North Carolina’s Read to Achieve law is based on Florida’s Just Read Florida program. Although Florida’s program has been in place since 2001, it continues to cause stress and controversy across the state, demoralizing students, teachers and administrators. These excerpts from a recent blog post on Opt Out Orlando detail some of the problems.
Last Friday, I witnessed one of the saddest examples of teacher oppression I have ever seen. I have been helping a family, since January, to get a teacher-developed [reading] portfolio for their son in the third grade. The student’s mother had legitimate concerns because of her own difficulties with passing FCAT (the Florida state test) and I have been advocating, with her, since the beginning of this year.
In spite of the A’s and B’s that her son has earned all year long, a letter was sent to his parents informing them of possible retention due to “below grade level” reading test scores. This student was at risk of failing the FCAT, so the parents chose to use a portfolio as an alternative assessment. . . .
After much research and many conversations with FLDOE and Just Read Florida, we clarified and understood the difference between a teacher-developed portfolio and the state-provided CD, which contains secret test questions, similar to the FCAT. Each portfolio must contain forty-two reading passages with questions and answers, that meet the state criteria for proficiency.
This past Friday, we attended another parent/teacher conference (at our request) to hear the teacher’s plan. When we arrived to meet with the teacher, we were directed to a conference room. In attendance were the ESE teacher, staffing specialist, principal and the teacher. At first I did not recognize this teacher. She was no longer the bubbly, enthusiastic woman I had met in January. Her shoulders hung low, she would not make eye contact when we sat down. The principal positioned herself so she was sitting close enough to touch arms with the teacher.
The meeting began with the principal asking us to start because we had called the meeting. We asked the teacher to explain her plan for completing the portfolio. The teacher looked at the principal and the principal began to explain how they were going to fit three CD reading passages a day into each day of the remaining school year. As we asked questions about this plan, we continued to direct them to the teacher who always looked at the principal to answer. After several minutes of this, I asked that we stop the meeting.
I asked the teacher to please look me in the eye and told her that we were there to meet with her because she is the authority on this student’s academic progress and that she would be the one to complete this portfolio for him. I acknowledged that she was clearly uncomfortable and clarified that that was not our intent, but that we really wanted to hear from her. She said she wanted to defer to the principal. At this point, she was looking at the table with tears in her eyes. . . .
I stated that I understood the environment of fear within her profession and that we supported her and valued her role most of all. The principal said she took great offense at the insinuations we were making that she was responsible for any intimidation of this teacher. I pointed out that I was not accusing her but was recognizing the culture of fear in teachers across the state. The principal offered to leave the room if we wanted to have a conversation with the teacher alone, but would have to leave the staffing specialist who was taking notes. Seeing the panic in the eyes of the teacher, we declined.
We don’t know for sure what happened to that teacher, but during this meeting she was only able to hand over documents to the principal to support our conversation. She was not able to speak and it was clearly fear that prevented her from participating in a discussion about one of her students. One could visibly see the defeat all over her. She was crying and unable to look at the parent. The principal was sitting so closely and stiffly next to her, that without saying so, she was communicating loudly to everyone in the room, her intent to control this meeting. . . .
Over the past few days, I have had the time to reflect on this fiasco. We have options for this student and he will be fine. I cannot say the same for this teacher. She has broken my heart, as I am sure hers has also been broken. She was, in every way, a different person from the awesome, confident teacher we had met with in January. She was afraid of her principal, she was afraid of us.
For the full blog post, see: http://optoutorlando.wordpress.com/2014/05/27/fear-and-loathing-in-a-florida-school/