SB1360: Questions for Senator Gaetz

Somewhere in Florida, Spring 2017:

Anne is a student at school “A”, a perpetually “A” rated school in a relatively wealthy neighborhood in a high performing district.  Her district chose the new SAT for their annual assessment and she scored a respectable 1270, including a 670 in Critical Reading and Writing  and a 600 in Math.  With those scores, she satisfies both the 10th grade ELA (formerly the 10 grade reading FCAT) and the Algebra 1 EOC graduation requirements AND she is exempt from taking the state mandated End of Course exams (EOCs) in Algebra 1, Geometry, Algebra 2, U.S. History and Biology 1.  When she takes those classes, her course grades are determined by her teacher based on her class performance during the school year. She is delighted with the reduced number of state mandated tests she is required to take because it will allow her to focus on her Advanced Placement exams.

Carol attends school “C”, in a less affluent neighborhood in the same district.  She scores a 1170 on her SAT (770 Critical Reading and Math, 400 Math).  Her near perfect 770 in Reading satisfies the State’s 10th grade ELA graduation requirement but her Math and combined scores mean that she will be required to take the state mandated EOCs in Algebra 1, Geometry, Algebra 2, U.S. History and Biology 1.  For each course, her performance on the state mandated EOC will be worth 30% of her course grade. For Carol, little has changed in the amount of testing and she is envious of the students in her class who are not required to take the state EOCs. She will have little time to focus on the AP literature classes that she loves.

Frank is a student in the same district. He has always struggles with math but he is an amazing artist and a creative writer. He dreams of a career as an illustrator or graphic artist. Because of his school’s concerns regarding his ability to pass the Algebra 1 EOC, he is placed in an Oracle Database certification course, instead of his desired Art electives, with the hopes that he can meet the high school graduation requirements that way.

Does this sound like a fair and appropriate system to you? These scenarios are not far fetched, they are based on the details in the proposed legislation in Florida’s SB1360, commonly known as the Seminole Solution.

This, in essence, is the accountability system that  SB 1360, as currently written, describes: It allows students who obtain high enough math and reading scores on a nationally normed assessment, to be exempt from U.S. History and Biology state mandated End of Course exams (EOCs). It allows students who complete FAA Ground School or obtain an Oracle Database certification to be exempt from the high school graduation requirement to pass the Algebra 1 EOC. Fourteen pages of SB1360 (between pages 7 and 21) are devoted to describing the many options for exemptions from state required assessments.

SB1360 is NOT a simple substitution of a nationally normed assessment for the flawed Florida State Assessment (FSA).

SB1360 is, also, NOT a bill that allows parental choice in assessments. It’s the districts choice.  Parents are ONLY allowed to choose if their district chooses an alternate assessment and the parents prefer the FSA. In districts that choose the FSA, parents are given NO choice.

According to Senator Gaetz, he believes this bill will save “the infrastructure of accountability” in Florida’s education system. We are more skeptical.

We appreciate the attempts to minimize duplicative testing and to shorten the “testing season” with a pencil/paper option. We would have understood if, after the disastrous rollout of the FSA, a decision had been made to move to a different testing system (like, perhaps, the ACT system which provides grade level testing through college readiness exams). We are not asking for the complete elimination of testing (which is, of course, required by federal law) but would like the state to move towards a system involving appropriate use of test data, implemented fairly for all students and schools. In that regard, SB1360 is a giant step in the wrong direction.

SB1360 passed through the Senate Education PreK-12 committee (watch it here) with barely a discussion, other than to declare how great it was. In his close on the bill (at 1:23), Gaetz states “if there are things about the bill that are a bit rough, that blame belongs with me”, adding that, if the bill moved forward, they would keep working on it to make it better.

We hope Senator Gaetz was being genuine and is planning to make this bill better. As always, “the devil is in the details.” We hope these questions will guide that process:

Scoring:

  • Are the score reports from the SAT, ACT, and PSAT detailed enough to inform instruction? Can educators use the reported data from these tests to make necessary instructional improvements?
  • Is there an alignment study between ACT Aspire, ACT, SAT, PSAT and FSA that demonstrates these assessments can be used interchangeably? How can scores on different tests be used to fairly rank schools and districts or to measure annual learning gains?
  • When a school administers the SAT or ACT to all its students as a part of our Accountability system, who controls those scores? Are they released directly to the students or will they go to the state for review before being released to the public?
  • If a student scores a 1200 (75% tile) on the new SAT (which is composed of Critical Reading, Writing and Math) they are exempt from both the U.S. History and the Biology state mandated EOC (page 11). Why do scores on unrelated standardized tests exempt students from History and Science EOCs? Again, these EOCs are mandated to be 30% of a student’s grade. Is it fair to the remainder of the students in the class that these students are exempt from the EOC without demonstrating any proficiency in course content?

