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?

Why Do We Send Our Kids to School?

What is the purpose of public education? Is it economic development “plain and simple”, as suggested by Florida Chamber of Commerce president Mark Wilson, in a Florida Board of Education meeting in October?  or does it serve a higher purpose?

Senator Jeff Clemens tried to start the discussion at a Senate Education Pre K- 12 committee meeting on 12/3/15 (you can watch here beginning at 36:15):

“It goes back to the debate of why we provide an education to begin with…. There’s a reason we provide an education, and we require an education, through 12th grade and it isn’t so that kids can get a job, it’s so that they become well rounded members of society.”

He went on to say that the purpose of an education was an over arching debate that he hoped the Senate Education Committee would talk about as they move forward. We are still waiting for that discussion.

Over the holidays, Fortune Magazine discussed public education with Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson, who has a much different view than Senator Clemens:

“I’m not sure public schools understand that we’re their customer—that we, the business community, are your customer. What they don’t understand is they are producing a product at the end of that high school graduation…Now is that product in a form that we, the customer, can use it? Or is it defective, and we’re not interested?”

As you can imagine, that caused quite a stir. Parents, in general, don’t like their children referred to as “defective.”

In response, Joy Pullmann suggested Mr. Tillerson spend a little time reviewing some state constitutions:

“I’ll quote the original constitution of Indiana, since I live there: “Knowledge and learning generally diffused, through a community, being essential to the preservation of a free Government, and spreading the opportunities, and advantages of education through the various parts of the Country, being highly conductive to this end, it shall be the duty of the General Assembly to provide…for the use of schools…”

This language echoes that of the Northwest Ordinance, one of the four organic laws that created the United States, which says: “Religion, morality, and knowledge, being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged.”

“Notice in both of these documents—which are echoed in nearly every state constitution—the prime reason we have a public school system in the first place is not to “provide products that business will consume,” but to preserve our unique form of free government. Americans rule themselves. That is a very difficult task. It requires a unique kind of upbringing. Our schools are supposed to aid in that difficult task.”

 

Tomorrow, Florida’s Board of Education will meet to discuss, among other things, cut-scores for the new Florida State Assessments and a new School Grade Policy. On both issues, my Florida Keys’ neighbor and Vice Chair of the Board of Education, John Padget has made his positions crystal clear. With regard to FSA cut scores, he would like to raise the passing scores “as high as possible”, suggesting my children “take the cold shower now and enable our graduates to make high wages later.” As for the School Grade formula, he has devised his own scale that would result in nearly three times as many public schools being labeled as failing.

As a parent of two public school children, I see both of these proposals as damaging to public schools. Both proposals would serve to label more students, teachers and schools as failures. Is that the goal? I wondered how anyone, particularly someone in a position to oversee our public school system, could see this was good for my (or any) children’s education.

And then I had an epiphany:

When I think of our public schools in a business sense, I imagine my children as the consumers and the product is a quality education. When I choose a school for them, I am looking for the school that will provide them a high quality, well rounded education.

On the other hand, when John Padget, Rex Tillerson and Mark Wilson think of public schools, they see my children as the product of the public school system and their future employers as the consumer.

I have news for them, my children are not products. Education means more to my family than job training… We do not send our children to school to help develop Florida’s economy; our children are sent to school to develop a love of learning, to expand their minds, to discover art, culture, history, to learn to think and problem solve, to collaborate, and to become involved active participants of our society; basically, to grow into good, solid human beings.

Do I want them to have successful lives? Of course, but I won’t measure that by their paycheck. To define a person by their job is so limiting… I want my children to do more than make a good living, I want them to have a good life… and that requires a quality education.

The next time I run into my neighbor, Mr. Padget, I hope he’ll join me for a little talk so we can discuss just that.

I’d say the conversation regarding the true purpose of education is long overdue.

Worst and Dumbest, the Sequel

Representative Eric Fresen’s (District 114, Miami) much maligned “Best and Brightest Scholarship” program, which snuck into Florida statute during last summer’s extra budget session, is back and it is apparently worse than we originally knew and it’s about to get a whole lot dumber. It is the perfect example of Accountabaloney.

The bill, which Fresen claimed he dreamed up after reading a book purchased at the airport, provided bonuses of up to $10,000 to be paid to Florida public school teachers who scored in the 80% on the ACT or SAT tests they took in high school.  Current teachers also were required to be rated “highly effective” under the state’s teacher evaluation system but new teachers (who had not yet been rated for effectiveness in the classroom) could qualify for the bonus on the basis of their exam scores alone.

