Retain Students or Do not Retain?

A lot of hoopla has been centered around third grade retention based on Florida assessment scores.   It was credited for the large increase in Florida’s fourth grade reading scores.  Something went wrong, however, in eighth grade.  What went ‘wrong’ may have nothing to do with the quality of instruction.  If so, what could explain the apparent decrease in eighth grade achievement?  Some possibilities are suggested.

The case for retention.  Retention became mandatory for third grade in 2002-03.  Florida, however, retains students beginning in kindergarten as the above chart shows. Thirteen percent of third graders were retained.  An additional nine percent of the lowest scoring students were promoted with a ‘good cause exemption’ such as a portfolio, an approved alternative test or consideration of a type of disability, and certain English language proficiency rules.

Retention helped (58%) some students according to a 2006 Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability (OPPAGA) study.  It certainly boosted the image of the ‘Florida miracle’ of achievement increase.  In spite of the publicity about school reform measures, however, the chart below shows the greatest improvement occurred between 1998 and 2002, before reforms and mandatory retention were implemented.  Florida went from below the national average in fourth grade reading and math scores to above the national average.  Some gains continued afterward.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Changes in retention policy.  Over the years, retention has diminished because more exemptions were granted.  (Some students were simply getting too old for the grade in which they were enrolled.)  In 2014-15, the Florida Department of Education granted exemptions to 28,436 third grade students.

Note below the significant decrease in non promotions in 2014-15, in spite of enrollment increases, especially for third and ninth grade.

Retentions:    2002-03          2014-15

Kindergarten: 13,278             7,674

First Grade:    15,360             8,250

Third Grade:   27,713            9,458

Ninth Grade:   51,638            9,870

As of 2011-12, only fourteen states mandated third grade retention.  Florida’s high retention rates compared to other states no doubt helped boost its fourth grade National Assessment of Education Progress (N.A.E.P.) scores in earlier years, but there may be more to that story.

Questions about the value of retention.  When results are not clear, opposition grows.  HB 131  Cortes (SB 1280 Rodriquez) have been filed to end third grade retention.

The big puzzle now perplexing the legislature, Senator Stargel SB 360 in particular, is why Florida’s fourth grade NAEP reading scores are six points higher than the national average, but eighth grade scores are just average.    Fourth grade math scores are higher than average, but eighth grade math scores are consistently lower.  Stargel proposes a study to find the answer.    A look at the NAEP data gives some clues:

In fourth grade, 39% of students score at or above the NAEP reading proficiency level.   Only thirty percent do so in eighth grade.   These are the top scoring students. 

One would expect that the percentage of high scoring students would be relatively the same for fourth and eighth grades unless, in some way, students’ characteristics change from elementary to middle school.  What could account for the difference?

Do Florida students’ reading skills get worse over time?  This seems unlikely.  There was a relatively large increase in reading scores for eighth grade in 2009, and scores have only fluctuated slightly since then.

Other possible explanations.  Perhaps eighth grade student characteristics are now different than in fourth grade?  How could this be?  There are several ways to explore this possibility:

  • Florida’s retention policy is more extreme than most other states’ policies.  Thus, Florida has more students who have been in school longer by fourth grade than do other states.  One would expect their reading and math levels to be higher.  This advantage may be lost by eighth grade when these skills are more complex.
  • Does Florida’s school choice policy pull out more low scoring students in elementary grades, thereby elevating its fourth grade scores compared to other states?  Do many of these students return to public schools in middle school and lower the state achievement scores?

We know from Florida DOE data that the Florida tax credit program enrollment drops more than one half between kindergarten and eighth grade.  Which students leave the private schools and which remain?  If the struggling students leave, as the DOE evaluations suggest, eighth grade scores in public schools would decline.

A similar examination of the achievement levels of students who return to public schools from charter schools between fourth and eighth grade may also shed some light on the changing student achievement

I welcome an evaluation of Florida’s school accountability approach to improving student learning.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Supreme Court Supports Standards for Students with Disabilities

Are schools expected to do more than provide minimum educational standards for students with special needs.  According to this report, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that students with disabilities must be given the opportunity to make ‘appropriately ambitious progress’ consistent with federal law.