State mandated End of Course exams:

  • Students who score high enough on an alternate assessment are exempt from taking certain state mandated EOCs. Pages 7-12 of the bill outline the scores necessary on the ACT, ACT Aspire, PSAT and ACT to satisfy the requirements for the state mandated EOCs (Algebra 1, 2, Geometry, Biology and U.S. History). Why are there no comparable FSA scores to allow EOC exemption? In a fair system, all students should have the opportunity for EOC exemptions.
  • How is the requirement that state mandated EOCs are worth 30% of a students course grade fair, when some students are exempted from the EOC completely? How will exempted students’ course grades be calculated? Will this have an unfair affect on GPA calculation for students across the state?
  • If the top test takers are now exempt from taking the state mandated EOCs, what impact will that have on the passing rates of the EOCs? One would predict that if the top 25-50% of test takers were eliminated, and the remaining cohort performed similarly to previous years, then the apparent failure rates will skyrocket (the number of students failing would remain relatively constant but the denominator- the number of students taking the exam- would be dramatically smaller). How will this affect perceived achievement gaps? Will cut scores be adjusted downward to mitigate this? How will that affect the “rigor” of these classes?
  • If the top 25% or more of students are exempted from the Math EOCs because of concordant scores, how will middle school grades be calculated- which depend on performance in Algebra and Geometry EOCs?
  • How are learning gains calculated in a class where only some of the students take the EOC?

Validity:

  • Are the scores referenced in the bill from the old SAT or the new SAT? (Old SAT max score was 2400, new SAT (yet to be administered) max score will be 1600.) We believe this should be clarified in the bill.
  • Has the new SAT been validated? Has it been evaluated for fairness, reliability and validity for Florida’s vulnerable subpopulations of students: ESE, ELL, low income? We believe the answer to this is “not yet.”
  • Why are we considering the use of the new SAT, which has never been given before and has questions regarding its validity? Could this lead to the FSA fiasco all over again, for districts choosing the SAT?
  • Currently, ESE students can receive accommodations during the FSA administration. Are accommodations allowed for the SAT, PSAT, ACT or ACT Aspire? If accommodations are provided for the SAT and ACT, will the resulting scores be usable for college admission? Will a student allowed accommodations on the PSAT be eligible for a National Merit Scholarship?

School grades:

  • How will learning gains be calculated if the administered test changes from year to year in districts?
  • Passage rates on the Biology EOC and the US History EOC are components of the High School Grading Formula. How will this be impacted by student exemptions?
  • How can you honestly and fairly compare middle school based on their advanced math scores when one school might have all students taking the Algebra 1 EOC, another might have mostly students exempt from the EOC based on ACT Aspire scores, and a third might have all their students take the FAA Ground School Industry Certification, avoiding teaching Algebra in that school all together?

VAM – Teacher Evaluations:

  • How will VAM be calculated for teachers when only some of the students in the class are required to take the EOC and the rest are exempt due to a test score they achieved before enrolling in the class?

Parental Choice:

  • In SB1360, if a school district chooses to use an alternate assessment (PSAT, ACT, etc), a parent can elect for their child to take the FSA, instead (keep in mind, there is no other reason to administer the FSA, except for annual testing).  However, if a school district chooses to stick with the FSA, parents are NOT allowed to choose an alternate assessment to satisfy their child’s annual testing requirement (even though every school district will still be administering the ACT, PSAT and SAT). Why not allow parents to choose an alternate assessment?

Exemptions:

  • If SAT and ACT scores have been shown to correlate strongly with socioeconomic level, won’t this system of exempting students with high test scores from multiple other tests, only minimize testing, on average, for more advantaged students and schools?
  • Why doesn’t passing an AP literature exam count as an exemption for the 10th grade ELA graduation requirement?

Funding:

  • How can the transition from primarily FSA/AIR created tests to the use of FSA, ACT Aspire, ACT, PSAT and SAT, with the number of counties choosing any one test varying every year, be a budget neutral endeavor?
  • Currently, schools receive an extra stipend for students enrolled in AP courses. If a student gains credit for taking an AP course just by passing the AP exam, does the school receive the AP stipend? If a student passes the AP exam without taking the associated course, is their AP exam score calculated into their high school’s school grade?
  • Has there been any consideration to having a three-year pause in the repercussions of our Accountability system (including funding implications), while we transition to this more complicated plan?

