State got FCAT grades wrong on 213 schools
Once again, the Florida Department of Education has delivered fresh fodder to critics of the increasingly maligned Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test. Just nine days after announcing the annual grades for elementary and middle schools, Education Commissioner Gerard Robinson announced that grades were wrong for 213 schools statewide. Officials quietly notified 40 affected superintendents by phone on Friday, rather than announcing them at a media conference call as occurs when school grades are disclosed each year.That annoyed Hillsborough school board member Jack Lamb, an outspoken critic of the FCAT, who was disturbed about the way the news was disclosed. “It leaves a lot to be desired,” he said. Candy Olson, chairwoman of the Hillsborough County School Board, expressed distrust of the results and how they are assessed. “This is only what they’ve admitted to,” she said. “Because they’re so secretive, we don’t know how accurate they are.” Robinson was traveling and unable to return calls, said department spokeswoman Cheryl Etters. A notice posted on the DOE website last Friday evening said a “continuous review process” identified the incorrect scores. This was despite an independent validation by Florida State University conducted before the grades were released July 11. The notice said that between the time the school grades are first reported and the final school grades, an appeals process is completed. No other explanation was given for the errors. Although Florida teachers unions have long criticized the linking of test scores to teacher pay, others have begun speaking out against the FCAT – some from unlikely quarters.
The Florida Education Association says it looks like the state is manipulating the FCAT to get better results. FEA Vice President Joanne McCall says parents ought to be outraged over the continuing confusion and frustration caused by the FCAT. “They should be calling the commissioner. They should be calling their members of the House and Senate and they should be calling their school boards, and they should demand that things be done differently. We should scrap the system and we should get all the stakeholders that are in this together and come up with a system that is fair, accountable and accurate — and where we’re not changing it every single year. This is another example of the flawed system, and when are we going to decide that it’s flawed, put it aside and do the right thing by kids, and students, and the people who work in our public schools?”
Senator wants a time-out on statewide tests
A top lawmaker wants to call a time-out on statewide testing of Florida’s students and grading of public schools. “We’ve got teachers whose lives and students whose lives are impacted by an assessment system which is not accurate,” said Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee, vice chairman of the Senate Appropriation Education Committee. “We’ve got to stop, stop and see where we are.” This year the FCAT’s writing exam drew criticism when just 27 percent of third graders received a passing score. Teachers complained they were not informed of changes in how the test would be graded. Educators and parents also complained about several other midyear changes. Then in May, the State Board of Education adopted a rule that no school’s grade would drop more than a single letter grade this year. When last week’s grade changes were announced all 213 schools saw their grade go up. “We have overreached in Florida in terms of trying to depend on a FCAT system that is not accurate,” Montford said. “So, let’s pause, let’s see where we are and let’s get everybody at the table and fix it. “
State blinded by its devotion to school testing
The state’s devotion to standardized testing is admirable. It is also foolish, political, expensive, dangerous, maniacal, shortsighted, suspicious, self-serving, arbitrary and unfair. But, man, you got to admire the devotion. It allows officials to look past their flaws. It permits them to ignore your complaints. The state’s Department of Education is on a three-month bender, and still acts as if it is everyone else who is unable to navigate a straight line. You may recall they botched the writing portion of the FCAT in May and had to pull new standards out of thin air. Now they’ve admitted they screwed up the grades handed to more than 200 state schools, including 18 in Pinellas County and 17 in Hillsborough. And Education Commissioner Gerard Robinson was so chagrined by this that he tried to spin it as if his office had done something magical by correcting its own mistake. But that’s not the worst of it. The bigger issue is that for the past three months, the people who do the actual job of instructing our children have been crying for someone in Tallahassee to listen to them. And Robinson has acted as if he is tone deaf.
Move over, FCAT: The SCATS are here
Once again, the Florida Department of Education has fouled up on a grand scale — this time handing out the wrong grades to 213 different schools. And once again, it’s making excuses and trying to downplay the goofs. It’s quite a strategy for an agency that constantly preaches accountability … for everyone else, anyway. Think about it. The politicians and bureaucrats have no problem threatening teachers and schools with everything from their paychecks to their autonomy — all in the name of accountability. But when they mess up — repeatedly and in big ways — all that chest-thumping about holding people responsible suddenly disappears. So I’m here to help … with the SCATS (Scott’s Comprehensive Analysis of Testing Shenanigans). If you guys want accountability in the form of simplistic letter grades, now you’ve got it.
Accuracy: The level to which the state got these scores wrong is really quite impressive. We’re talking 213 schools in 40 of the state’s 67 districts. That’s one out of every 12 schools. Even more amazing, these incorrect scores were issued after the state had Florida State University “independently validate” that they were right. Go ‘Noles! SCATS grade: D.
