Some parents were teachers, married to teachers, or close friends with teachers. These people were more likely to decry pay for performance plans as unfair to teachers. There were two parents, Carol and Mark, who indicated that they supported such programs and felt that they were working to ensure that teachers did their job. Both a lso admitted that they only had a superficial knowledge of these programs. Parents often expressed concern that teachers are not allowed to use their judgment in picking curriculum, deciding whether to promote a student, and teaching material that will no t be covered on the FCAT. It seemed that most parents believed that thinking skills. T hese opinions matched what has been covered in the St. Petersburg Times, although much of their coverage relies on teachers, not parents, as sources. In to inability to go above and beyond the material that will be tested on the FCAT,
112 particularly if they are young and recently graduated from college. Teachers, on the other hand, attribute the change in their teaching to top down, mandated changes that the state government requires. Partially this difference in opinion over the cause of the back to basics approach is that teachers want to present a united front and that by explaining the intricacies of how the FCAT and state level standards affect people differently would w eaken their arguments against it. Partially the difference is due to stylistic variability in teaching, which parents would encounter regardless of the FCAT. Another factor is the from parents who volunteered in the classroom to parents who met teachers once or twice a year in conferences. Parents who spent little time interacting with the teacher were more likely to be critical of the teacher and her teaching style. The newspape r was not as likely to discuss the uneven power dynamic that the FCAT creates or implies, while parents often brought it up. Implementing a system of standardization, as previously mentioned, deprofessionalizes teachers. That is, it takes away their powe r and ability to use their knowledge and judgments in their classroom. In its place is a standard, essentially scripted format for teachers to follow to ensure that they are doing their job appropriately according to the guidelines set forth by lawmakers. Many parents expressed concern over this issue, pointing out that they felt that teachers were capable of assessing students without an externally written and graded assessment. One mother pointed out that teachers had been determining whether to pass o r fail students for years without the aid of the FCAT. Another issue that parents pointed out was that the FCAT is only tied to passing in the third grade (for elementary school students), but the same amount of emphasis is
113 placed on the importance of doing well every year even though there is no benefit to through the receipt of bonus funds through the School Recognition Program. Most parents discussed their understanding that schools received funding that is tied to student performance on the FCAT. The parents who mentioned funding were the same ones whose children attend A schools in wealthy suburbs of Tampa. They often indicated that it was unfair for the ir school to continue to earn bonuses from their high scores when they were already blessed with much more than schools which received lower scores. Other parents were either unaware of this practice or did not feel it was important, because the majority did not mention it. One thing that the newspaper focused on extensively that parents did not was teacher job satisfaction. The newspaper has frequently reported on teachers who leave the education field because of reasons related to the FCAT. The pu blic has also contributed to this discussion in the form of letters to the editor describing the plight of teachers who leave and the reasons why they leave, which are usually related to teachers not wishing to deal with the stress and importance placed on the FCAT. A related subset of the teacher dissatisfaction pieces are the articles and letters to the editor concerning teachers who are reprimanded or fired because of missteps during the FCAT. Teachers are not allowed to look at the FCAT booklet or ass ist students when proctoring the FCAT, except for the few instances when students receive accommodations to complete the test. Only one of the parents that I spoke with mentioned their belief that the FCAT
114 was such a detrimental force to teachers that the y were leaving their jobs because of it 12 like the FCAT or that she was stressed during testing time. The area with the most overlap was on the subject of the gene dissatisfaction with the FCAT. These articles tended to discuss the unfairness of the FCAT as a measure of student learning and teacher effectiveness, as well as discuss flaws in test design. They generally point out the flaws with that Stat stakes testing policy and attempt to show that in spite of such legislation, there remains unequal achievement in education. The parents that I spoke with largely felt that these critiques were valid and voiced them in our interview se reasons for the continuing failure of certain schools. They felt that schools who lacked resources, such as money, paren supportive community, were at a disadvantage regardless of whether the FCAT was in n that the public education system is still in need of repair and that current measures are not the appropriate ones to fix the problems. Strangely enough, when parents were asked why schools performed well on the FCAT, they suggested that the success was dependent on individuals (like teachers or administrators) while when 12 why teachers leave their teachin g assignments, I believe that this sample is different from most parents. Many of the mothers that I spoke to had multiple children attend the same school, were familiar with the teacher left, these mothers would likely hear an explanation either because she asked or through gossip.
