SB1360: Baloney on Rye is Still Full of Baloney

On 1/20/2015, 10:32am, an addendum was published to this blog.  You can find it here.

“A Baloney Sandwich on Rye, is still full of baloney. Changing the bread doesn’t make it roast beef.”     – Sue Woltanski

Florida’s Legislature has created a massive Education Accountability system that is based on the (flawed) assumption that standardized test scores are an accurate measure of education quality.  The performance of young students on an annual test of grade level proficiency is used to evaluate teachers, administrators, schools and districts. Performance on these tests can result in retention, remediation and, possibly, failure to graduate with little or no input from classroom teachers. This test-focused system has led to a significant narrowing of curriculum with some schools being little more than test preparation factories. Florida’s test-and-punish accountability system is resulting in the destruction of the very public education system it was designed to monitor.

More than 3,000 people marched in Tallahassee last week (1/14/16), drawing attention to the failed accountability system, claiming “Enough is Enough.” The denouncement of Florida’s test-obsessed accountability system did not mean the marchers were “anti-test.” As FEA President Joanne McCall pointed out: “Teachers are not opposed to testing. Heck, we invented it.” Virtually every taxpayer believes there should be fiscal accountability in our schools, but the current system is destroying, not evaluating, our schools.

Test focused accountability is Accountabaloney.

Peter Greene wrote an excellent blog describing “The Test-Centered School” where “regardless of what its mission or vision statement may say, test results are the guiding force.” (Read it here.)

“And that ultimately is the problem with test-centered schools; the relationship between the school and the student is turned upside down. Instead of asking, “How does this help us meet the educational needs of our students,” administrators ask, “How will this affect our test scores?” In a test-centered school, the school is not there to serve the students– the students are there to meet the needs of the school. And no– there isn’t a scintilla of evidence that test prep serves student needs, nor that test results are an important indicator of their education.”

Florida’s parents will immediately find his descriptions familiar (for some Florida examples, read here and here).

Last summer, a coalition from Seminole County proposed a “solution” to Florida’s testing woes: change the test. Our inaugural blog questioned this “solution”, (read it here) suggesting that the “Sunshine Solution” ignored the bigger issue regarding how test scores are currently used, and misused, in Florida.

Senator Gaetz, who sits on the Senate Education PreK-12 Committee and chairs the Senate Education Appropriations Subcommittee, must not have read our blog because he has turned the “Sunshine Solution” into SB1360, a bill that allows districts to choose from an approved list of alternatives to the $300 million Florida State Assessment (FSA) AND to allow students passing certain exams with high enough scores to be exempt from taking other state required assessments. (You can read the entire 52 page bill here)

Senator Gaetz says he favors “choice”, not doing away with the accountability system. For the record, this bill allows districts to choose an alternative assessment to the FSA but, if the district chooses to stick with the FSA, it will NOT allow students to choose one of the alternative assessments.

“It’s not going to be what the anti-assessment people want,” Gaetz acknowledged (in this article). “This bill is not an answer to those who say. ‘let’s take down the goal posts and not measure progress at all.’ ”

For the record, we are NOT against assessment. We are against accountabaloney and SB1360 is full of it. This bill does nothing to address the USE (or better, mis-use) of standardized test scores in Florida and will only complicate, confuse and disrupt an already overly complicated system.

Under SB 1360, districts will be allowed to choose the ACT Aspire assessment in place of the current 3rd to 8th grade FSA. ACT Aspire was launched in April 2014 and is currently in use, or planned for use, for grade level testing in 6 states (info here).  The exam is computer based, but offers a pencil/paper option. Total testing time, per student, is estimated to be 4 hours (significantly less than the FSA), and includes Math, Reading, Writing and Science. As a norm-referenced test it, like the ACT and SAT, is technically not the appropriate assessment for the standards based curriculum we are trying to assess in Florida. Use of the ACT Aspire would require another Board of Education cut score process to determine passing levels in Florida. We wonder whether our senators are having second thoughts about the decision to hire AIR as the creator of the FSA, given that ACT was in the final group of vendors vying for the top assessment spot in Florida back in 2014 (when Florida dropped out of the PARCC, more here)?

Currently, passing the Algebra 1 FSA End of Course exam (EOC) is a Florida high school graduation requirement. In addition, a student’s score on the Algebra 1 EOC counts for 30% of the student’s course grade and is used to evaluate the teacher’s effectiveness, as well as the school and district’s grades. There is no reported evidence that the Algebra 1 FSA EOC has ever been shown to be fair, valid or reliable for assessing at-risk sub populations of students. Additionally, there is no evidence that the EOC has been show to be a valid assessment for the myriad of ways it is used.

Under SB1360, a student’s Algebra 1 EOC graduation requirement could be satisfied by obtaining specific score on the EOC, ACT Aspire, ACT, PSAT or SAT, OR by passing certain “rigorous” industry certifications including Associate Level Certified Electronic Technician, Cisco Certified Network Professional, FAA Ground School, FAA Aviation Mechanic Technician-Airframe, FAA Aviation Maintenance Technician-Powerplant, ComTIA A+, Global Logistics Associate, MSSC Certified Production Technician and Oracle Certified Associates: Database. What is ComTIA A+ and why is it, or FAA Ground School, an appropriate substitute for Algebra instruction? What was the purpose of adding the Algebra graduation requirement in the first place?  Do these certifications options fulfill the initial legislative intent?

