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COLUMN

Happytown

The week where we dusted off our gaydar machine and pointed it at Charlie Crist again, then we figured out that you shouldn't be grading the FCAT writing test if you have communications problems of your own. What are words for, when no one's listening anymore?

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Well, this latest revelation prompted the hilarious political raconteurs at the Wonkette blog to resurrect the old gay rumor with the headline, “How gay is Charlie Crist's extortion scandal, on a scale from one to very gay?” on May 17, sending us into our peanut butter and chocolate wayback machine. The blog's conclusion isn't that conclusive – rather the opposite – but it is kind of funny: “Anyway, though, maybe Charlie Crist isn't gay, because his political career is over and nobody cares about an ambulance-chasing lawyer's sexual orientation.” Ouch!

Speaking of dumb things, when state Education Commissioner Gerard Robinson was recently asked what he learned after student scores on FCAT writing tests plunged to disastrously low levels at schools across the state, his public response was funny, but not in a laughable sort of way: “That communication matters,” the Miami Herald quoted him as saying right after the news broke.

Indeed. The state acknowledged that it had changed the game on teachers and students swiftly and with little clear direction. This year's tests were scored more strictly, each test had not one but two people evaluating it, and punctuation, word choice and relevance were more carefully considered in the scoring. Because, yes, communication matters.

But what does it say about the administration of our educational programs when those who run them – and those who create the standards to which students are held – can't even exercise basic communication skills themselves? Obviously, the state and school districts failed to communicate with one another about this year's exams. What are the rules? Who's grading? What constitutes a passing grade?

The state quickly moved to adjust the scoring on the tests, after less than 30 percent of all fourth-graders in Florida failed to earn a passing score. Last year, more than 80 percent of the kids who took the test passed it.

That move led the Central Florida Public School Boards Coalition to issue a stern letter on May 15 to the Florida Department of Education that basically involved addressing the root cause and not so much the symptoms of failure – you know, like professionals do.

“This type of solution would not be appropriate considering the broad impact these scores have on associated school functions and the critical risk of losing confidence in the validity and reliability of Florida's accountability system,” the letter reads. In other words, we don't need another freaking Band-Aid.

Do the dismal new writing scores mean the students are doing worse in school or that teachers were not as proficient at teaching the material? Or does it mean that the exam-obsessed regulators who changed the rules on everyone without being clear about their expectations are the ones who should be receiving the failing grades this year?

One thing is for sure: If the people making and scoring the rules of communication can't be bothered to communicate clearly themselves, nobody passes the test.

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