Archives for category: Florida

Florida had widespread problems with its FCAT, delivered–or not–by Pearson. Pam Stewart promised to seek damages from Pearson. Remember the bad old days when teachers tested students, graded the tests, and students got immediate feedback. Now state officials trust Pearson more than teachers. Who peddled the idea that all testing should be done online?

Here is a report from FairTest:

National Center for Fair & Open Testing
for further information:
Bob Schaeffer (239) 395-6773
cell (239) 699-0468
for immediate release, Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Today’s technical problems, which disrupted computerized testing in many Florida districts, are far from unusual. Many other states have experienced similar failures, according to the National Center for Fair & Open Testing (FairTest), which monitors standardized exams across the country.
Earlier this month, the statewide testing systems in Kansas and Oklahoma both crashed. Last year, technical problems disrupted computerized exams in Indiana, Kentucky, Minnesota, Ohio and Oklahoma. In the recent past, new, automated testing programs collapsed in Oregon and Wyoming, requiring administration of replacement, pencil-and-paper versions.
After root cause investigations, both Wyoming and Oklahoma levied multi-million dollar fines against Pearson, the same testing vendor Florida uses. Wyoming labeled the company in “complete default of the contract” and replaced it. Oklahoma let its contract with Pearson expire.
American Institutes of Research, the company that takes over testing in Florida next year was responsible for computer exam problems in Minnesota in 2013. The firm’s contract was not renewed.
“The reason for so many screw-ups is simple,” explained FairTest Public Education Director Bob Schaeffer. “The technology supporting statewide computerized testing is not ready for prime time.”
Schaeffer continued, “Like many other testing policies, politicians imposed new requirements before systems had been thoroughly developed and beta-tested. There are at least three separate problems. Many schools lack the up-to-date computer equipment and other infrastructure needed to mass administer tests. Large numbers of districts do not have the internet bandwidth to handle the volume. Some testing company servers do not have the capacity the meet the surge of demand from multiple locations logging on simultaneously.”
FairTest supports Florida school superintendents and communities seeking a multi-year moratorium on attaching consequences to the state’s new tests. Schaeffer has lived full-time in southwest Florida for almost 15 years.
- – 3 0 – -

- links to clips documenting computer-testing problems in other states and a detailed chronology of Pearson’s history of testing errors are available on request.

I am getting reports of computer servers crashing in various states. Whose nutty idea was it that all testing must be online? Was it to make data mining easier? Ir to enrich the testing companies and vendors of software and hardware?

News from Colleen Wood in Florida:

Colleen Doherty Wood
904/591.3207 / @50thNoMore

Diane – below is the email sent by our Commissioner of Education, Pam Stewart.

Pearson’s server apparently could not handle the number of children testing today. I guess it was a big surprise to them.

We have been warning for years, that Pearson and our state were not technologically ready for this move to online testing.

Today proved it. Across the state, students were kicked off the system and unable to test. Districts were told to wait for instructions while students just had to wait.

When will we talk about the emotional and psychological affect all of these “glitches” have on our children, who carry the weight of Jeb Bush’s entire accountability system on their shoulders?

Test scores from today will not be reliable, yet will be used to evaluate teachers and determine class placement.

In Florida, we are demanding a 3 year pause on the implementation of the new accountability system, which by all accounts, will be harder. If they can’t get it right this time, why should any of us trust them to get it right next year?

We have 67 counties in Florida. So far we know it has impacted 7 counties, but the day is young. We suspect there will be more.

From: Commissioner Stewart []
Sent: Tuesday, April 22, 2014 9:59 AM
Subject: Pearson Server Issue Affecting Testing

Good morning,

As some of you already know, Pearson is experiencing difficulty with a hosting provider this morning, which is causing issues with testing (both TestNav and TestHear) and accessing the PearsonAccess website for test management. The issue does not seem to be statewide, but several districts have reported issues.

If your district is experiencing difficulty with live testing, please suspend testing and wait to hear from our office. We do not currently have an estimated timeline from Pearson for when this issue will be resolved, but we will be in touch with updates/resolutions throughout the day. If your district is not experiencing issues, you may continue testing as scheduled as your district is likely not routing through the affected server.

Some of you have inquired about schedule extensions due to this issue. Once the problem is resolved, if you have schools that will need more time to complete testing beyond your district’s schedule, please let us know (in writing) and we will work with you to ensure that all students in your district have sufficient opportunity to test.

