WEST PALM BEACH —As FCAT week rolled in across the state last week, the Palm Beach County School Board blasted the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test — originally designed as a diagnostic tool for supporting students but now perceived by many to have been hijacked as a high-stakes whip for grading schools and teachers.

During their April 18 meeting, several board members made strong comments reflecting the frustrations of parents with their children’s stress levels over the FCAT. Chairman Frank Barbieri called on legislators to “stop this madness” in the schools.

Longtime observers saw signs of how far Florida has strayed since Phil Lewis, then Florida Senate president and vice chairman of the state’s

Education Reform and Accountability Commission, help-ed set up Blueprint 2000. Under a law the Legislature passed in 1991, parents, teachers, academics and business leaders developed the Florida Sunshine State Standards — what students should know, and at what point — with the FCAT designed to measure how a student is doing based on the standards, so that teachers could target students’ identified needs.

Debra Robinson, the school board’s vice chairwoman, says she wants her colleagues to do more than score rhetorical points regarding state policy over which they have no authority.

“I have great concern about the impact of high-stakes testing and hope at some point in time the board will have a real conversation about the issue,” Robinson said.

Robinson said she is “100 percent all in for standards” but she described the state as “flogging” principals, teachers, children and parents. She cited Test, Punish, and Push Out, subtitled, How Zero Tolerance and High Stakes Testing Funnel Youth into the School to Prison Pipeline, as “a report that clearly made me turn against the high-stakes testing.”

Robinson also pointed to the book, Leading For Equity, The Pursuit of Excellence in Montgomery County Schools, which, she said underscores the need to “put resources in the poor schools, extend the school day and allow more creativity to make learning fun again.”

During the April 18 meeting, the board also banned smoking or tobacco use by anyone, anywhere on district property and at school-sanctioned events. In addition, the board relaxed cell phone use in district middle and high schools, while allowing phones as class assignment tools.

At the deadline for this story, board members during their April 25 meeting passed a resolution urging lessened emphasis by state officials on the FCAT and high-stakes testing.

The Test, Punish, and Push Out report:

The Leading For Equity book:

Debra Robinson