115 they were asked why schools failed, they put the blame on structural issues such as poverty and lack of resources. On the whole, parents agreed that the FCAT is an unfair measure of ability. Pointing out that it was only a few days of testing and that children were often aware of the intense pressure placed on them by a host of sources, many parents showed that they agreed with the way that the St. Petersburg Times has portrayed publ ic perception of the FCAT. Suggesting that the test should be made only one tool among others, parents pointedly stated that they are dissatisfied with the impact that the FCAT has had on their schools, their educators, and their children. Parents were a lso quite concerned with the impact that the stress of taking a high stakes test was having on their child. Several of the parents pointed out that their child became anxious as a direct result of this test, which in turn concerned them that there was too much pressure placed on children at a young age. Largely, newspaper coverage touched on issues of concern to parents but failed to points to the need for increased interac tion between members of the media and the public. In the recommendations section, I will suggest ways that parents and the media could engage in dialogue to address this mismatch in assigning importance to issues. Other I ssues: Power and P olitics There were other issues that were not covered in the St. Petersburg Times but that parents felt were of grave importance. These included conspiracy theories surrounding the FCAT and former Governor Bush, stress on parents, lack of perceived power, and lack of understanding of the intricacies of policies surrounding the FCAT.
116 A few parents suggested conspiracy theory explanations of why the FCAT was implemented, who benefited financially from the material surrounding the test, and why DVDs were distributed to p arents. While there was some discussion in the Times of Neil software to Florida school districts, there was little other mention of personal ties between former Governor Bush and companies hired to write, administer, and market FCAT materials. However, several parents felt that one of the reasons the FCAT was developed was so that Mr. Bush would financially profit through deals he had made with test makers. I did not fi nd any evidence to support this claim. The initial legislation was implemented under former Governor Chiles, a Democrat, and a person whom no one linked to former Governor Bush. Similarly, parents wondered about the many FCAT branded materials that the ir children brought home, including a DVD that explains why the State of Florida the process of awarding the contracts to publishing companies to produce these material s was surreptitious and suspect. I was unable to find any discussion of how such contracts were awarded in the St. Petersburg Times. However, I did discover that the Florida PTA helped to produce the DVD in conjunction with the Florida Department of Educ ation, which makes it seem unlikely that it was financially benefiting one particular politician. What these suggestions do point to is that parents have concerns about the level of transparency of governmental decision making. Additionally, parents do not seem to understand policies that implemented the FCAT and that made it a high stakes test. Adhering strictly to what the policy states, the
117 FCAT is designed to test whether teachers have educated students according to the Sunshine State Standards, wh ich were created by a coalition of teachers and politicians. None of the parents I spoke with mentioned the Sunshine State Standards, nor addressed whether the FCAT was actually testing student attainment of those standards. Instead they explained in bro ad terms why they believed the FCAT was implemented (as a reputation nationally). This suggests that they are unaware of the official discourse surrounding this set of polic ies. The distrust of the FCAT, the Department of Education, and former Governor Bush was evident in the decisions that parents made concerning their level of buy in to the FCAT, surrounding policies, and measures implemented to carry them out. Parents sp oke of ways in which they attempted to resist the policy by exerting their power. One of the ways in which they did this was to refuse to talk about the FCAT within their homes or to their children. Another way was to refuse to assist schools that were g iving too much value or power to the test. Parents also warned their children against assigning too much power to the FCAT. Several parents told their children that the FCAT was only a test and not a matter that they needed to concern themselves over. F inally, some parents told their children that if they failed the test, they would circumvent the system by sending the children to private school. All of these measures were tools of resistance 13 that parents used when they felt powerless to influence the policy. The one tool that not 13 Educational anthropologists have dealt extensively with the topic of resistance in education. Among these authors are Alpert 1991, Bjork 2002, Cam marota 2004, El Or 2004, Faiman Silva 2002, Fine et al. 2007, Fordham 1993, Goto 1997, Lipman 2005, Mitrn and Lauria 1998, Moll 2004, Olmedo 2003, and Woods 1994.
