Right now, Florida’s current accountability system in education is holding on by a lifeline. We all want a system that is fair and equitable and most of all, based on sound and validated research. Contrary to reports, even parents who are stepping up and refusing the current FSA test believe this.
Trust in the system is integral to any accountability system. In order for accountability to work there must be trust in the system and, more importantly, trust in the results. It appears those in Tallahassee are either not understanding how volatile things are right now or they just don’t care. Either way, Florida’s education system is in trouble. Parents and educators are being asked to trust the system, a system that can result in severe consequences. Trust? Seriously? As every parent and child knows, you can’t just ask for trust, it must be earned.
Going into the 2015 testing season, so many red flags were raised. Superintendents and educational organizations, such as the FEA, FSBA and PTA, from across the state called for a pause in calculation of school grades. They requested a pause in the use of test scores in teacher evaluations. During all of this, rarely did we hear someone advocating for a pause in student consequences.
Today, parents and educators are still fighting against the use of the 2015 FSA scores, yet students have already been retained, have been placed in increasing numbers of remedial classes and have already sat for EOC retakes, even before cut scores for those exams have been determined. Students have already felt the all too real consequences of the new state assessment, an assessment where real validity concerns remain.
When the validity of an assessment is in question, something more than a politically motivated response should occur. Whatever the 186 page Alpine Validity Report said, it did not declare that every aspect of every new FSA assessment was valid. Florida Commissioner of Education, Pam Stewart, admitted that the official response to the validity report was written after reading only the 18 page Executive Summary. For $600,000, we expected the DOE to respond to more than the Cliffs Notes version.
Most egregious, perhaps, is the State’s unwavering validity assertion of the Algebra 2 FSA EOC, which could not have been field tested in Utah because Utah does not test Algebra 2 standards, was completely ignored by the Alpine Study in the interests of time and has results that are complete outliers with nearly half of students failing including 85% of African-American students. The response of the DOE during the recent Keep Florida Learning meeting? The teachers must not have taught the standards… Every teacher, in every district… failed to teach the Algebra 2 standards… Yeah, right. Parents aren’t buying that. Maybe there is a problem with the test, or even the standards themselves…
Attempts to lobby the Governor to pause the use of 2015 FSA scores have been met with a stern “No.” Senate Education committee members inform us “the 2015 FSA is now in the rear view mirror in the Legislature.” Keep Florida Learning Committee members learned there is no evidence that it is even possible to teach all the Florida Standards in a year, yet the DOE insists it is full-steam ahead to next spring’s FSA administration. Superintendents are upset that their school and district grades may be miscalculated, but many have already released individual student scores; scores that will suggest to many students that they are failures. Releasing scores from a flawed assessment does not inspire confidence in a system.
For these and countless other reasons, we have lost trust in those in Tallahassee and for many, even of our own districts. We see decisions made to satisfy accountability mandates and not in the best interests of our children. We see common sense being ignored in pursuit of political ideology. Our children should not be used as pawns in a political game. Is it any wonder why parents are banding together to protect their children from the consequences of this system? If there is one thing Tallahassee needs to learn, it’s that you don’t mess with our kids. PERIOD.
Our expectations are simple. We ask that the state exercise prudence anytime they make policies that directly affect our children. Pilot studies can evaluate the impact of programs prior to initiation across the state. Laws should not be passed if the consequences and long-term ramifications of the law are not fully understood and hold severe and devastating consequences. In the case of laws that have been passed, if that law holds unintended consequences that are devastating to kids, teachers or schools, then urgency is required to remedy the legislation and situation. This, frankly, is where we are at today. It is time to re-evaluate the accountability system and repeal the portions with the most devastating impacts.
A Utah Clinical Psychologist once said that agendas were ruling over ethics and he was completely right. The grassroots pushback is strong because of the weakness in the system and because the focus of the educational system should have been about our children. It is not. It’s about sustaining, further enriching, and building the accountability system.
The evidence of issues and flaws in the current system are clear and present, yet those in Tallahassee are ignoring the severity of the issues. That just further ignites passions to fight against this system. Trust is at the core of the issue. We need an honest accounting of the successes and failures of our current system. If Tallahassee wants parents’ support, then they need to start standing up for our children. Earn back our trust. That is how you BEGIN to fix the accountability system.