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Uhlfelder says universities are misleading students on testing measure

While education leaders throughout Florida voice opposition to a proposal that could bring standardized testing to Florida universities, the man who will bring the proposal before Florida’s Board of Governors next month said he feels like he is misunderstood.

Board member Steve Uhlfelder pushed the testing as a component of a program that will be used to measure accountability among the state’s 11 public universities. Uhlfelder said, however, that the proposed test, which has been likened by some to the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test used in Florida high schools, has been taken out of context and proportion by state education leaders.

“I have never advocated standardized testing like a lot of people seem to think I have. In fact, I think there are too many standardized tests out there,” Uhlfelder said. “What I am investigating is the possibility of implementing a written exam to make sure our college graduates know how to write at the level they should be capable of. I am tired of students and university presidents distorting what I say when they know (accountability measures) are something we have to do. We will not do anything without the universities’ input, though, and they know that.”

The Florida Legislature passed a law last year requiring 10 percent of state universities’ funding to be allocated according to accountability measures that at that point were not yet determined. Six measures were passed in January, with only the possible testing requirement still to be voted on.

Uhlfelder accused university presidents and provosts across Florida of purposely misleading students and faculty regarding the proposal. Uhlfelder said campus leaders are clearly against the proposal, and are trying to make students think the test is similar to the FCAT when it may not end up being such.

“The presidents and provosts know we are not talking about standardized testing. They voted on a resolution (in a meeting of university presidents on Feb. 3) against a proposal that does not exist,” he said.

USF leaders have already spoken out against the introduction of any form of testing to measure accountability among the universities. USF President Judy Genshaft said she could not plot to keep the truth about the test from students because students are directly involved in the process.

“There is a student who sits on the Board of Governors during meetings, and he knows as much as any of the presidents do about the proposal,” Genshaft said. “Part of the reason the presidents are opposed to any testing is because the students are. I am in agreement with student body presidents and actually students across the state on this issue.”

Genshaft added that under no circumstances should a university’s funding or accountability measure be tied to testing. She said there are enough tools to measure accountability in place as it is, and that the measuring should be left up to faculty rather than the state government.

“It is the right and responsibility for the faculty to construct a curriculum that they think is the best. There are a lot of accountability measures that the state imposes upon the universities and those are fine. I don’t think there is anything to improve,” she said.

Uhlfelder also questioned how a university can take a stance against standardized testing while scores on SATs and the Graduate Record Exams play a substantial role in admissions decisions.

“One form of testing is entry level, and is something used across the United States. It’s part of the admissions process,” Genshaft said. “What he is talking about is not admissions. He has got his purposes mixed up. When you screen for admissions, you screen for one purpose, but if you are screening for rising juniors and graduates…I don’t know what it is he is looking for. I don’t understand it.”

Student Government president Omar Khan said the SG senate will pass a resolution tonight to take a stance against any new testing, regardless of the form it takes. The resolution will state that a new test would be a threat to academic freedom in the universities.

“It’s still a standardized test, no matter what they call it,” Khan said, “It is detrimental to academic freedom, and takes away from the students’ ability to learn and the faculty’s ability to teach. We have enough tests anyway. No matter what, students will have that extra burden and test scores will suffer because of the added responsibility to study for an unrelated test. I have not met one student who supports any additional testing. Genshaft committed that USF would not be a pilot for this proposal. University presidents at universities are victimized because everyone thinks they are always out to get more money and make things easier. But even if that were the case, the presidents would realize that this enables the state to not only grant funding, but also take it away.”

The proposal has not formally been initiated before the Board of Governors. The Board has agreed to hear the proposal on March 18, however, they will consider making a pilot testing program at one university. Genshaft said she had made it clear that USF will not be that pilot school.

Khan said the proposed test is an example of why students should want to play a more active role in government.

“The students should be insulted that it even has gotten this far,” Khan said. “This is counterproductive. This is the reason why we try to get students’ voices heard in elections: to prevent things like this. So many students could be against this, and yet it could still be proposed.”

Faculty Union President Roy Weatherford said Uhlfelder’s explanation does not change his opinion either, and that testing tied to funding is a bad idea no matter what it is called.

“I don’t think (proposing a written test) makes any significant difference than if it were a multiple choice one,” Weatherford said. “If there are programs where written exams are appropriate, then they would work better. In programs where multiple-choice tests make sense, written exams can obviously be worse. The argument is not how good the test is or is not. The point is that one does not better education by testing more. You improve education by putting your resources into your faculty and facilities. I mean, you have people taking classes in a mall right now, and the concern is that we are not testing enough.

“Testing encourages the spreading of information, but it should not be used as a mechanism for allocating money. When the institutions that already have more money and better socioeconomic conditions are already doing well, they are only going to keep on getting more money while the institutions that need the funding more will continue to struggle to keep up.”

Weatherford also said the attitude falls in line with other government policies around the state, and ultimately hurts public services in all fields.

“The whole attitude of the Bush administration brings about a reward system. That is a basic mistake,” Weatherford said. “They’re trying to run the state government as if it were a Wal-Mart. They might make a profit that way, but it doesn’t make services around the state any better.”

After the proposal was first mentioned at a Board of Governors meeting in January, USF seemed united in its opposition to testing as a measure of accountability. In addition to Board of Trustees chairman Dick Beard, Provost Renu Khator, Genshaft, Weatherford and Khan, Faculty Senate President Elizabeth Bird does not agree with the idea.

“No test can measure the kind of learning we do at the universities,” Bird said. “There is no standard amount of knowledge, theories or ideas that students, or faculty for that matter, possess. A standardized test in any form will likely standardize the curriculum and hurt education at the universities.”

Uhlfelder saying his proposal has been misinterpreted is not a surprise, according to Bird, who said Uhlfelder has been proposing different means of testing as an accountability measure for years.

“The other thing that people like Uhlfelder don’t understand is that we already hold to an amazing amount of accountability measurements ourselves,” Bird said. “It should not be the state’s responsibility to measure accountability. It should be up to the faculty who is doing the teaching and establishing the curriculum.”