In March, Fresen filed HB 5011, the bill proposing the bonus, it passed the House but died in the Senate before being heard in committee. During the special session in June, it was quietly added into the budget where it escaped Gov. Rick Scott’s veto pen.

After the bill’s passage, legislators were “shocked” to learn the budget bill they had passed included $44 million for the scholarships (link here)

“State Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, called the legislation the “worst bill of the year” and an example of how the legislative process has broken down

“The bill went through absolutely no process,” Detert said. “Never got a hearing in the Senate. We refused to hear it because it’s stupid.”

Other Senate Education Committee members, also, questioned the bill’s wisdom.  (read entire article here)

“There are a lot of questions about the implementation and the wisdom of Best and Brightest. I’ve questioned it myself,” said Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee, CEO of the Florida Association of District School Superintendents. “It is very misguided.”

The scholarship program was repeatedly criticized by teachers and education experts and ridiculed in the national media as a nonsensical way to attract and reward excellent teachers.  An editorial in the Herald Tribune suggested it be renamed “the Worst and Dumbest Idea Ever” (read it here). When you Google “Frequently Asked Questions FL Best and Brightest” you get “Where did this crazy bill come from?”

Does the program deserve the criticism?  Fresen claimed that “multiple studies indicate students learn more from teachers who achieved high SAT or ACT scores” and that such teachers should be rewarded.  According to a National Bureau of Economic Research study report, however, the only predictor of effectiveness is teaching experience; students of veteran teachers tend to have higher academic achievement.

If teaching experience is correlated with effectiveness, why were new teachers rewarded bonuses without need for evaluation beyond test scores?  Critics suggest the “Best and Brightest” was created to benefit Teach for America recruits (who have high SAT/ACT scores but limited teacher training) and charter schools. (See here and here). Fresen has ties to the Charter School Industry (he is a paid consultant for Civica, a firm associated with Academica, the charter school company employing his sister and brother-in-law). Charter schools, like the almost 100 Academica schools in Florida, employ a disproportionately high number of first year teachers, who might benefit from the Best and Brightest scholarship.

This legislative session, Rep. Fresen has brought back the Best and Brightest program, attaching it to HB 7043, with the intent of making the $44 million annual program permanent.  You can watch the House Education Committee discuss the bill here. (Fresen describes the bill at 20:00, be sure to watch Reps Gellar and Fullwood questions the rationality of it. In the end, Fullwood has to “agree to disagree” with the nonsense.) Fresen continues to insist that the scholarship program is designed to attract and retain high quality teachers.

Question for Mr. Fresen: Where is the evidence?

  • Where’s the proof that teachers were attracted by this program?
  • What proportion of teachers qualifying for this year’s bonus were new teachers?
  • How many of those teachers will go on to have a “highly effective” rating?
  • How many will continue teaching beyond the standard 2 year Teach for America contract?
  • How many will stay with teaching for 5 years, the period of time generally felt to be necessary to develop a high quality teacher?
  • Why renew a $44 million program indefinitely before there is any data available to demonstrate its effectiveness?

Does the program attract new teachers?  Will it improve teacher retention? No One Knows.

That’s where we are today: HB 7043 includes the permanent continuation of the $44 million/year worst and dumbest idea ever.  Where is the evidence that this will be an accountable use of public funds?  There is no evidence… It is, clearly, accountabaloney.

Today, the Herald Tribune reported three Sarasota School District employees have challenged the decision that they did not qualify for the Best and Brightest bonus. You can learn about them here. Here’s the catch:

Ron Meyer, a Tallahassee attorney representing two of the petitioning Sarasota educators, said the employees were required to file administrative complaints against the School Board instead of the Florida Department of Education because under the program, the district administers the scholarships.

“I regret that because the program’s illogical nature isn’t the doing of the school district,” Meyer said. “The district is somewhat hamstrung in having to interpret the statute in a manner the DOE says it needs to.”

We applaud these educators for challenging this “stupid” program.  We hope this will not be the only challenge to “the worst bill of the year.” We encourage the Florida Education Association teacher’s union to encourage further legal action.

As for Representative Fresen, by requiring districts to administer his “Worst and Dumbest” scholarship program thus avoiding any legal challenges, he perfectly demonstrates the amount of accountabaloney that permeates Florida’s education policy. Fresen is now asking legislators to make permanent his $44 million program that is based on conjecture.  If the program is challenged, it will be the districts’ duty to defend it.

It is time to demand real accountability from representatives, like Mr Fresen, for the continued irresponsible use of Florida’s limited education dollars. We urge you to contact your legislators and tell them, HB 7043, “The Best and Brightest” is the worst example of accountabaloney.  There are better ways to spend $44 million of public education funds.