Pam Stewart

Kim Cook, a first-grade teacher in Florida, received a bonus of $400. She donated it to the Network for Public Education to fight the failed ideas of corporate reform, which prevail in her state.

She is the second teacher to donate their bonus to NPE to fight fake reforms that demean teachers and distort education. Not long ago, Kevin Strang, an instrumental music teacher from Florida, donated his $800 bonus, awarded because he teaches in a school that was rated A.

On behalf of NPE, we thank Kim and Kevin. We hope other teachers will follow their lead. We pledge to fight for you and to advance the day when non-educators and politicians stop meddling with your work and let you teach.

I asked Kim to tell me why she decided to do this. This was her reply:

“Hi Diane,

“Yes, I donated $400. I am a first grade teacher in Alachua County, Florida. I was inspired by Kevin Strang’s donation last month. I, too, received bonus money, not because I work at an “A” school, but because my school’s grade went from a “D” to a “C.”

“Here’s the catch: I don’t teach at the school that determines my school’s grade. I teach at Irby Elementary School in Alachua, Florida, which only serves grades K-2. My school’s grade is determined by students at the grade 3-5 school up the road.

“I have only been working at Irby Elementary for three years, so I have never met–never even passed in the hall–the fourth and fifth grade students whose FCAT scores determined my school’s grade. Even if I had, I completely disagree with high-stakes testing and tying teachers’ bonuses, salaries, and evaluations to those scores. I am donating my bonus money to NPE because I am fighting the failed policies of education “reformers” in every way that I can. Thank you for providing me an avenue through which to do that!

“Here is some background information on me. I am the Florida teacher that received an unsatisfactory evaluation based on students I had never taught at the same time I was named my school’s teacher of the year. My story made it into Valerie Strauss’ The Answer Sheet.

I am also the lead plaintiff in Florida Education Association/NEA’s lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of VAM.

With deep appreciation and respect,

Kim Cook

Jon Hage cashed in on the charter industry in a big way. And where else but Florida, where for-profit schools are welcome no matter what their quality.

EduShyster tells the story here of Jon Hage, a non-educator who is one of Florida’s most successful charter entrepreneurs.

“Have you ever encountered a story so sadly tragic that you were forced to break your own rule regarding pre-noon winebox decanting? I have… Hankies at the ready, reader, for we are *going there.* I’m talking about the super sad true tale of Charter Schools USA founder and CEO Jonathan Hage and his wrenching decision to part with his yacht: the aptly named Fishin’ 4 Schools. In other words, onto every teak deck a little salt water must spray. It’s time to don your stripes, reader; we’re goin’ fishin’.”

She says the boat has been listed for sale for $350,000. Just like your typical superintendent’s boat.

Florida politicians have hearts of stone.

When 12-year-old Ethan Rediske lay dying in hospice, the state wanted him to take a mandated test. After his death, his mother Andrea sought passage of a law to protect children like Ethan from harassment by state bureaucrats. Ethan’s Law would have allowed local officials to waive the testing requirement for severely impaired children, instead of seeking a waiver from the state commissioner of education. Not only did the Legislature kill Ethan’s Law, look what else they did. Frankly, this looks like spite work directed towards a grieving parent.

This is a letter from Ethan’s mother, Andrea Rediske:

Dear Family and Friends,

I am forwarding a letter from Representative Karen Castor-Dentel’s aide explaining what is going on right now with what is left of the Ethan Rediske Act. The original bill as it was written is dead, but some of the verbiage has been incorporated into a house bill (HB 7117) and a senate bill (1642) that has other legislation that is not exactly palatable.

Unfortunately, Senator Andy Gardiner is using his political power to add an amendment onto the bill that would force families of severely disabled children to again appeal to the Commissioner of Education, Pam Stewart, for approval waivers lasting more than a year. The original bill allowed approval through local superintendents. Pam Stewart, in a letter to all Florida teachers, in addition to tacitly accusing me of using our tragedy to further my “political agenda” also stated that she only approved 16 out of 30 waivers last year — a little more than a 50% approval rate. This amendment makes it harder, not easier for families already burdened with the tremendous demands of caring for a severely disabled child to be granted waivers for standardized testing. I’m asking for your help to try and persuade Senator Andy Gardiner and Senator Kelli Stargel not to push this amendment on the existing bills. Please call or email them directly and let them know that you are family and friends of Ethan Rediske and ask them to remove this amendment.