118 all parents used was their voting power 14 These parents also seemed to believe that there was little one person could do to change the FCAT, unless that person was a high ranking government official. The issues related to t he FCAT that the Times did not cover were just as important some work, parents were often more willing to expand on their opinions on subjects that they felt had be en neglected in popular media than on ones that they felt had been covered extensively. My hope is that participation in this project gave the participants a sense of power and voice, even though it will not reach as wide an audience as talking to a membe r of the media would grant them. Connections B etween the Literature and F indings These findings relate to the anthropological and educational literature on high stakes testing in a number of ways. First, the privatization of public education is a topic t hat was salient in both the anthropological and education literature and in my data. P arents clearly recognize stakes testing policies refers to as the deprofessionalization of teaching ( Darling Hammond a nd Rustique Forrester 2005, Sloan 2007). This is evident in their statements that express confidence in teachers ability without external oversight They also commented, at times disparagingly, on pay for perf ormance plans designed to improve test scores. 14 As discussed in Chapter 4, 12 of the 23 parents stated that the FCAT was not a significant factor in making their voting decisions even though the vast majority of the parents indicated their disapproval of this policy.
119 Second, many parents, though critical of the philosophy behind the FCAT and other high stakes tests, espoused views of educational failure that anthropologists have rejected (Jacob and Jordan 1993, Levinson and Holland 1996) Often, parents pointed to race and class of students as reasons for educational failure rather than suggesting, as anthropologists do, that these students were likely very knowledgable in other areas than those tested on the FCAT and o ther high stakes tests ( Jacob and Jordan 1993, Levinson and Holland 1996 ). Although many felt that linking the FCAT to school grades was unfair, this was because they felt that students in poorly performing schools were at a greater disadvantage (and thus deserved funding) than their peers at A and B schools. they voiced the feelings of power lessness to influence public policy that anthropologists have documented in their re search on the impacts of high stakes testing on minorities in other states (Fine et al. 2007, Johnson 2007, Salinas and Reidel 2007 ). Similarly to the actors in the work of Fine et al. and Salinas and Reidel (both 2007), parents found ways to express thei r agency through resistance (though the forms are somewhat different since the previous two studies did not focus on parents, but on other stakeholders). Finally, parents both discussed and illustrated their lack of understanding of FCAT policies much in the way that the literature from The National Education Goals Panel (1998), Fuller (2006), and the 2000 ASCD survey suggested that they might. However, unlike the NEGP paper suggests, it is unlikely that simplified explanations of FCAT policies will incr in. As the majority of parents indicated, their problem is with the stress that the FCAT creates in their lives and the lives of their
120 that expla ining the rational behind such policies in more simple terms will not address. Recommendations Given that the parents who participated in this study were largely unsupportive of the FCAT, what can be done to improve the current state of affairs? I will outline seven suggestions that are crucial to improving public participation in and influence over current and future public education policies. First, to address the issue of disconnect between public concerns and newspaper coverage, newspaper report ers should conduct surveys of public opinion related to topics that they cover heavily. Telephoning or conducting internet surveys on these topics will allow them to get some sense of public concerns which in turn will lead to more honed reporting and pot entially a wider range of topics covered. Another solution is to contact writers of Letters to the Editor and ask them to write a guest column on their views of education policy in Florida. While this will only expand the viewpoint to a minor degree, it will help readers to see that they have the potential to be heard and to read diverse opinions. Providing this service may convince more people that they can get their message into public spaces and inspire other to try their hand at it. Admittedly, the St. Petersburg Times has already in part anticipated the desire for a public forum in which to comment on news stories, as they have added a comment section to many of their news stories and they have presented guest columnists, such as former teacher of t he year, Greg Biance (2006). However, not all news consumers have access to the online version of the newspaper or have the knowledge of how to comment on news stories. Additionally, there is still a need to include a wider audience in the guest columnis t arena.
