SPOILER ALERT: You will not find a lot of reason or common sense.
Parents and taxpayers agree there should be accountability in our school system, but the current test-and-punish accountability system is Accountabaloney; policies put in place are destroying, not evaluating, our schools.
Here, in list form, are the basic ingredients we have discovered in #accountabaloney. We plan to expand on individual accountabaloney ingredients in upcoming blogs.
The primary stated purpose of Florida’s student assessment program is “to provide student academic achievement and learning gains data to students, parents, teachers, school administrators and school district staff.” How well do they achieve that goal?
- Much of the school year revolves around preparing for state assessments that will only be validated after the students have taken them, if ever. Learn more here.
- During the Summer of 2015, Alpine Testing Solutions was hired to provide an independent validity assessment of the new FSA tests before the scores could be used. The report only evaluated 5 of 14 grade level tests (grades 3, 6 and 10 ELA and grades 4 and 7 Math) and one of three new math EOCs (algebra 1). This leaves 9 of 14 grade level assessments and two new math EOC unvalidated. Read the Alpine Report here.
- Ordinarily, FCAT/FSA results arrive at or after the end of the school year. There is no feedback to students as to what they missed, no time for teachers to correct deficiencies in the school year. These tests DO NOT inform instruction.
- FCAT/FSA is NOT nationally normed, so results provide parents little information on how their child might perform at a national level. Also, the state test primarily assesses grade level proficiency so performance on the FSA/FCAT not helpful in assessing student performing significantly above or below grade level.
- Achievement levels change annually, making it nearly impossible for the average parent to understand year-to-year variations in their student’s scores.
- Achievement levels on the FCAT/FSA are determined by a politically motivated “cut score” process and may have little relationship to developmentally appropriate achievement levels at each grade level. For example, the score required to pass the 3rd grade Reading (ELA) FSA was not determined by assessing what performance would reflect whether a child was reading at grade level prior to administering the exam, but rather by evaluating how students performed on the exam after it was administered.
- The “cut score” process is politicized to the extent that, for the last week, The Foundation for Florida’s Future, a highly influential, non-profit education reform advocacy group which promotes the expansion of vouchers and the privatization of public schools, has been nearly constantly advertising on social media, encouraging citizens to contact the Florida DOE and influence the cut score process. Specifically, the Foundation wants the cut scores raised, increasing the required passing scores which will result in dramatic increases in the number of children who will fail the state tests. Conveniently, high failure rates for students on state testing will lead to even worse school grades, further supporting the Foundation’s assertion that schools are failing and, therefore, need to be privatized. Read about it here.
- The state assessment is a criterion-based test, designed to test how well the specific state standards were taught/learned in each grade. Since the standards vary by grade level, one should question how performance in sequential years actually measures learning gains.
The A-F grading system
- Central to Florida’s Education Reform agenda was the institution of the A-F School Grade program. Presumably, school grades are calculated so parents and taxpayers can learn how their schools are “doing”. Property values are highly influenced by the local school’s grade. Do these grades reflect what actually constitutes a quality education?
- By and large, parents do not choose their child’s school based on the “learning gains of the lowest quartile.” According to the August 2015 Phi Delta Kappa International poll, the factors most important to a parent’s school choice include quality of teaching staff, curriculum, student discipline, class size, variety of extra curricular activities, school reputations, proximity to home and school size. None of these things are reflected in Florida’s A-F grades yet, according to decision makers, are all more important to parents than student test scores. Read the PDKI poll here.
- Florida’s current school grade calculation is based almost exclusively on test scores in grade level FSA Math and Language Arts and, 5th and 8th grade FCAT Science. Learning gains on Math and ELA FSA are also calculated and represent half of the school’s grade. High Schools score points for graduation rates and student performance of college readiness exams.
- Because 2015 was the first administration of the FSA, learning gains cannot be calculated this year, leaving half of the school grading calculation without data. Despite calls from Florida’s Superintendents to hold school grades, the DOE is “moving forward” towards issuing school grades based on only half of the grading formula.
- Extra points are given to Middle Schools who place more students in Advanced Math classes (Algebra or Geometry) and High Schools who place more students in AP, IB, AICE, Industry Certifications and Dual Enrollment courses. Middle Schools and High Schools can also score points if students pass advance course exams, like Math EOCs or AP tests, respectively. This has lead to more students being placed in advanced classes, whether they are prepared or not, sometimes against their will and even against parents’ wishes. In Monroe County, school administrators are paid bonuses to place students in certain AP classes and teachers and students are paid bonuses when students pass the class. In Orange County, middle school students in Honors Math classes found themselves also enrolled in Remedial Math, to allow extra test preparation for the EOC. Learn about School Grade calculations here.
