Context matters -- We examine the claim in the full context, the comments made before and after it, the question that prompted it, and the point the person was trying to make.
--Principles of PolitiFact and the Truth-O-Meter
|(clipped from PolitiFact.com)|
The fact checkers:
Amy Sherman: writer, researcher
Angie Drobnic Holan: editor
Put bluntly, this item isn't fact checking. It is a disservice to Gerard Robinson and PolitiFact's readers.
Reflecting a backlash against testing, more than a dozen individual school boards in the state, including Broward and Palm Beach, have passed a resolution against the FCAT. The Florida School Boards Association passed its own version of a resolution criticizing the FCAT in June.If PolitiFact follows AP style for quotations, the above represents a breach of style guidelines. Here's how the quotation would look according to AP style:
Robinson penned a June 15 response, which included these comments: "The FCAT neither drives the curriculum nor narrows the educational experience of Florida students. These assessments average two to three per student per school year and account for less than 1 percent of the instructional time provided during the year. It is worth noting that local school boards require students to take many more assessments than those required by the state."
"The FCAT neither drives the curriculum nor narrows the educational experience of Florida students.
. . . These assessments average two to three per student per school year and account for less than 1 percent of the instructional time provided during the year.
. . . It is worth noting that local school boards require students to take many more assessments than those required by the state."
There are a few interesting claims in Robinson’s statement, but the one that caught our eye was that tiny figure: The FCAT accounts for "less than 1 percent of instructional time." Heck, we wonder if lunch or recess could add up to more than 1 percent. So we decided to research whether Robinson’s 1 percent claim was correct.PolitiFact reports that Robinson's office backed up his claim with numbers showing that the amount of time spent taking the test amounts to .26 to .90 of the state-mandated minimum of 900 hours of instructional time.
So Robinson's claim was true? PolitiFact doesn't see it that way:
But Robinson used the phrase "instructional time" in his claim, which could fairly be interpreted to mean classroom time spent preparing for the test.Yes, Robinson used the phrase "instructional time" in his claim, but it isn't fair to interpret it to mean classroom time spent preparing for the test.
"Instructional time" has a particular meaning in education. It means the time students spending doing learning activities under a teacher's direction.
Robinson addressed three specific points with his press release. The FCAT program is allegedly too expensive, dominates the curriculum and hinders student success.
Robinson addresses the first point by framing FCAT expense in terms of its percentage of state and local investment in the schools. He deals with the second point in the next paragraph:
Florida's Next Generation Sunshine State Standards are the foundation for what we expect our students to learn. Subjects covered by Florida standards include English language arts, math, science, social studies, physical and health education, world languages, and fine arts along with other content areas specific to colleges and careers. Contrary to the claim of the FSBA resolution, the FCAT neither drives the curriculum nor narrows the educational experience of Florida students. In fact, at the middle school level, student enrollment in courses such as dance, drama, and world languages has increased more than student enrollment in the subject areas assessed on the FCAT. At the high school level, enrollment in dance, world languages and the humanities has outpaced the growth in student enrollment.PolitiFact ignores this context and tries to make it look like Robinson is saying that the schools spend very little time trying to prepare students for the FCAT. The above paragraph from Robinson unequivocally puts the lie to the journalists' frame. He addressed the issue by saying that the test measures things that students ought to spend much of their time learning.
Obviously, then, Robinson was not trying to say that students spend less than 1 percent of their instructional time preparing for the FCAT. That would argue against his preceding paragraph.
PolitiFact just ignored the context.
In fact, Robinson's 1 percent figure is more accurate the more time students spend preparing for the FCAT, if one insists on suggesting that he used "instructional time" to refer to test preparation. For review (bold emphasis added): "These assessments average two to three per student per school year and account for less than 1 percent of the instructional time provided during the year." If students spend as little as half of their instructional time on the FCAT then the estimate for time spent on the assessments rises to a range between .52 and 1.8 percent--still in the neighborhood of 1 percent if we willfully ignore Robinson's clear explanation.
PolitiFact appears to conflate the "assessments" with the "instructional time" somehow. As one is used as a percentage of the other, that path leads to a spectacularly failed fact check.
PolitiFact devotes considerable space to quotations complaining about the FCAT, but none of it addresses Robinson's claim. We can skip on to the wondrous conclusion consisting of four short paragraphs plus a "False" rating.
Robinson said that the FCAT tests "account for less than 1 percent of the instructional time provided during the year." This was a prepared statement, based on research done by his staff, in response to FCAT critics who say that schools devote too much time to the tests.Right, but Robinson addressed the critics' point in his preceding paragraph.
Readers could assume that by "instructional time" Robinson was including regular lesson time in the classroom preparing for the FCAT. He wasn’t. His office says that referred to the number of minutes taking the test out of the total minutes of instruction per year. But he didn’t provide that explanation in his statement.Robinson may have assumed that those reading his statement have the ability to read. PolitiFact doesn't explain why people would be seriously misled if they believed taking the FCAT test constituted less than 1 percent of the preparation time. The smaller the percentage the greater the preparation time by proportion.
It is doubtful PolitiFact could make a coherent case that Robinson was minimizing the preparation time for the test, assuming it would even make the attempt.
In reality, there is no clear way to quantify how much time teachers spend preparing students for the test. Some teachers say they spend practically all their time on the FCAT.If all of the teachers spend all of their time on the FCAT then Robinson's statement is perfectly accurate and students spend less than 1 percent of their instructional time taking the assessment. There's nothing here to use against Robinson's accuracy or veracity.
Robinson’s goal was to deflect criticism that too much time is spent "teaching to the test." He is suggesting that the FCAT eats up only a smidgen of a school year. But for students, parents and teachers who spend months preparing for those tests, Robinson’s words are misleading.PolitiFact completely missed Robinson's point by ignoring the context. The fact check doesn't make a lick of sense. Robinson's words are misleading if one ignores context, grammar, syntax and logic.
Amy Sherman: F
Angie Drobnic Holan: F
This case perhaps makes up PolitiFact's penultimate train-wreck to date. PolitiFact owes Robinson an apology and a front page correction notice.
Update Aug. 1, 2012:
Gerard Robinson responds to PolitiFact Florida:
In this article, PolitiFact agreed that evidence provided to them by the Department of Education verified the accuracy of my statement when taken in this context. However, PolitiFact claims my statement was made to deflect criticism that too much time is spent “teaching to the test.” If this were true, I would agree with PolitiFact’s conclusion. However, since PolitiFact misrepresents the context of my statement, I rate their finding as False.
Update 2, August 3, 2012:
A Band-Aid for the severed head: PolitiFact modifies the quotation with the insertion of two ellipses--and no correction notice (at least as of now).
Robinson penned a June 15 response, which included these comments: "The FCAT neither drives the curriculum nor narrows the educational experience of Florida students. ... These assessments average two to three per student per school year and account for less than 1 percent of the instructional time provided during the year. ... It is worth noting that local school boards require students to take many more assessments than those required by the state."The correction is not quite compliant with AP style by my reading, as the AP Stylebook's example shows a line of space between the sentences prior to the insertion of the ellipse when one pulls sentences from different paragraphs..
That's a minor point, of course. The story remains incoherent. The head is still severed and the body is bleeding out through the neck.