121 Second, the government needs to do a better job of disseminating information about the FCAT in a clear and reachable way. I am aware that the government produces informational materials targeted at the public and that these materials are distrib uted through multiple mediums, but it is evident from my interviews that even well educated upper class parents are unclear about many of the finer points of the education policies that affect them most. Forming partnerships between government spokesperso ns and newspapers around the state could potentially be quite beneficial to policy makers and the public. It would allow policy makers to get their message out into a widely read forum and would also provide the public with accessible, easy to understand, and condensed explanations of policy. Implicit in this partnership is that jargon and doublespeak would be eliminated. The policy education piece would need to be written as a typical newspaper article is: succinct, using an 8 th grade vocabulary, and ad dressed to a diverse audience. Certainly this movement could expand beyond the newspaper into other media such as television news. Third, the government needs to conduct a formative evaluation of the FCAT that includes qualitative data from various sta keholder groups. There was no evidence on the it was mandated to occur (although it is according to the legislation). I did find one evaluation conducted by the Mia mi Dade school district, and evaluation reports from the Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability, which is housed in the Florida State Legislature. The goal of this office is to policy analysis, and jus tification reviews of state programs to assist the Legislature in overseeing government operations, developing policy choices, and making Florida
122 (OPPAGA 2007). There is no link between the two pages, making it diff icult for interested parties to find the evaluation reports. Additionally, it is clear from reading the reports that members of the public were not consulted to answer the evaluation questions; these questions were answered through analysis of state colle cted quantitative data. Several ways to do this have already been discussed, but this should be a priority of policy makers and elected officials. The evidence continues to mount that parents teachers, school districts, students, and other stakeholders are largely unhappy with the current set of policies that surround the FCAT. Involving these groups in discussions of whether these policies are having the intended effect as well as exploring the effects that are occurring (whether intended or not) can have a huge impact on gaining public support, as well as improving the policy. Other potential ways for the public to voice their thoughts and opinions include holding town hall meetings, askin g school boards to solicit public opinion on the FCAT policies during their meetings, and inviting guest speakers to discuss the topic with policy makers, either formally or informally (this could also be done by asking stakeholders to write papers on the topic). Fifth, separate from state level activities to increase public input, schools should create groups of parents and students to discuss how to deal with FCAT As several parents suggested during our interview, the schools are not involving parents in decision making about the FCAT. While all schools are supposed to have School Advisory Councils (or SACs), the members of those groups are not focused specifically on high stakes testing, but rather on making decisions on school policy. Creating a gro up of
123 school level stakeholders that changes every few months could potentially involve a large number of people and help to shape policy at the school level. This would help to allay feelings of powerlessness that parents expressed during the interviews. It would give parents a sense of power at the local level and would hopefully allow them to either understand why schools make choices that they do (in terms of asking volunteers to tutor children for the FCAT) or enable them to create positive changes i school is run. Additionally, parents could provide feedback on school policies that are creating more stress, such as sending home newsletters and making phone calls related to FCAT test preparation. Sixth, both at the state and schoo l district level, policy makers need to determine valid reasons why students should put forth the time, energy, and worry that they currently experience. The only time the test has a significant impact on students is in third grade and in high school. Ev ery other year that students are required to test, there is no long term incentive for students to attempt to do their best other than fear of failure. The current method of scaring students into doing well by emphasizing that the scores stay on a student exposed as a fraudulent reason for students to try hard on the test. I suggest that no one, FCAT scores. The real people who benefit from student scores are the school staff, who benefit in the form of bonus funds given under the School Recognition Program. While this money could be used to benefit students (through purchase of equipment), it is
124 Finally, the government of Florida should consider making the FCAT a low stakes test by removing the link between the FCAT and school funding. This suggestion is the lea st likely to be implemented, but is also the one most often voiced by my participants. Many of the adults felt that all of the strings attached to the FCAT were fr equent suggestion that parents had for changing the FCAT was to make it one among many assessment tools that teachers and schools used to ensure that students were learning. Taking away the teacher bonuses, school grading and the associated school choice plan, and the tie between FCAT scores and retention would silence many of the critics of the policy and likely not do much damage to the education system. My interviewees largely agree that the system that is currently in place is not working and needs dr astic change in order to improve education in the way that these policies suggest. Conclusion I set out to determine what impact that the FCAT has had on the lives of parents of elementary school children. I attempted to do so through a content analysis, free listing activity, and interviews with parents. What I learned is that parents feel at least as much stress as their children over the test. The set of policies that surround the FCAT are confusing to parents and the source of a great deal of animos ity which is usually directed at the former governor. The FCAT also lead to the disengagement of a group of parents than parents with less free time or income. Addi not reflected back to them in at least one widely read local newspaper or through prominent policymakers.
