Judge Gievers upheld the Opt-Out parents complaint against districts who denied promotion to children who signed in to take the Florida Standards Assessment this spring. She did not, however, require districts to promote those children without completing a portfolio to demonstrate their proficiency. Some parents withdrew their children from school. Some used a portfolio option. The problem for at least one parent is that the portfolio option required scores on other tests to be included. Since the entire promotion process is under review in the appeals court, Judge Gievers has decided that the courts need time to ponder. Maybe she is correct. Let’s consider the implications of her decision.
The State Board of Education (SBE) was asking questions about third grade retention policies. The general understanding was that students who scored a ‘level 1’ on the Florida Standards Assessment (FSA) would be retained unless there was a good cause exemption.
There is more to this than meets the eye.
The State of Florida, Orange and Hernando Counties initially filed an appeal in the third grade retention case. Now, Seminole and Broward have joined the appeal to Judge Gievers ruling that the children whose parents opted their children out of the FSA were treated unlawfully. The children had demonstrated competence through their grades and other work, and they followed the ‘minimum participation’ in the test rule by breaking the test seal and writing their names. The districts, however, retained the children in third grade.
Lawyers for the State argued that allowing these children to move on to fourth grade would undermine the entire state accountability system. As a result, most of these children now have withdrawn from public schools. Their case will continue to work its way through the courts.
Districts argue that the lawsuit should have been heard in a local district court. Judge Gievers dismissed that argument. The net effect would have been multiple hearings in multiple courts since several districts were involved.
Federal law requires that states must test 95% of their students
Judge Gievers ruled in favor of parents who claimed that their districts unfairly retained third graders solely because they did not complete the Florida Standards Assessment (FSA). The ruling revealed gaping holes in district procedures and in law. The arguments brought into question the reliance on the FSA to determine student competence.
In today’s Tallahassee Democrat, Leon County Schools have been chided. It seems the state legislature passed a measure allowing students to opt out of the Pledge of Allegiance. The Department of Education said the district went too far by creating a form to do so and putting it in the Student Handbook. The State is involved in a lawsuit over parent’s rights to opt their children out of tests, but it is OK to opt out of the Pledge of Allegiance as long as you do not tell parents?
What is that Shakespearian line: Something is rotten in Denmark? Should we be thinking about other things to improve our educational system?
There is a new and very interesting twist to the Florida opt out lawsuit. Parents whose children were retained in third grade solely because they did not take the Florida Standards Assessment (FSA) brought a lawsuit. Some districts retained these children who would otherwise be promoted to fourth grade and others did not. It sounds like a basic fairness issue, but it is more complicated. Who is responsible for this policy, the State or the federal government? If only 16 states require third grade retention, why would the federal law be involved?
Passing third grade depends in part on the district a child attends. Some parents who opted their children out of the Florida State Assessment were dismayed to learn their children would be held back in third grade. These are not low achieving students based on their grades on report cards. The federal law requires that states administer annual assessments, and the government can penalize states with fewer than 95% of students participating.
Florida had no problem meeting the federal requirements, but some districts decided not to allow students without test scores to advance to fourth grade. Parents could send their children to a summer portfolio session, in some districts, or they could sit an alternative assessment. Parents sued Pasco and Hernando school districts. The Leon County Circuit court heard the arguments on Friday. Judge Gievers was troubled but thought any ruled she made would be immediately appealed.
Today Judge Gievers reconsidered. She will rehear the case next Monday. The children are now enrolled in third grade classes. Maybe next week they will be fourth graders. Something is wrong with this picture. Whatever the policy may be, it should at least be the same for all children in the state.
The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is advocating that single state assessment tests be replaced with multiple assessment options. State standards remain, and each of the assessment options is supposed to measure them.
The concern with such a multiple test option is that tests differ in their internal structures. The comparability of tests that purport to measure the same standards requires careful validation. Even then, the measurement error simply increases. Parents will not be able to believe the scores.
Using more tests does nothing to correct the negative impact of high stakes testing on students. It, in fact, simply increases the management problems and decreases the validity of any comparative results. Why test if scores on a test one district uses are different from those from another district?
If the assessment systems get anymore complicated than they already are, the whole accountability system may implode. Maybe that is not such a bad idea.
Miami-Dade has half the number of schools rated ‘F’ this year than last. No, they did not give kids extra vitamins. The State of Florida changed the definition of learning gains.
I think I like the change even if I do not the idea of test based accountability. Here’s why.
- The formula is much simpler. The old system penalized schools by lowering school grades for failing to make arbitrary targets, and it gave bonus points that were easy to manipulate.
- The system is somewhat less punitive. Now school grades are based on the percentage of students making learning gains. In the past, an at risk child’s increase in achievement might not have shown up in school grades because their gain was less than the state required. So, students who started school behind were making progress that did not count.
The new grading system has subdivided the two lowest proficiency levels. Level one scores are grouped in low, medium and high. Level two is divided into low and high. A child who scores at the same level but improves in the subcategory, from low to medium, for example, is counted as having made a learning gain. The net effect reduces the number of failing schools.
Students scoring at or above proficiency level three must increase their test scores by at least one point the following year to be counted as a learning gain (unless they are already at a proficiency level of ‘5’). The new school grade formula no longer provides bonus points. There are now fewer schools with ‘A’ grades.
It may still seem like smoke and mirrors. Achievement did not change, but the school grades did. It reminds me of the marks on the wall I used to make as my children grew. Most years the growth from one year to the next was about the same. Once in awhile there would be a growth spurt. The same was true for their achievement. I did not need to measure the kids except to see if they met the height requirement at Disney attractions or were they ready for some accelerated academic program.
Annual testing tells us what we already know. If you want to increase the school grades, change the formula. There has to be a better way.