How can you make a difference in Florida’s education policy? Get involved in the discussion! The ESSA federal law returns control to states on the use of state assessment scores to measure student progress and rate teachers and schools. Or, does it?
The U.S. Department of Education has proposed new regulations to implement the law. Florida will develop its own regulations based on them. The public is supposed to provide input. The newly proposed federal regulations are long and complex. Florida’s A+ accountability system can be changed. It is supposed to measure academic progress but the State Superintendents have lost confidence in it. If parents and teachers want a better system, it is a time to say so.
We know that the ESSA continues to mandate annual testing for grades 3-8. If parents and teachers want to change the constant focus on testing, some thing must change:
- Teacher evaluations: Reduce the focus on student proficiency percentages and look at student improvement. How are scores used to reward and punish teachers? Current systems benefit teachers with the best students, not necessarily the best teachers.
- School grades: Include factors that determine school quality, and revise how is quality reported? Schools are more than test scores.
- Student assessment scores: Which tests should be required district wide? How are scores reported and used? Should students with low scores be retained? Are alternative assessment strategies effective and fair?
- District grades: Should district grades be calculated solely by the number of high achieving schools? Or, should districts be evaluated by the impact of policies to reduce economic and segregation, to provide support services such as tutoring and guidance counseling? This was the implication of the State’s argument in the Citizen’s for Strong Schools lawsuit. The attorney for the State said that districts need to reorder priorities to meet student needs.
- Funding formulas. Should State education funding be changed to reduce property taxes and make funding more fair for rural counties? Should state funding be tied to student needs?
The claims about the impact of a test driven education policy are not trivial. How should the impact of such policies be evaluated? Should districts give the State a grade? When the curriculum is reduced so that social studies is offered one half hour per week, access to art, music, PE, and even recess is so restricted that low achieving students have none. Children spend endless hours at test preparation, aka drill and practice, from February through May, is there a better way? Where are the innovative research projects to improve instruction that charter schools were supposed to provide?
In order to clarify my own thinking, I collected some input from other organizations. The complaints about the US DOE proposed regulations were summarized in a Washington Post article. Valerie Strauss summarizes the FAIRTEST concerns: FairTest argues that the new regulations over emphasize testing, mandate punishment not required in law, and continue federal micro managing. Specific complaints include:
- lower ranking of any school that does not test 95% of its students or to identify it as ‘needing targeted support’. (A move to penalize ‘opt-out of testing’ movements.
- creating at least three levels of school performance for each indicator. The law only requires states to identify the lowest performing five percent of schools and subgroups of students who perform particularly poorly. No other levels are required. (This continues pressure to focus on testing, not teaching.)
- combining school grade indicators into a summative score. (A single indictor of quality is not required and is simplistic and misleading.)
- weighing academic quality indicators ‘much more’ than non academic indicators (e.g. absenteeism etc.). This weighting is not only not defined, but also pressures states to overemphasize test scores.
- using 2016-17 scores to select lowest performing schools by 2017-18. This is too soon for most states to be able to participate in the ESSA’s innovative assessment program. (Some argue the merits of the ESSA innovation program, however, because it redesigns testing into performance based learning.)
2. National Association for Gifted Children testing concerns: computer adaptive testing, advanced math testing for 8th graders, and locally selected high school assessments
3. The Fordham Foundation held a competition for alternative ways to report achievement growth. The summary of the proposals include some interesting ideas. Here is a brief synopsis:
Alternative Indicators of Academic Achievement include:
- achievement index: give partial credit for improvement, full credit for proficiency, extra credit for advanced levels of proficiency
- use of scale scores: drop proficiency reporting and use measures of progress all along the score continuum.
- cross sectional index: create an index based on multiple measures of achievement.
Alternative Indicators of Student Growth
- student growth percentiles: use percentages achieving median growth or annual expected growth as an indicator of progress rather than percentage meeting proficiency levels
- two step value added model. See: Education Next: Adjust student growth by comparing schools with similar student characteristics, not schools with low income at risk student populations and those with higher income college bound students.
- transition matrix: instead of four proficiency levels, use multiple levels to show student progress within current proficiency levels
Indicators of progress toward ELL Proficiency
The article expresses concerns about validity of this type of assessment: Are there valid and reliable measures of growth in language proficiency? Should English language scores for a school be weighted by the percentage of ELL students?
Which reforms to our testing and accountability system are most important? Here is where you can make your views known.