125 While I cannot say that this study captured wide spread public opinion on the FCAT or that I had a representa tive sample, I believe this study taps into the large and growing discontent that parents both in Florida and across the country, have with this set of policies. This illustrates the value of the qualitative, anthropological approach, which is that it un covers issues and populations that have previously been ignored or obscured in the literature or in other forums (such as the popular media, in the case of this study). Just as other anthropologists have pointed out (Fine et al. 2007, Johnson 2007, Salina s and Reidel 2007, Sloan 2007, Valli and Chambliss 2007), the effects of high stakes testing policies are widely variable and the most important issues vary depending on a multitude of factors The best way to expose those issues is through ethnographic wo rk that highlights issues of importance to people on the ground (Fine et al. 2007, Johnson 2007, Salinas and Reidel 2007, Sloan 2007, Valli and Chambliss 2007). Whether other parents either in Florida or across the nation express their dissatisfaction wit h the se types of educational policies in the same ways that parents in this study did is questionable. However, what this study has done has been to emphasize the need for more attention to the reaction of parents to high stakes testing policy and for mor e interaction between various stakeholder groups and policy makers at the local, state, and national level My hope is that this happens sometime soon so that parents and children can return to their focus on education for the sake of learning and not bec
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146 Appendix A: Interview Guide 1. you to make a list of the first five words that come into your mind when I say the 2. What school does your child/children attend? What grade is/a re he/she/they in 3. think they received that grade? What factors contribute to the success or failure of a school on the FCAT? 4. On a scale of 1 (being none) to 10 (absolute), what wou ld you rate the influence that rating? 5. How does your child feel about the FCAT? 6. 7. If your child has taken the FCAT in the pas t, how has he/she performed? 8. What is your position, if any, on the effectiveness and usefulness of the FCAT? 9. Why do you think the FCAT was developed and put into use in Florida? 10. What sort(s) of people dislike the FCAT? What sort(s) like it? 11. Did the FCAT ha ve any impact on who you voted for for governor or for any other elected official? 12. Do you think that the new governor will change the current FCAT policy? Why/why not? 13. If you were given the office of the governor for a day, what changes (if any) would you make to the FCAT? 14.
147 Appendix B: Informed Consent Informed Consent to Participate in Research Information to Consider Before Taking Part in this Research Study Researchers at the Universit y of South Florida (USF) study many topics. To do this, we need the help of people who agree to take part in a research study. This form tells you about this research study. We are asking you to take part in a research study that is called: High stakes testing in Florida: Media portrayals and parental realities The person who is in charge of this research study is Jennifer Hunsecker The research will be done at a location convenient for you. Purpose of the study The purpose of this study is to u nderstand the impact and the perceived impact that high elementary school children. Study Procedures If you take part in this study, you will be asked to participate in one or more of the following: 1. answer questions in one or more interview session with the researcher, each one lasting up to one hour; 2. participate in a focused group interview with other parents lasting up to two hours. The researcher will use a digital vo ice recorder to capture the interviews unless asked not to by the participant. Alternatives You have the alternative to choose not to participate in this research study. Benefits There are no known benefits from taking part in this study, other than contr ibuting to knowledge in this area. Risks or Discomfort There are no known risks to those who take part in this study.
148 Appendix B: Informed Consent continued Compensation We will not pay you for the time you volunteer while being in this study Confid entiality We must keep your study records confidential. All digital audio recordings will be kept computer is protected from Internet attacks by a firewall. These recor dings will be kept for up to three years, but will only be used until August 2007 or when the researcher finishes writing her results. The only other person who will hear the tapes will be the Confidentialit y of the focused group interview participants cannot be guaranteed. Participants will be asked not to share information revealed during the interview, but the researcher is unable to guarantee confidentiality on the part of other participants. However, c ertain people may need to see your study records. By law, anyone who l ooks at your records must keep them completely confidential. The only people who will be allowed to see these records are: The research team, including the Principal Investigator, stud y coordinator, research nurses, and all other research staff. Certain government and university people who need to know more about the study. For example, individuals who provide oversight on this study may need to look at your records. This is done to make sure that we are doing the study in the right way. They also need to make sure that we are protecting your rights and your safety.) These include: o the University of South Florida Institutional Review Board (IRB) and the staff that work for the IRB. Other individuals who work for USF that provide other kinds of oversight may also need to look at your records. o the Florida Department of Health, people from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and people from the Department of Health and Human Serv ices (DHHS) We may publish what we learn from this study. If we do, we will not let anyone know your name. We will not publish anything else that would let people know who you are. Voluntary Participation / Withdrawal You should only take part in thi s study if you want to volunteer. You should not feel that there is any pressure to take part in the study, to please the researcher. You are free to participate in this research or withdraw at any time. There will be no penalty or loss of benefits you are entitled to receive if you stop taking part in this study.
