Florida testing bills surface

SB 964: Montford, Garcia and Lee, has teeth.  This bill would have a significant impact by reducing the number of state required tests as well as reducing the negative impact on instruction because it:

  • allows SAT/ACT for 10th grade language arts and deletes the FSA 9th grade language arts, civics, algebra II, geometry and U.S. history exams.  The FSA for grades three to eight remain along with Algebra I and biology.
  • allows paper and pencil administration of online tests.
  • eliminates the Florida DOE supervision of teacher evaluations and rules that tie evaluations to student test score results.

Two other bills would only move testing to the end of the school year instead of beginning state wide testing in February.

  • HB 773  Cortes, Donalds, Eagle, Fischer, and Gruthers.  The language of this bill is very similar to the language of the SB926 thus is a companion bill.
  • SB926 Flores and Bradley moves testing to the end of the year but allows students expected to be proficient based on proficiency measures to take the state assessment once per quarter during the year.  It authorizes a comparison of SAT and ACT content with the FSA English Language Arts and Mathematics tests at the high school level.

While moving the exam period to the end of the year has some advantages, it does little to reduce the amount of testing or the time required to conduct testing.  Given that requirements to base a large percentage of teacher evaluations on student test results, the focus on drill and practice and test prep rather than on more effective, long range student learning remains.

 

Constructive Committee Discussion

The House Committee on PK12 Quality held a thoughtful meeting.

State Rep. Matt Willhite asked “Could we do without school grading?”  “When we have school grades with continuous failing grades, are we benefiting the child telling them they are in a failing school?

Sen. Jake Rayburn R. Lithia, stated that whether you give an F or not, you have to figure out what to do with low performing schools.

Rep. Don Hahnfeldt, R. The Villages asked ‘If there is any benefit (from testing)?  He said that the most frequent complaint he heard was about the stress and time taken away from other academic efforts at the schools.

The State School Superintendents requested a return to paper and pencil testing which take much less time to administer than testing in limited space computer labs.  Removing test scores from teacher evaluations would allow districts to develop their own assessment strategies.

Of course we need to test to see how children are learning.  It is a matter of how much testing is needed and how scores are used.  Hitting teachers, students, and schools over the head with school grades just makes everyone frustrated and destroys neighborhoods.

Missing from the discussion was the growing evidence that over the last 15 years of school choice, many neighborhoods have gone into a downward spiral, much like in Gainesville where four low income area schools used to have grades with A, B, and Cs.  Now one school is closed and the three remaining post Ds and Fs.  Teachers and students leave.  Socio economic data show that charters in the area do not take or keep the difficult problems.  It is hard to swallow but giving parents choice has created more problems than it has solved. The charters here fail more often than the public schools.

The bottom line is that folks want to make things better, but the stronger the focus is on schools rather than kids, the bigger the problem is.  Bad problems get worse.  Everyone blames everyone else.  Grading schools and teachers highlight problems but do not fix them.

Making schools more equal could help depending upon how it was done.  Now, the three struggling schools receive $1.5 million in federal funding to support extra time and wrap around services.  The money helps but does not eliminate the failing stigma. It does nothing for similar students who are dispersed in schools across the district.   Once we had an extra hour and summer school, funded by the State, to help children who start school behind and stay behind.  Once we had high quality early Head Start.  Once we had teachers who loved their schools.  Gone, all gone.  But, at least people are talking.

League Forum on Schools of the Future


The League of Women Voters invites you to join us in Gainesville on March 4th. We are celebrating the Schools of the Future with Peggy Brookins, CEO of the National Professional Teachers Certification organization.  She is on the President’s Commission on Education.  Peggy was a teacher and innovator in Florida for many years before joining the National Board.

Following her presentation will be a panel of educators who will respond to audience questions.  Panelists include the Deputy Superintendent, Teacher of the Year, elementary and secondary curriculum specialists and the head of the Alachua County Council of PTAs.

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DeVos Confirmed: Split Vote in Florida

The telephone lines to D.C. were jammed with protest votes over the DeVos nomination for U.S. Secretary of Education.  In Florida, Senator Rubio voted yes and Senator Nelson voted no.  The U.S. Senate was tied and VP Pence broke the tie.

I saw a note about a one sentence bill to abolish the Department of Education.  It was filed by Rep. Thomas Massie RKY.  He thinks local parents and communities should control schools.  He may be right.

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DeVos: Single Issue Candidate?

By now most people who care realize that Betsy DeVos has one issue:  parental choice.  To achieve that end, she supports state control over education policy.  In the New York Times analysis of her confirmation hearing, her knowledge of the law and education policy was non existent.  This is not surprising.  She has been a one horse pony in the private sector for vouchers and charter expansion.

The NY Times piece cites DeVos’ ignorance about special education law, regulation of for-profit universities, or even the difference between achievement gains and proficiency levels.  The answer to every question was:  leave it to the states.  Will Congress bow out?

Suppose the federal government did close down the Department of Education.  The federal government was not always involved in K12 education.  Its history is interesting.  Where would that lead?  State after state is cutting funding.  School districts and the private sector are supposed to find the money locally to manage the schools.

My grandmother taught in a country school.  So did my husband’s mother.  A few people got together, built a one room school and hired a teacher.  Will this approach raise our PISA scores?  It reminds me of an old time saying:  Watch out what you wish for. 

The Suspension Gap

“Fixing” struggling schools with a load of good intentions only goes so far.  Strong leaders have to figure out ways to get children to show up for school and find time, teachers, and learning strategies to help them.  School success is measured by student learning gains.  Achievement gaps between white and black, rich and poor students must be narrowed.  This is only one of the gaps leaders must close.

 

 

 

 

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Talk to Little Children: Don’t dehumanize them

by Susan Bowles

This article was written in response to a Gainesville Sun commentary about pushing math skills on preschoolers to raise U.S. PISA scores.  Bowles is a kindergarten teacher who calls attention to the need for age appropriate teaching and learning strategies.  Simply pushing the mastery of high level skills on younger and younger children is ineffective and unfair.

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Testing Changes Aired in Senate

Yesterday’s the Senate K12 budget committee aired proposals to reduce testing.  Politico reports the following:

Eliminating required end of course exams in English, U.S. history, civics, algebra and geometry.

Allowing the use of paper and pencil as well as computer based examinations.

Substituting nationally normed tests for state assessments.

Exempting high performing students from state assessments.

Moving test administration to the last three weeks of the school year.

 

 

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New bill to end 3rd grade test based retention

Representative John Cortes D. Osceola has filed  bill 131 to end mandatory third grade retention based on the English Language Arts score on the Florida Assessment.  Districts may retain students if needed, but they must continue to provide intensive remedial instruction.  The provisions remain for promoting retained students mid year if the have improved their reading skills.

Rep. Cortes was elected to the Florida House in 2014.  He does not serve on any legislative education committees, and the bill has yet to gain a Senate sponsor.  Whether or not his bill progresses is worth watching.  Unfortunately, third grade retention helps inflate fourth grade NAEP scores, and illusion is one of the signatures of school choice.

 

 

 

 

Making Good Choices: Equitable Public Schools Do Better

Researchers at Stanford University have published a new study comparing public school vs. school choice privatization systems.  Public schools that focus on equity win hands down.

The data suggest that the education sector is better served by a public investment approach that serves each and every child than by a market-based competition approach that creates winners…..and losers.

It is worth taking a minute to see how and why.

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