Alignment to new ESEA law:

  • We have heard there are 6 other states which use ACT Aspire for their annual testing. Do any of those states assess their 3-8th graders with two different tests?
  • Are there any states which use a smorgasbord of assessments for their annual assessment of high school students?
  • Can federal testing requirements to annually assess every student in math and reading be fulfilled by scores from multiple different tests administered in the same year?

As you can see, we have found quite a few things about this bill that seem “a little bit rough.” If Senator Gaetz is serious about wanting to make this bill better, he has his work cut out for him.

At Accountabaloney, we are not against testing; we want appropriate tests used appropriately.  We want an accountability system that can be trusted. SB1360, though well intentioned, will cause chaos in the current, already shaky, accountability system.  Districts will scramble to choose the testing scheme they predict will result in the highest school grades.  The DOE will be overwhelmed with the requirements that they determine comparable scores between a myriad of tests, set cut scores on nationally normed assessments, negotiate/renegotiate contracts with 3 different testing companies that must ultimately be “budget neutral” and develop a system to collect, monitor and compare test data from multiple sources.  And, perhaps most concerning, high performing schools, where many students will be exempt from state mandated EOCs, will see a decrease in testing, but less advantaged schools, where fewer students will reach the threshold for EOC exemption, will see little or no reduction in testing. Is that fair and/or appropriate?

We hope Senator Gaetz and his team can address these issues. As written, this bill will not shore up the accountability infrastructure but will serve to make a shaky foundation even more unstable.

Get out your hard hats.  Watch for falling debris.

SB1360: Baloney on Rye ADDENDUM

This is an addendum to our previous blog, “SB1360: Baloney on Rye is Still Full of Baloney” :

It has been brought to our attention that it is unclear whether the SAT score targets described in SB 1360 reflect scores from the current SAT or from the “newly designed” SAT, which will debut later this year (info here and here). The redesigned SAT will have a maximum score of 1600, compared to the current SAT maximum score of 2400. Since the exam is yet to be administered, the percentile ranking of scores on the new SAT can only be predicted. It is estimated that a score of 1200 (that required to be exempt from Florida’s U.S. History EOC) will be closer to the 75th percentile on the new SAT (not the 15% we stated in our blog).

Additional comparisons with SB1360’s target scores for the ACT, suggest that exemptions for Algebra 1, Geometry and Algebra 2 EOCs may be closer to the 50th to 75th percentiles, respectively. So, SB1360’s required scores may be more “rigorous” than we first thought, but will they be appropriate? It turns out neither the old nor the new the SAT assess math skills beyond basic geometry. Why are we allowing scores on an assessment that does not test beyond basic geometry to exempt students from their Algebra 2 EOC, which covers up to Trigonometry concepts? We hope the Senate Education committees will address this.

Since there are dramatic differences between the performance level associated with the same reported score, we feel SB1360 needs to define exactly which SAT exam (old or new) it is referring to. We also question why Florida would put into statute target scores from an exam that is yet to be administered (even if it does have the same name)? Are Florida students expected to field test the new SAT and then have those scores used for accountability purposes? Remember how well that worked out for the 2015 FSA?

Also, there are significant concerns regarding the math portions of the newly designed SAT, especially for low income and English language learner (more here). The new format of math questions will require higher level verbal and reasoning skills and is predicted to put English language learners and low income children at a significant disadvantage. Given the ever increasing population of low income, English language learner, and immigrant students in our public schools (Miami Dade is currently expecting ~8,000 new immigrant students this school year), why is Florida choosing an exam that would put those students, their schools and districts, at a distinct disadvantage. How is that a fair accountability assessment?

Our initial blog may have underestimated the “rigor” of SB1360’s target scores. If they represent scores from the new SAT, they may be more “rigorous” than we thought. Does this make us feel any better about this bill?

No.

Reviewing the new SAT only raises more questions about the fairness of an accountability system that uses these scores as metrics and in this manner. Students with high standardized test scores (even in subjects unrelated to the course they are taking) will be exempt from taking final exams/EOCs. Students with lower standardized test scores (many who will be immigrants, disadvantaged and/or english language learners), will not only be required to take the exams, but they will be worth 30% of their course grades and (for Algebra 1) passing will be required for graduation. “Smart kids” (often wealthier, white students) will no longer need to take the U.S. History or other state EOCs. They will be exempt from the Algebra 2 EOC based on scores that don’t test the course content; their course grades will reflect their classroom performance and will not suffer from poor performance on the EOC. It appears that students and schools with high test scores (like Seminole County, which has been lobbying hard for this bill, originally calling it the “Seminole Solution”) will require significantly less testing than their less advantaged counterparts.

This does not describe a fair, equitable, uniform education system. This describes the misuse of standardized test scores.

This will not “fix” anything.

This is Accountabaloney.

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?