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It is time for Florida to focus on teaching, not testing

October 21, 2015
By PAMELA S. GOODMAN , Lehigh Acres Citizen

Florida's accountability system is broken. Due to its hasty construction, a third of the questions for third-grade reading are not directly aligned to the standards they are supposed to measure. A lapse in the test construction process, moreover, failed to tie the complexity of the test questions to the proficiency levels being assessed. This FSA is not criterion referenced, according to the Alpine validity study. It does not tell students what they know and can do. The new Florida Standards Assessment yields test scores that have no meaning.

Test scores have consequences. Students are placed in remediation. Teachers' salaries are impacted. Schools are labeled. Florida continuously patches its broken system. The Department of Education has had to recalculate many times over the years. The list is long:

- 2012: The DOE set unrealistic passing standards in the FCAT writing test. Passing rates for tenth-graders plunged from 75 percent to 38 percent. The State Board of Education held an emergency meeting to change the passing standard.

- 2013: School grade calculation was changed. A letter grade drop protection was enacted due to implementation of Common Core. The percentage of students required to test was reduced from 90 percent to 80 percent.

- 2013: A lawsuit was filed over teacher evaluations using scores of students they did not teach.

- 2014: School grade calculations were deemed too complicated. Schools could have different grades despite having the same number of points. The formula was changed again.

- 2014: SB 736 revamps teacher pay based on performance of students using bonus incentives. The Gates Foundation repudiates bonus pay system it funded in Hillsborough County stating bonus pay was ineffective in improving achievement.

- 2015: The Value added Model achievement measure was declared invalid by American Statistical Association. Teachers could be rated very high one year and low the next. The Florida legislature lowered VAM scores from 50 percent to a third of a teacher's evaluation.

- 2015: The legislature limited testing time, but it retained the requirements that teachers be evaluated on test scores. Thus, very little testing time can be reduced.

- 2015: Teachers who had high ACT/SAT scores were given bonuses but were not required to help struggling schools. The plan simply increases inequity among schools.

Florida has high standards, but achievement is stagnant according to 2014 NAEP results. The reasons are obvious. Florida's accountability system assumes more can be derived from less. It divides resources among separate public, charter and private schools thus ensuring that no sector is adequately funded. It attempts to make educators "try harder" by punitive measures that reward schools with students from higher income families at the expense of schools in lower income areas.

Florida's accountability system is creating more problems than it solves. Funding should be redirected to factors that impact achievement like: improving attendance, discipline policies and teacher training in struggling schools. The road we are currently on leads nowhere. It is time to stop and reconsider.

Pamela S. Goodman is president of the League of Women Voters of Florida.

 
 

 

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