Credibility: If I had to call 40 school superintendents and tell them that I had given their school the wrong grades, I would be embarrassed and apologetic about it. Not Florida’s education chancellor. Instead, Pam Stewart tried to spin it all as a good thing, saying, “I think we should have confidence in the fact that the process worked as it was supposed to.” That’s a scary thought. Imagine if it went poorly. SCATS grade: D.
Talking points: As silly as Stewart’s comment sounds, it was very similar to one made by Education Commissioner Gerard Robinson. According to The Lakeland Ledger, Robinson said that learning about the errors was proof that “our system review is in place and working well.” SCATS grade: A for consistency. D for believability.
Common sense: The department says it caught the mistakes in the normal “review process” that takes place after the school grades have been released. Here’s an idea: Review those things before you release them. SCATS grade: F.
Coming clean: When education bureaucrats in this state mess up, they don’t ‘fess up. Earlier this year, 73 percent of fourth-graders flunked their FCAT writing tests. This massive failure proved that Florida’s test-obsessed version of education “reform” wasn’t working. But instead of admitting as much and making changes, the state turned to grade inflation. Bureaucrats lowered the bar they had yapped so much about raising and — voilà! — everyone’s scores suddenly looked better. SCATS grade: F.
Excuses: These are just lame — like when state officials blamed all those sorry writing scores on “miscommunication,” saying the teachers didn’t really understand what was expected of them. Poor, dumb teachers. This was like one of those classic non-apology apologies: “I’m sorry if you didn’t understand what I was saying.” SCATS grade: D.
The DOE fails
In Polk visit, education chief touts progress (Marianne Capoziello quoted)
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Leon School District wants testing data behind grade revisions
Raises on the way for Bay teachers (Cindy Fowler quoted)
Manatee School District considers budget surplus (Pat Barber quoted)
School tax referendums no easy sell (Chris Altobello quoted)
School board agrees to “one-year amnesty” for teacher evaluations (Lynn Cavall quoted and FEA mentioned)
Palm Beach teachers union wants to see school board commit to raise negotiations (Brian Phillips quoted)
Palm Beach School Board to discuss budget, inspector general’s contract (CTA mentioned)
Monroe schools chief contract on the board’s agenda (Holly Hummell-Gorman quoted)
Charters and “equitable facility funding” purpose of new task force
A new state task force has been tapped to make recommendations to the Legislature on “more equitable facility funding for charter schools and schools operated by a school district.” The new panel was to have its first meeting this week, though, so far, Gov. Rick Scott has not announced his appointments to the task force. The speaker of the Florida House and the president of the Florida Senate have made their appointments to the 11-member group. The task force was created by the Legislature amid concerns by charter-school advocates that those independent but publicly financed schools have struggled, under the current system, with funding for facilities and other capital projects. But in a time when state leaders are pro-charter, and traditional schools feel they’ve been shortchanged by some state funding decisions, we’ve got the sense the new task force has made some school districts nervous. The task force makeup is set by state law. Those appointed so far include: a DOE deputy commissioner, two superintendents, two school board members, two charter school board members who operate just one school and two charter school board members who operate a system of charters.
Merit pay and “loss aversion”: Nonsense studies
Uh oh, educators, hold onto your hats! It appears that a new catchphrase is coming to school reform, and it’s called “loss aversion.” Loss aversion is a psychological finding that losing something makes us feel worse than gaining the same thing makes us feel better. A group of economists published a study two weeks ago implementing this strategy with students. They wanted to see if students would try harder on a standardized test if they knew they would get cash or some other kind of immediate prize if they improved on their results. They tried offering these rewards in a couple of different ways, but found the biggest test improvement would come if they gave the student the money ($20) or non-cash award before the test and then told them they would have to give it back if they didn’t score well. There are a number of issues with this study, including the fact that the gains do not appear to have carried over to carry over to the future and that it appears to be a relatively small number of students. The authors also appear to ignore recent studies that have shown that loss aversion can have particularly damaging effects on many people. … Yup, that’s what we should be doing — not try to figure out how to help students motivate themselves. Instead, let’s emphasize bribing students: Another ‘magical solution’ that doesn’t work. And let’s make sure we place even more of an emphasis on standardized tests while we’re at it, and make sure we re-emphasize the genuine learning must equal increased scores. This study is bad enough. But it doesn’t stop there. Last week many of these same economists issued a new study — this time analyzing the use of “loss aversion” on teachers as a form of merit pay. Since every U.S. merit pay study where a carrot has been hung in front of teachers has found that it doesn’t work and might even make things worse, some people just won’t take no for an answer. The study claims they found that if they gave teachers several thousand dollars at the beginning of the year and told them they’d have to return it if their students didn’t do well on math tests, then students did better on those tests (there was no impact on score improvement for students of teachers in the group that were offered bonuses after the test — the more typical merit page scheme). The study only included teachers from nine schools and student scores were also not tracked past one school year. I questioned what kind of positive classroom culture a “loss aversion” strategy would create with students, and I wonder what kind of effect a similar plan with teachers would have on school culture. The usual kind of teacher merit pay is bad enough but it seems to me that this kind of threatened “take-away” strategy might even be more offensive. It exemplifies what behavioral economist Dan Ariely said as part of the National Research Council report criticizing policies that ignore the fact that test scores are of limited value in determining causes of improvements in student performance. “These policies are treating humans like rats in a maze. We keep thinking about how to reorganize the cheese to get the rats to do what we want. People do so much more than that.”