Approximately thirteen percent of all children between 3-21 have some type of disability.  Complaints that students are given minimal academic standards triggered the lawsuit.  In this case, Endrew v. Douglas, Endrew was a fifth grade autistic boy whose IEP plan had not changed from one year to the next.  The family withdrew him from public school and enrolled him in a private school where he did make progress.  The family then sued for tuition reimbursement.

Senate Committee Considers Testing: New Bill Likely

It would seem that a new bill on reducing the testing requirement is likely to emerge says Senate Education Committee acting chair  Wilton Simpson.  Currently, Senator Flores supports moving the state assessment tests to the end of the school year.  Senator Montford’s bill actually reduces the number of tests, moves testing to the end of the year, and decouples FSA gain scores from teacher evaluations.  Gain scores have been largely discredited because they are not stable indicators of teachers’ effectiveness.

Watch for the compromise bill in the Senate.  The House version of this bill, HB 773, eliminates no tests.  It moves the testing window.

 

 

 

Origins of Florida’s Tax Credit Vouchers–Or, Don’t Buy a Pig in a Poke

Diane Ravitch requested this article.  As I wrote it, I was struck by what a small, but politically well connected club was behind Florida’s choice movement.  They attracted big money to sell their ideas.  The end result, in spite of the growth of Florida’s tax credit vouchers, shows that: Not all Choices are Good Choices. 

Following Jeb Bush’s 1994 defeat in his run for governor, he dented his image.  According to a Tampa Bay Times report, in a televised debate Bush responded ‘not much’ when asked what he would do for black voters.  Faced with criticism, he launched a charter school in Miami, and the school choice movement in Florida began.

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Perspectives on Florida’s FTC Private School Tuition Programs

Public schools are the foundation of our democracy.  Yet, too often school choice divides rather than unifies communities. Parents want the best for their children, but when are choices good choices?  In this radio interview, Sue Legg and Charles Showalter discuss the issues surrounding the Florida Tax Credit Scholarships.  You can listen to Tuesday’s broadcast here.

Florida Appeals Court Overturns Ruling Supporting OPT OUT Parents

The Florida Appeals Court stated that the Leon County district court did not have jurisdiction over parents’ complaints about third grade retention based upon the Florida Statewide Assessment scores.  Instead, the court determined that the lawsuits should have been filed in local district courts where parents resided.  According to the Orlando Sentinel report, the Appeals Court ruling declared that the state assessment had a laudable purpose to ‘assess whether the student has a reading deficiency and needs additional reading instruction before or after being promoted to fourth grade’.

Will Kentucky give up integration and go charter?

Kentucky:  United We Stand, Divided We Fall

Seven states have resisted the urge to go to charter schools.  Kentucky is one of them.  They kept bussing plans from the 1970s integration in place between the city of Louisville and its surrounding suburbs.  Yes, there was some complaining, but forty years later children are in classes with diverse socio economic and racial groups.  The latest opinion poll shows an 89% approval rating.  The Atlantic article contrasts Louisville with Detroit where charters abound.  Louisville comes out ahead, hands down.

Desegregation helped the city thrive.  Unlike Detroit, where affluent citizens fled to suburbs and bankrupted the inner city, all sorts of people and businesses flourish in Louisville.  Now their city cohesion is threatened with the introduction of three charter school bills in the state legislature.

Rep. Moffett’s bill 103 allow charters statewide but includes multiple authorizers.  This means that not just local school districts but mayors and universities or others could start a charter school.  Charter schools are essentially private schools that operate with public funds.  How is the public to know the effectiveness of charters?  If there are multiple authorizers, there will be different standards of oversight.  Some states have had charter school operators shop their ideas from one authorizer to another to find the one that will let them in.  The charter industry likes multiple chances to get started, but there are many reasons to keep the oversight and regulation of charters local and systematic.  Here is the take of one charter school proponent on why single authorizers work better.

Rep. John Carney, Chair of the House Education Committee, introduced his version of a charter bill 520 that allows only local school districts to authorize charters.  Disputes would be moderated by the State Board of Education in much the way that Florida operates.  The charters would take the same state accountability tests, follow the same health, safety, financial and transparency laws, and give priority to low income students attending low achieving schools. The staff analysis of this bill points out important concerns about sectarian and online schools, financial impact on public schools, provision for school closure as well as a major constitutional concern.