- Test scores reflect little more than socioeconomic status. Researchers have been able to predict school grades based on US census data alone. Chris Tienken and colleagues “predicted the percentage of students at the district and school levels who score proficient or above on their state’s mandated standardized tests, without using any school-specific information” making the need for testing obsolete! For more information, click here.
Costs of Accountabaloney
- State Assessment data is to be used by the public to assess the cost benefit of the expenditure of taxpayer dollars.
- Recent estimates by teachers, suggest that at least 25% of the school year is spent in test preparation and test administration.
- Parents question whether test prep, which pushes out more creative and authentic learning experiences, represents a “free and appropriate education.”
- The costs of testing and test preparation have increased exponentially yet have demonstrated little positive impact on measures of nationally respected academic achievement (SAT and ACT scores have barely budged during the last 15 years of reform and remain below the national average). For more information on the decrease of SAT scores, click here. For more information on ACT scores, click here
- Test developers, like AIR, have been paid massive amounts of money to develop tests without documented validity or reliability. The state’s contract with AIR required validity testing to be done by the test developer. Commissioner Stewart reported, in March 2015, that the FSA was field tested in Utah and its validity confirmed at that time. Copies of the Utah Field test/validity report have been requested by the Florida Senate but, to date, are not available.
- Follow the Money: The cost of this year’s FSA test is about $40 per student every time they take it. There is a financial incentive for test developers to fail students requiring retakes. The same companies that make the tests help set the pass/fail rate, create the test prep and remediation programs and publish the curriculum.
- Large amounts of taxpayer dollars are spent on the technology required for administration of computer based testing. Computer centers created to be used for state mandated testing are, for significant portions of the year, inaccessible to students, including those enrolled in computer science courses. Taxpayers should question whether funding computer labs for the purpose of testing and test preparation, rather than computer education, is an appropriate use of tax dollars.
- The indirect costs of test focused education are enormous and should also be considered when calculating the appropriate use of taxpayer dollars: lost instructional time, narrowed curriculum, misuse of resources, time spent in test prep, etc. etc.
- Quality Preschool and Testing Preschoolers: Play based preschools have lasting benefits when compared to academic preschools, yet the state requires frequent academic assessments in VPK and requires administration of FLCKRS/Kindergarten readiness, which has the primary purpose of rating VPK programs, and is more likely to reward academic preschools. For more information on the psychological harm done to our youngest learners, please click here. For more information on the decline of play, please click here.
Testing our youngest learners:
- Current Florida standards require children learn to read in kindergarten, even though this has been shown to be developmentally inappropriate for many kindergarten aged students and can cause lasting harm for those students. For more info, click here.
- In order to provide more time for test preparation, many schools across the state have eliminated or curtailed recess, music and art, all known to be critical to early childhood development. For more Info, click here.
- HB7069 Removed the requirement that each elementary school regularly assess the reading ability of each K‐3 student but still requires districts “to establish a student progression plan that emphasizes reading proficiency in K‐3 and progression based on mastery of the standards “. Though there is no requirement that determination of reading proficiency must be by standardized assessment, when combined with the state’s requirement to evaluate teacher’s based on objective student data, this often results in the administration of multiple standardized assessments throughout the K-2 school years, often computer based, even though such standardized tests in children so young have been demonstrated to be un-valid, unreliable and developmentally inappropriate. For more info, click here.
3rd grade retention
- Florida mandates passing the 3rd grade state reading assessment before promotion to 4th grade, even though the preponderance of the evidence show that grade level retention (at any grade level) causes lasting harm to children, decreasing their likelihood of graduating high school by 60% each time they are retained. In Florida, mandatory 3rd grade retention has lead to an increased number of student retention at grade levels leading up to and including 3rd grade. Low income children and children of color are disproportionately affected by these retention practices. Education research provides multiple examples of effective interventions for struggling readers who do not require retention to be successful. For more information on the impact of retention, click here.
- Florida loves to celebrate their nation leading 4th grade NAEP scores, which should be considered a direct reflection of the high number of 3rd grade retentions in the state. When you retain the worst readers in 3rd grade, you should expect reading scores in 4th grade to rise, as been demonstrated in other states when similar mandatory 3rd grade retention policies have been enacted.
- Students with low ELA test scores are placed in Intensive reading interventions, which in many if not most situations involves assigning students to a state approved computer reading program, often remaining on the same or similar programs for years in a row whether the program is helping or not. Districts appear to place students in these classes to provide additional test prep to students they fear will perform poorly on the state assessment. Read about IR here.