Sunday dialogue: Improving our schools
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Weingarten unveils solution-driven unionism at convention
AFT President Randi Weingarten kicked off the AFT convention in Detroit today by advocating “solution-driven unionism,” a new vision of unionism that advances solutions focused on uniting union members, the people they serve and the communities in which they live. In her keynote, Weingarten said that America’s workers face a new normal — with severe budget cuts jeopardizing public education, health care and other critical services; families losing more than 30 percent of their wealth during the economic crisis; and more than 100 bills introduced in state legislatures to demonize and attack public employees and undermine public services. “This new reality — this new normal — demands an entirely new approach to unionism,” said Weingarten. “An approach that is relevant and appropriate to the 21st century. More than ever, we need to act in innovative, creative and new ways — simultaneously refuting our critics, advancing our values, connecting with community and proposing solutions. That’s solution-driven unionism. Weingarten continued, “For me, solution-driven unionism took root when I saw our members in the ABC Unified School District in Southern California commit to a unionism that focuses on solving problems, not on winning arguments. It unites those we represent and those we serve, and in so doing, it ensures that we don’t merely survive, but we succeed.” Across the country, the AFT is working with community, business and other partners on solutions that address economic and educational equality.
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Scott’s higher ed panel spends day discussing a vague vision for reforms
University funding: Cutbacks hurt Florida
Florida college must identify complaining student
FSCJ president apologizes for “casting a shadow” on college’s good work
Charitable gifts defy FSCJ Foundation’s policy
Report says recession hurts more Florida children
A new report shows Florida trailing most other states in the health and education of its children – with an especially low ranking in economic well-being. The effects are harmful and could be long-term – not just for the children but for the state, advocates say. The annual Kids Count report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation ranks Florida 44th in the economic well-being of its children, 38th in their health outcomes and 35th in their educational performance. The number of Florida children living in poverty is up 28 percent from 2005 to 2010, the last year for which data were included in the study. That measurement considers such factors as whether the parents have secure employment or the ability to cover their housing costs. Ted Granger, president of the United Way of Florida, said he wasn’t surprised by the ranking given the need local agencies are seeing. Economic instability is “having a huge and dramatic effect on children,” Granger said. “The largest group of new homeless are single parents with children. These children, whether or not homeless or in poverty, are part of a group that statistically we know have worse health care outcomes [and] lack the educational opportunities to realize their full potential.” The Kids Count Data Book is available at http://datacenter.kidscount.org. For details on Florida, visitwww.floridakidscount.org.
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New report contends state lawmakers linked to ALEC
A new report criticizes Florida lawmakers’ ties to a corporate-sponsored group that advocates for laws it says are “harming the rights and opportunities of everyday citizens.” The study by Progress Florida, Common Cause and the Center for Media and Democracy says the group — American Legislative Exchange Council — furthers its agenda by wining and dining lawmakers at resort settings. ALEC is a 501c organization so contributions to it are tax-deductible, but as a nonprofit there are limits on its political activities. One critic suggests that ALEC should lose its nonprofit status. “They clearly state they are not a lobbying organization,” said Damien Filer of Progress Florida while discussing the report Thursday. “We’ll leave that up to the IRS to look into.” ALEC is an organization made up of lawmakers from various states, businesses and corporations. It serves as a networking organization for advocates of limited government and promotes “best practices” to implement public policy. Members gather at annual meetings and collaborate on drafting legislation that lawmakers then take to their statehouses and submit as proposed legislation. The report says often the legislation provides benefits for ALEC corporate members. ALEC has been linked to Florida education, immigration and prison initiatives that have failed during the past two legislative sessions. It also supported elections initiatives that passed in Florida and several other states. Related Research: View Thursday’s report “ALEC in Florida” from Progress Florida, Florida Watch Action, People for the American Way Foundation, Common Cause, and ALEC Exposed
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