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Student success should drive educational goals

July 8, 2015
By MARY FISCHER , Lehigh Acres Citizen

For the past five years, I have had the opportunity to serve as the District 1 representative for the Lee County School Board. It has been a time of rapid change. Textbooks are now electronic, notebook refers to a computer not a paper pad, cloud is a storage mechanism, not what we see in the sky and many high school students are graduating as college sophomores.

Not all changes in education have been positive. The school board's local governance authority is infringed by state government. Unfunded mandates are piling up. Testing has become a big issue. For as long as I can remember, Florida students have taken assessments. However, the stakes attached to these tests have grown increasingly punitive, with students now being retained or denied a regular diploma for failing to reach a milestone the state has set for all students, a "one size fits all" concept.

We know that students learn in different ways, at different rates, because they are different. Now, because the stakes are high, teachers want to make sure they are as "prepared as possible" for the test. I believe this is where the phrase "teaching to the test" came from. As we know, true assessment is ongoing and measures growth of the individual student. The very process of the testing defies logic and can be difficult at times to support from a position of leadership.

So, with much discussion about an assessment system that most believe to be flawed, perhaps we have lost sight of what we are all about:

Education is a dynamic process, the economic driver for the community. As adults, we realize that the future lies in the hands of our children and grandchildren. Our first priority should be the nurturing and education of our youth. The mission statement of the Lee County School District is "To ensure that each student achieves his/her highest personal potential."

Our students are amazing! They are curious, intelligent, talented, diverse, challenged, challenging and, in fact, our future. Students will do the best that they can, but they are not all the same! When we start belaboring test scores we need to remember that behind every score is a student who did his or her best.

Our classroom teachers and school staff are dedicated professionals. Good teaching impacts students, ignites passion for learning - and students who are passionate about learning flourish. Teachers know that teaching aligned to the standards prepares students to perform well on any assessment.

Parents and business community are major stakeholders in the educational process. We are all on the same team - 87,000 students, 187,000 parents, 12,000 employees - and we all want the same thing - success for our students. In the passionate debates about testing, textbooks and personalities, I grow concerned that we are spending so much time talking about what we are against that we have lost sight of what we are for - we are for each student who steps into a classroom in this district. The advancement of personal agendas cannot come at the expense of our children.

With vision and mission in mind, leaders make decisions based on the best information available to them. As expected, feedback from our recent vote to include the end of course exam score in a student's final grade has been a mixed bag. There is an important lesson to be learned. Our students are rising to the challenge and performing better each year. Yet, there is work to be done legislatively. We are about to prepare legislative priorities for the next session, and I am certain that we will advocate for assessment and accountability which drives instruction and meets the needs of the students, who are, remember, the key to the future!

Mary Fischer is the District 1 representative on the Lee County School Board.



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