Under SB 1360, students who earn appropriate scores or certifications are also exempt from having to take the EOC (worth 30% of their course grade) when enrolled in the Algebra 1 course. How will the state use EOC scores to assess teacher effectiveness or school grade when only some of the students are taking the EOC? What will happen to a class that requires some students to take an exam worth 30% of their grade while exempting others? How will it affect a student’s attentiveness and diligence in a class, when they know they have already passed the final before the course has even begun?

Additionally, SB1360 defines the Math SAT score necessary to be exempt from the Algebra 1 EOC as 420. According to the College Board, this score represents the 6th percentile, meaning 94% of students would be able to achieve this score on the SAT. Keep in mind only 77.8% of Florida’s student graduate high school and, last year, only 56% passed the Algebra 1 FSA EOC, making a SAT score of 420 hardly seem “rigorous”. (data from https://www.collegeboard.org)

Similar situations will occur for the Geometry and Algebra 2 EOC. In 2015, 53% of Geometry students passed the FSA EOC, yet the SAT score required for exemption in SB 1360 will be 450, or 10th percentile. In 2015 only 36% of Algebra 2 students passed the new, clearly flawed FSA EOC (read about it here), but the SAT score required for exemption in SB 1360 will only be 500, representing the 18th percentile. What is the point of even giving the Algebra 2 EOC if the state plans on offering an exemption to as many as 82% of the students?

Most interesting may be the US History EOC. Under SB1360, if a student scores a 1200 on the SAT (sum of Critical Reading, Writing and Mathematics scores) they are exempt from taking the U.S. History EOC. This score represents the 15th percentile, meaning 85% of students would score at or above it. Why even have a U.S. History EOC if 85% of the students would be exempt from it because of basic math, reading and writing skills? Wasn’t the intent of the U.S. History EOC to assure students had a basic knowledge of U.S. History? Apparently, that is no longer a priority.

In Florida’s test-centered schools it is easy to imagine what will happen if SB 1360 were to pass. Already students are being placed in AP courses they don’t want and, perhaps, are not interested in, to boost their high school’s grade. If SB 1360 passes, schools and districts should be anticipated to choose the assessments that are most likely to give their schools the best school grades and students will be pushed into certifications and alternate tests based not on the students interests but, rather, on what is perceived to be in the best interest of the school’s grade. Expect an increased number of low performing math students placed in industry certification programs whether they want them or not. Districts will be working furiously to ensure they offer the certifications that are easiest to pass.

Last Wednesday, the Senate Education Appropriations Committee held a workshop focused on Alternative Assessments. The details of SB 1360 were presented and committee members heard testimony from officials from testing companies (you can watch the meeting here). The overwhelming response from the participating senators was very positive. Senator Legg had concerns regarding the timeline but said “I think this is great stuff.” Senator Montford said “I guess the question then is, well, why didn’t we do this already, or why are we even questioning doing it now?”

This overwhelmingly positive response makes us wonder if these senators, who have been the major designers of Florida’s failed test-focused Accountability system, even understand how the system works. Student performance on state tests is used to promote, retain and remediate students; teacher evaluations and pay depends to a large part on student test scores, school grades and property values depend on a grading system essentially entirely based on test scores. Our accountability system depends on having a valid metric. The flawed rollout of the 2015 highlighted this: superintendents lost faith in the FSA and its administration; they complained about the State’s inability to measure learning gains; they questioned the validity of the FSA and the results of the “independent” Alpine Validity study (which only bothered to assess a narrow definition of “validity” for 6 of the 17 new FSA exams, full report here); they called for a complete review of the entire system. SB 1360 seems to address the superintendents’ concerns by saying “any test score will do, as long as it is a test score.”

Senator Gaetz summarized the 2015 FSA fiasco this way (read more here): “When all the players on the field and all the coaches on the sidelines no longer believe that the game is being called according to fair rules, it’s very, very difficult to have a meaningful experience.” It IS difficult to have any “meaningful experience”, or trust in the current accountability system but, by proposing SB 1360, Senator Gaetz proposes to keep the same unfair rules but, using his analogy, to allow each district to decide what sport they are playing! This is accountabaloney.

Florida’s Accountability system is broken. The foundation is crumbling. Superficial fixes that fail to address, or even consider, the basic structure of the system, are not useful. SB 1360, with its array of tests and exemptions, will serve only to highlight to parents and students that, in Florida, test scores are king. It will be clear that Florida schools no longer serve the needs of our students. In Florida, the students (and their test scores) will be used, only, to serve the needs of the school.

“When your foundation is shaky, you don’t keep building on top of it, you knock it down and start over.”  – Mike Rowe

It’s time for policy makers to listen to the superintendents, parents and teachers, from across the state, who can see through all the baloney and just want a sound and respected accountability system in place.  The current foundation is shaky. Is it time to knock it down and start over or will they allow it to collapse under its own weight?

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2 thoughts on “SB1360: Baloney on Rye is Still Full of Baloney

  1. Pingback: Fairtest: The Fight Against Misuse of Testing Continues | Diane Ravitch's blog

  2. Pingback: SB1360: Baloney on Rye ADDENDUM | accountabaloney

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