149 Appendix B: Informed Consent continued Questions, concerns, or complaints If you have any questions, concerns or complaints about this study, call Jennifer Hunsecker at 813 325 9814 or Dr. E lizabeth Bird at 813 974 0802. If you have questions about your rights, general questions, complaints, or issues as a person taking part in this study, call the Division of Research Integrity and Compliance of the University of South Florida at (813) 974 9 343. If you experience an adverse event or unanticipated problem call Jennifer Hunsecker at 813 325 9814. Consent to Take Part in this Research Study It is up to you to decide whether you want to take part in this study. If you want to take part, please sign the form, if the following statements are true. I freely give my consent to take part in this study. I understand that by signing this form I am agreeing to take part in research. I have received a copy of this form to take with me. S ignature of Person Taking Part in Study Date Printed Name of Person Taking Part in Study Statement of Person Obtaining Informed Consent I have carefully explained to the person taking part in the study what he or she can expect. I hereby cert ify that when this person signs this form, to the best of my knowledge, he or she understands: What the study is about. What procedures/interventions/investigational drugs or devices will be used. What the potential benefits might be. What the known risks might be. I also certify that he or she does not have any problems that could make it hard to understand what it means to take part in this research. This person speaks the language that was used to explain this research.
150 Appendix B: Informed Cons ent continued This person reads well enough to understand this form or, if not, this person is able to hear and understand when the form is read to him or her. Signature of Person Obtaining Informed Consent Date Printed Name of Person Obtaining Informed Consent
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Hunsecker, Jennifer Gilroy.
High stakes testing in Florida :
b media portrayals and parental realities
h [electronic resource] /
by Jennifer Gilroy Hunsecker.
[Tampa, Fla.] :
University of South Florida,
ABSTRACT: In 1998, Florida implemented a system of standardized testing known as the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT). While initially designed as one among many tools to assess student and school progress, the FCAT has become a high-stakes test. Schools whose students fail to meet certain benchmarks are in danger of losing their students to "school choice plans" (which enable parents of children attending failing schools to choose another, more highly rated school) while parents must contend with ever broadening educational policies. The implications of this policy have been far reaching. Textbook makers now market individualized textbooks that teach FCAT content, schools hold FCAT pep rallies, and some schools hold celebrations at the end of FCAT testing. Both parents and children report feeling stress during FCAT testing time and numerous educators have left the field in protest of the emphasis placed on one measure of student achievement.^ The impact that the FCAT and associated policies have had on Florida families is the subject of this thesis. Archival research was gathered from the St. Petersburg Times surrounding coverage of the FCAT and a content analysis was conducted. Interviews were carried out with parents of elementary school children surrounding the issues discovered to be most relevant in the content analysis. A comparison of the content analysis and interview data showed that some of the issues covered most extensively in the media were not the most significant to parents. One of the most reported-on issues, the proposed changes (or lack thereof) to FCAT policy by Florida governor candidates in the 2006 election, was not the most important issue to parents, who were far more concerned with the amount and types of homework and associated stresses their children felt.^ ^Recommendations include giving parents a greater voice in the media by creating a guest columnist section and holding advisory meetings between high-ranking Florida officials and parents of current schoolchildren.
Thesis (M.A.)--University of South Florida, 2007.
Includes bibliographical references.
Text (Electronic thesis) in PDF format.
System requirements: World Wide Web browser and PDF reader.
Mode of access: World Wide Web.
Title from PDF of title page.
Document formatted into pages; contains 150 pages.
Adviser: Elizabeth Bird, Ph.D.
x Applied Anthropology
t USF Electronic Theses and Dissertations.