Today’s news — October Two, 2015
Superintendents are right to criticize fresh tests
In an staggering display of opposition, almost all sixty seven of Florida’s school superintendents — a “super, super majority,” in the words of Palm Beach County School District Superintendent Robert Avossa — say they have “lost confidence” in the state’s grading system. Specifically, they are rejecting the Florida Standards Assessments (FSA), the fresh statewide standardized test that had such a rocky rollout last school year. The educators say they can’t trust the tests to reliably measure how well students, teachers and schools are performing. Last week, sixty three of the superintendents pleaded their concerns to Florida Education Commissioner Pamela Stewart. But Stewart essentially blew them off. The state will forge ahead and use last year’s numbers for teacher evaluations and school grades, a Department of Education spokesperson told The Post Editorial Board this week. So much for local control — a dearest theme of the Scott administration, at least when the governor’s office is talking about keeping the federal government at arm’s length. When it comes to listening to the people who actually run the schools at the county level? Sorry. Tallahassee knows best. The FSA, you may recall, is the hastily adopted successor to the FCAT (Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test). A fresh test was needed because the Common Core standards were coming in; the curriculum was switching. So in 2014, the DOE signed a $220 million, six-year contract with a nonprofit called American Institutes for Research, which didn’t develop fresh tests for Florida so much as import a set of exams it had “field-tested” in Utah. The fresh test’s arrival last school year was a joke: Computer glitches, which prevented hundreds of Palm Beach County students from logging on. Cyberattacks. Long delays to get test results. With a full-blown crisis on their palms, the DOE told school districts to skip students’ individual scores in determining eligibility for graduation or class placement. And it paid almost $600,000 to two companies to make an independent evaluation of the tests’ validity, to see if the test results should be used in evaluating teachers and schools. That evaluation, released around Sept. 1, thrilled Stewart and her allies. It said things like: the FSA’s “policies and procedures” were “generally consistent with … best practices in the testing industry.” “I am pleased,” Stewart said in a statement, “that this third-party investigate confirmed our confidence in Florida’s statewide assessments.” But not all of the findings of the explore were so rosy — as some school districts, including Palm Beach County, were quick to point out. For example, many of the test questions, including thirty three percent of the items on the third-grade English Language Arts test, were not aligned with Florida standards. Meaning: They didn’t test the content intended to be tested. (Instead, according to the Miami-Dade Public Schools, the questions matched standards in Utah!
Amazingly, the examine’s authors said the snafus were so few — when considered against the combined “data across students, schools and districts” — that the tests should still be used for evaluating teachers and schools. Too bad if you’re a teacher of a classroom where the test was botched. This is a powerless position to take at any time, but especially now. This was the very first year of the test. There’s no baseline. No way to display whether a teacher or a school is improving, staying the same, or getting worse. The superintendents, in a letter to Stewart, said that in similar baseline years, at least seven other states modified their systems “to mitigate negative consequences.” They urged the DOE to not use the results in any way that penalizes schools or students, or weighs in teacher ratings. The superintendents are telling what the public is thinking. In a Palm Beach County School District community survey, more than ninety percent of respondents supported delaying the use of FSA results for determining school grades, student promotion, graduation, or teacher evaluation. Stewart needs to wake up. The assessment system, the cornerstone of Florida’s education reforms for a dozen years, has lost credibility. Taking the superintendents’ advice — and listening to parents — is the very first step needed to bring it back.
Misguided school accountability system will be disruptive
Florida’s proposed method for providing accountability for the public schools will prove disastrous for education in this state. It will drive away good teachers and administrators. It will confuse the public. It will unfairly taint the reputation of the public schools. It will hurt the state’s accountability system itself. But worst of all, students will suffer in an educational system that is set up to fail.
School board members: Accountability system is violated
Echoing a host of critics, the Florida School Board Association joined a slew of education groups who are calling for an "overhaul" of the state’s education accountability system because of the Florida Standards Assessments’ botched debut last spring. The group said it "rigidly supports the Florida Standards and valid and reliable state assessments to measure student progress in mastering those standards. "However, Florida school board members are deeply worried about the integrity of Florida’s current accountability system, which they believe has continuously deteriorated," the group continued. "Additionally, the FSBA is worried with the lack of trust from educators, students and the broader public in the fairness of statewide assessments and standards." The Florida Department of Education has stood by the FSA, citing an independent validity explore last month which found that, despite the technical disruptions in the test administration, the test results can still be used in "group-level" situations — such as determining school grades and aiding in teachers’ spectacle evaluations. The agency is beginning to release results of last spring’s FSA this fall; district percentiles were published Wednesday. Both the PTA and superintendents association recently proclaimed they have “lost confidence” in the exams and have shoved the state not to issue school grades this year. The school board association agrees. “The accountability system in Florida is violated. In such a high-stakes testing environment, it is imperative that we reassess current procedures so that we can budge forward with a reliable system that educators, students and the community can support,” FSBA Executive Director Andrea Messina said.
School superintendents urge throwing test results (Andy Ford quoted)
Bay District officials discount test score data, proceed FSA criticism (Diane Wishart quoted)