An A+ Performance

Every now and then a story crosses my desk that I feel compelled to share with my readers. This is one of those stories.

Her name is Sydney Smoot.

Remember that name!

She is destined to be a star at whatever she decides to do!

Sydney Smoot (Photo: BayNews9)

Sydney Smoot (Photo: BayNews9)

Sydney Smoot, is a nine-year-old fourth grader at Brooksville Elementary School in Hernando County, Florida, who has more confidence than many adults. She made many jaws drop because of just how grown-up she sounds. Sydney Smoot appeared at the 17 March 2015, Florida school board meeting to voice her concerns about standardized testing that she believes unfairly judges students. She took her turn at the podium and by the end of her brief speech, the entire audience leapt to their feet in applause.

Smoot wrote (with help from her mom) and powerfully delivered (all by herself) a speech about Florida’s new standardized test, the FSA (Florida Standards Assessment) that drew loud applause from the audience.

As you may have guessed by now, Sydney Smoot is not happy with having to take the FSA, the state-mandated assessment Florida paid a private company to create in place of a Common Core test the state was originally planning to give until it dropped the Common Core State Standards. A new set of standards was created for Florida, though many say they are remarkably similar to the Common Core Standards. The new Florida Standards Assessment was developed, under a six-year $220 million contract approved by the state, to the American Institutes for Research. The organization did not field-test the new Florida test in Florida, but rather in Utah, where it had another testing contract.

Smoot may be speaking specifically of the FSA tests, but schools across the country are grappling with a surge in standardized testing. These exams are aimed at holding schools accountable for student education, but often they end up taking valuable time and resources away from teaching tailored to the needs of individual students.

The nine-year-old’s mother, Jennifer Smoot, said she helped her daughter with the speech, but the nine-year-old wrote most of it herself.

Here is Sydney Smoot, a “well-educated young lady” in her own voice. (Please click on the arrowhead to listen)

And here is a transcript of what she said at that March meeting: “Hello fellow members of the school board. Today I will express my concerns about the FSA testing. I consider myself a well-educated young lady. However, with FSA tests, my 5 years of school all on honor roll do not matter.

“This testing looks at me as a number. One test defines me as either a failure or a success through a numbered rubric. One test at the end of the year that the teacher or myself will not even see the grade until after the school year is already over.  I do not feel that all this FSA testing is accurate to tell how successful I am. It doesn’t take in account all of my knowledge and abilities, just a small percentage.

“Here are my concerns. First of all, I do not feel good about a form in the FSA that you have to sign ensuring that you can’t even discuss the test with your parents. I am not comfortable signing something like this. I have the right to talk to my parents about any and everything related to school and my education.

“Second, why am I being forced to take a test that hasn’t even been tested on students here in Florida, so how can it be valid and accurate on what I know?

“Why are we taking up most of the year stressing and prepping for one test at the end of the year when we should be taking tests throughout the year that really measure our abilities?

“My opinion is that we should take a test at the beginning of the year, middle, and at the end of the school year to accurately measure what we know.

“Third, the stress and pressure that this testing puts on me and I’m sure most students is not healthy. Why should we have so much stress about one test when we should be learning and having fun in school?

“With all of this testing in school, more fun things in school such as recess are being eliminated because of all of the training for the tests.

“So ladies and gentlemen of the school board, I urge you to put a stop to high stakes testing today. It is not good for the schools, teachers, and students.

“Parents and students, contact your governor to put a stop to all this standardized testing. Thank you very much for your time.”

All I can say is WOW!

Even at such a young age, Smoot has the common sense, the compassion, and the presence of mind to out-Senator half of the actual Senators in Washington.  I thank her parents for giving her such a practical education! The cynic in me wanted to point out that no 4th grader uses a term like “rubric.” But then I remembered my own nine-year-old grandson who uses words well beyond his years. But that is missing the point. Sydney Smoot is smart enough, and is certainly eloquent enough, to give that speech that is damn impressive on its own. So to hell with the cynicism!

I taught Public Speaking 101 on the college level – and if Sydney Smoot were my student – she would definitely receive an A+ for her oration before that Florida school board.

Tests or no tests, it is clear that Sydney Smoot has a very bright future ahead. Bravo, Sydney!

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