Manatee County to Promote Third Graders or Not?

The Tampa Bay Times dmbtestreports that the Manatee Superintendent will promote third graders after all who would otherwise qualify even though they do not have a FSA test score.  Superintendent Green was clearly vexed.  She cited telephone conversations and emails with the Florida Department of Education which clearly indicated students must have appropriate test scores in order to be promoted.

Today, the story changed.  Now, students can demonstrate mastery by developing a portfolio in a reading camp or by taking the Stanford Achievement test.  It is not clear that parents will accept these alternatives when their children have demonstrated good reading skills in their classroom performance and report cards.  Stay tuned.  This has gone past politics and logical reasoning.

The Superintendent is between a rock and a hard place. She opposed the FSA last year, but she felt she had to follow Department of Education edicts.  Unfortunately for her, the story from the DOE changed between Friday and Tuesday.  Testing, Florida style.

Testing Reform to Rise Again

IMG_0471Is there hope for a rational testing system?  Senator Don Gaetz has been a moderating voice on Florida’s overwrought testing and accountability system.  He called for the reduction of the weight from 50% to 30% of the student gain scores that are counted in teacher evaluations.  Then, in the 2015 session, he proposed substituting national tests like the SAT and ACT for the FSA.  Since college bound students must take these tests anyway, it is redundant to have them sit for state assessments as well.


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Federal Accountability Rules for School Grades

hat-157980_1280Criteria for new school grades are drafted by the U.S. Department of Education.  Under this new plan, states can choose their own indicators of school quality or student success that move beyond the traditional accountability measures based on test scores or graduation rates.  School Report Cards must also be made in consultation with parents.  The draft document is now under review and open for comment  It includes:






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Kindergarten Readiness: To Test or Not to Test

teacher-590109_1280Remember when Susan Bowles, the kindergarten teacher in Gainesville said “NO” to the kindergarten readiness test?  The kids could not reliably use the computer mouse.  One thing for sure was that the children just beginning kindergarten were not computer ready!

The State put the test on hold last year.  This year they tried an alternative test.



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Fla DOE Drops K-2 Test

baby-84626_1280Remember Susan Bowles’ decision not to test her kindergartners?  They just plain had trouble navigating the test with the mouse.  If they made a mistake with the mouse, they made a mistake on the test.  Susan Bowles said enough was enough.  She went to her superintendent who agreed.

Now the State Department of Education agrees.  Commissioner Pam Stewart has sent a letter to Owen Roberts, Alachua County Superintendent.  It states that K-2 required testing using FAIR is now suspended through out the State.  Three cheers–maybe more for Susan Bowles.  You can read the letter here.


PreK to Third Grade: To Play or Not to Play?

baby-84626_1280Should we test babies?  How else do you get the message across about the importance of preschool for brain development?  Even if you do test toddlers, there is disagreement over what to do about delayed development.  Some researchers argue persuasively that instructive play is the most effective strategy.  Others focus on the need to develop language skills in prescriptive ways.  Regardless of philosophy, where this learning occurs matters.

The Center for American Progress report  Examining Quality Across the Pre-school to Third Grade Continuum finds that gaps in learning are apparent at nine months and significant gaps are noticeable at 24 months.  By kindergarten , forty-eight percent of poor children meet school readiness levels while 75% of moderate to high income children are ready.  Children from low income families do attend preschools, but a study of these schools revealed quality gaps.

Five types of programs were evaluated using a 7 point scale from the Early Childhood Ratings-Revised.   The study found that access to high quality early childhood education is limited and varies by type and by racial and socio-economic background.  On average, all programs were above the minimal quality level (rating of 3).  None of the programs, however, achieved an average rating of five to qualify as ‘good quality’.

Even within the same type of program, there is a range of quality.  For example, the quality of Head Start programs for blacks on average, tends to be of much lower than for Head Start centers which enroll primarily white or Hispanic children.

  • public school centers (4.64)
  • private school (4.33)
  • child care centers (4.20)
  • Head Start programs (4.85)
  • Preschool and nursery programs (4.58).

The classroom experiences of children from preschool to grade 3 differ.  Children from low income families and children of color are less likely to receive instruction in crucial literacy and numeracy skills.  In order to close achievement gaps in the early grades, preschoolers need support to develop not only basic skills but also appropriate higher order thinking and problem solving skills.  In early elementary grades–kindergarten through second grade teachers appear to spend less time developing the higher order thinking skills that are critical for school success.

“By the end of kindergarten, children are expected to gain knowledge in letters, print recognition and phoneme awareness, recognize words, begin to read, spell, and write; and demonstrate increased vocabulary and knowledge of the world.” 

The report concludes that “Academic skills alone may not help students develop the skills they need …Standards such as sharing, self control and building relationships with peers and adults have generally been left out for elementary, middle and high school students”. 

The solutions are obvious but not easy.  Children from deprived backgrounds need access to high quality early education.  This will require greater investments at federal, state, and local levels.  Standards should be aligned and include consistent metrics and data systems to track access to quality between preschool and third grade.  Teacher preparation programs and professional development programs must incorporate information about children’s development in all domains to support higher order skill building.

The debate in the media challenges the critical thinking and problem solving standards introduced through the Common Core.  Supporters, however, decry the limitations of didactic teaching and learning strategies.  The operative words are ‘what children should know and be able to do’.  Not all children may reach any given standard, but the objectives for instruction and access to quality must be clear.  Instructional strategies will and should vary.  Teacher preparation and development programs must focus on teachers’ content knowledge, developing effective problem solving and and higher order skills teaching strategies along with the methods to  develop the social and emotional skills children need to be successful.

The problems are obvious.  The learning goals are clear.  What is missing are consensus and commitment.  Change must be possible without imposing arbitrary standards and punitive measures.  A commitment to changes in funding priorities at federal, state, and local levels must be made.   If parents believed that a coherent strategy, well implemented was possible, their suspicions about the intrusive collection of data on children and the profiteering motives related to private sector involvement in curriculum and assessment might diminish.


Florida Gets an ‘F’ Again

FAILED1Which states get it right?  Not Florida.  It was one of eight states that received an overall grade of ‘F’ when its grades were averaged across the categories studied.   The Network for Public Education rated states based on six criteria.

For each category, I combined the percentages of A, B and C grades received across states.  I was surprised at the results.  Relatively few states (11) use test scores to punish students and teachers, but Florida is one of those that do.  You can see the combined percentages (think of them as passing scores) at the end of each of the criteria.

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