Targeting charters for low income students in struggling schools can be a trap.  Charters typically siphon off students in these areas who are more likely to succeed thus creating a downward spiral in those neighborhood schools.  It can make a bad situation worse.  The attrition rates of charters is typically high for both students and teachers.  The charter schools themselves fail at a high rate.  After all, the only ‘advantage’ of charters in those areas is that they can require teachers to work longer hours with less pay and no retirement benefits.  This is how the charters fund the extended time needed to improve student learning.  It’s all about money that is in short supply.

Bill 70 introduced by Senator Neal, would limit charters to a pilot project in Jefferson County.  The results of any pilot are clear.  They increase segregation both economically and racially, and they do not improve academic achievement.

If the educational goal is to close the achievement gap, then it will take something more disruptive than charter schools.  It will take a commitment to equity and that costs money.  Equity means that the needs of all children are addressed.

  • It likely will require more time time–a longer school day and school year.
  • It will help families and students to get access at schools to physical, mental and social support services; in other words, a community school concept where existing community services parents use are delivered in schools, not all over town.
  • School populations will be diverse in order to create a climate of possibilities.
  • Instructional strategies will have to be engaging to students with different abilities and interests.  This means that test driven curriculum and teaching strategy must yield to a more hands on, group based approach.
  • School cultures must be supportive and welcoming, not solely competitive for the next advanced class, targeted magnet, or gifted program.  Finding communalities must be as important as identifying exceptionalities.

There may be instances in which local district may benefit from the flexibility to try new instructional programs in a limited setting with a particular group of students.  Often state laws, district and teacher union regulations make these innovation programs difficult to implement.   Here in Gainesville, we have a charter that is affiliated with a psychologist’s clinic to help dyslexic children.  It is a unique approach that would not fit well in the district school, but the charter works with the district staff.  These collaborations can work but they are targeted to specific needs the district recognizes.

What does not work for schools is a whole sale ideology that private enterprise operates better than public responsibility.  In Florida, over a third of the charters operate for-profit, skim millions in self interested real estate and management scams, and compete directly with competent public schools thus weakening both the charter and public sectors.  The educational funding pie gets divided three ways, public, charter, and private tax vouchers which ensures no sector is adequately supported.

One of our mottos comes to mind:  School Choice is a Distraction, not a Solution.

Stop Humiliating Teachers, Help Kids Discover A Future

The New Yorker tells it like it is.  If there is a societal problem, blame teachers.  After all, if people do not behave properly, achieve well enough, shift easily from one set of societal expectations to another, then teachers did not prepare students well enough for the future.  Not so!

The solution to societal ills for so many educational reformers, Denby reports, is to bash teachers and their unions.  The reality is that no one knows how to solve the problems of persistent poverty that create some schools in which all children struggle to learn.  Attacking these schools and their teachers, instead of the poverty that creates them, makes things worse.

If teachers are given no respect, and their schools are labeled as failing, then how are students and their families to value schools and the education they offer?  Yet, children who see nothing different than the hopelessness people feel, create a survival culture for the world in which they live.  Instead, children need to see opportunities for a different life and realize what schools can offer them.

I remember my own children talking about ‘skill sets’ that they needed to carry with them to an uncertain future.  They recognized skills in other people and made them their own.  The real dilemma is how to help children know what skills they need when no one around them sees a future.

Our schools should mirror a society that offers a future that touches each child.  Then teachers can help students achieve what children  see is possible because they live in a world where these possibilities exist.  Teachers cannot create those schools; communities must.  Read Denby’s article.

New Bill: More Money for Vouchers

The first of an expected onslaught of voucher or ‘voucher like’ bills has been filed:  HB15, Sullivan.  School choice can no longer be ignored.  The proponents have gone far beyond the smoke screen of helping poor children.  Some would argue that now they are helping themselves to public money.  Look at the numbers; you decide.  Is the state giving these children the education they deserve?

 

 

 

 

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