- Across the State, Honors students and those in Advanced Placement literature classes, are simultaneously placed in Intensive Reading Classes. One should question how having “Intensive Reading” on a college bound student’s transcript affects their admissions chances at competitive universities. Watch here.
- Passing the Algebra 1 End Of Course exam is required for high school graduation even if a student passed his Algebra 1 class and went on to take and pass advanced math classes. A student who passed high school Calculus still requires a passing score on the Algebra 1 EOC to graduate.
- Passing the 10th grade reading FSA/FCAT is required for high school graduation even if a child passed Advance Placement Literature exams.
State Mandated End Of Course Exams
- The state requires participation in state-developed End of Course exams in Civics, US History, Biology, Algebra 1, Geometry and Algebra 2. In each case, the test is mandated to be worth 30% of the student’s course grade, and may have a significant impact of a students resulting GPA. Teachers are not allowed to view the tests questions and students and parents cannot review the student’s performance following the test.
- While all students must take these assessments, districts have tremendous leeway in the interpretation of the leveled test scores (i.e. 1 through 5) and their application to the final course grade. While all districts must calculate the score as 30% of the final grade, the numerical score assigned to individual performance level varies by county… in some districts a level “3” might be worth a B+, in other districts the same level three might be worth a low B or C. Given that the mandated 30% weight can significantly affect a students final grade, students with similar performance in their class and on the EOC may have significantly different course grades due to their geographic location. A district with a more “punitive” calculation of EOC scores could significantly impact a child’s high school GPA, when compared to a child from a neighboring district with a more realistic calculation of EOC scores.
- In 2011, in order to qualify Race to the Top Federal Funding, Governor Scott signed SB736 which required tying teacher pay to test scores., even though studies show that more than 80% of the variation in a student’s tests score is NOT dependent on teacher performance, but rather on circumstances outside the teacher and the school control. more here.
- The need for objective test scores for teacher evaluation has led to routine progress monitoring of all students in many districts, even though the state only requires such monitoring for certain struggling students.
Accountability is not uniform across different types of schools: The rules and requirements of testing and accountability vary between types of schools: Traditional Public, Magnets, Charters, Vouchers, Private, Virtual, Duel Enrollments and homeschool, all have varying degrees of test score based accountability.
- State funded voucher students are required to take some sort of state approved annual assessment, yet need not take the FSA/FCAT/EOC to receive credit for courses, be promoted or graduate.
- Public school students must pass the Algebra 1 EOC for graduation but, publicly funded voucher students can graduate without fulfilling this requirement.
Impact of state testing on Special Needs Students
- The developmental age of a child is largely now ignored, even with the support from an Individualized Educational Plan (IEP) in place. The focus, even for the most disabled children, is on grade level proficiency. One size does not fit all and this is especially true of special needs children. These children encounter a spectrum of difficulties; children with physical disabilities, like spina bifida or cerebral palsy, require a very different set of accommodations from an autistic child, for example, yet they are all held to the same standard.
- Accommodations are not the almighty fix. IEPs are supposed to be individualized and should serve to put in place whatever supports are necessary for that child to succeed. Success should be measured very differently from child to child. You cannot even compare a high functioning autistic child with a child that is lower on the autistic spectrum. The reality is that due to budget cuts, may services/accommodations are not provided or limited. The notion that accommodations alone can solve the issue of a child meeting grade level proficiency is ridiculous.
- Recent policies from the USDOE defy all common sense and reason, suggesting that all special needs children should be held to the same grade level proficiency standards as their able bodied/minded peers and that the new tests are valid for ALL students with ALL learning needs. Following these policies, only 6% of New York’s special needs children passed their state’s assessment last year. Florida should expect similar results for our most vulnerable children.
For more information on the current policy implemented for SPED students and the enormous impact on this population, please click here. Or here.
- Florida law requires families of significantly impaired or terminally ill children to petition the state for a waiver from these tests, which may or may not be granted. Nobody is exempt from state testing because, as Jeb Bush said, “I think if you don’t measure, you don’t really care.” Bush goes on to say, “I think you have to assess where students are.” I guess ignoring a child’s developmental level/age is not part of his equation. He expects that all children must meet grade level proficiency against all the odds (as long as you have accommodations!)
Congratulations. You have reached the end of our long and scary ingredient list. If you encounter more #accountabaloney ingredients, and we are certain there are more to be discovered, please share with us in the comments and we will add them to our list.
Accountabaloney cannot be cured by changing from one standardized test to another. We must change the way the test scores are used to create a high quality and just education system. We will be exploring alternatives to test-and-punish accountabaloney in upcoming posts. The first step towards the cure for #accountabaloney is recognizing the extent of the problem.