There are a lot of ugly politics at play here, but we don’t have to stoop to their level. Please be civil when contacting these individuals — we need to help them understand what a tremendous burden it is to care for a severely disabled and medically fragile child and ask them to make one small part of this burden lighter. Please feel free to forward this information to family and friends who might be willing to help.

Contact information:

Senator Andy Gardiner
20 Senate Office Building
404 South Monroe Street
Tallahassee, FL 32399-1100
Phone: (850) 487-5013

Senator Kelli Stargel
324 Senate Office Building
404 South Monroe Street
Tallahassee, FL 32399-1100
Phone: (850) 487-5015

Thanks for your help, love, and support,


Begin forwarded message:

From: “Gelin, Dominique”
Subject: A brief legislative update
Date: April 3, 2014 at 4:24:58 PM EDT
To: “‘’”

Hello Andrea,

We have never spoken, but my name is Dominique Gelin and I work as the aide in Rep. Castor Dentel’s Tallahassee office. She wanted to be sure you knew about some changes taking place with Senator Legg’s education accountability bill, Senate Bill 1642. It seems that Senator Stargel has filed an amendment which adds a Section 9 to the bill. As you know, this is the companion to Chair Adkins’ House Bill 7117, which included some of the language and intent that was originally included in the bill named for your son, Ethan.

The changes proposed by Senator Stargel combines language from SB 1642 and HB 7117. Briefly stated, Senator Stargel’s amendment offers three exemption options. The first is a one-year exemption which can be approved by the district school superintendent. The second is a one-to-three year exemption coming from the Commissioner’s office, and the final one is a permanent exemption, also to be approved by the Commissioner, and directs the Dep. of Ed. to devise rules to implement.

To me, it doesn’t make the process any easier and makes it unclear when someone needs to apply for a one-year, one-three year or permanent exemption. I don’t understand why this process gets more complicated with each step, especially when the whole purpose is to simplify and remove an unnecessary bureaucratic burden on families.

As you know, the bills are moving through both chambers. We will continue to work with committee staff to clarify our position to alleviate the burden of testing requirements on families and children with disabilities. Please do not hesitate to let me know if you have any questions.


Dominique Gelin
Legislative Aide
Rep. Karen Castor Dentel
Florida House District 30

District Office: (407) 659-4818
Capitol Office: (850) 717-5030

A study of charter schools by the League of Women Voters in Florida found that they spend more on administration than public schools and they don’t get better academic results.

“In Hillsborough, three charter schools that have opened since 2011 are owned by Charter Schools USA, a for-profit corporation, and these three alone enroll more than 20 percent of all charter students. In 2011, Woodmont Charter School, one of these three, expended 44 percent of its total revenue on instruction and 42 percent on management fees and leases.

“By contrast, traditional Hillsborough County schools spend at least 86 percent of revenue on instruction. Woodmont had FCAT scores of D for 2012 and F for 2013, and this is not unusual, since charter schools composed 50 percent of all F-rated Florida schools in 2011. Meanwhile, the six traditional public elementary schools and one middle school within 1 mile of Woodmont all have higher FCAT scores.

“Sadly, the traditional public schools are losing students, and thus public dollars, to the “choice” school that advertises a superior alternative. Neither the charter nor traditional public school students are benefiting, creating a lose/lose scenario.”

Let’s face it. Some people have the Midas touch.

Take Jon Hage, the CEO of the for-profit charter chain, Charter Schools USA.

He was named Floridian of the Year.

He has a yacht named “Fishin’ for Schools.”

And he has figured out a cool way to make his charters very profitable.

This comes from Coach Bob Sikes in Florida:

“This week’s hilarious story that Charter Schools USA CEO Jonathan Hage owns a yacht called Fishin’ 4 Schools overshadows what may be some major wrongdoing on the part of Hage. In a column that appeared in the Tampa Bay Times, Hillsborough League of Women Voters president, Shirley Arcuri revealed this little tidbit:

“Another area where the distinction between public and private is blurred for the benefit of for-profits is in the issuing of bonds. Although Florida law prohibits charter schools from issuing bonds, Charter School USA has found a way.

“When naming Jon Hage, CEO of Charter USA, as Floridian of the Year, Florida Trend in December 2012 contended that Charter School USA is the largest seller of charter school debt in the country. “It will sell $100 million worth of bonds this year, Hage says. … The bonds come with tax-exempt status because they are technically held by the nonprofit founding boards that oversee the schools.”

Endless to say, Hage is not and never was a teacher.

Florida legislators king to expand vouchers, even though the voters turned down an effort in 2012 to change the state constitution to permit vouchers for religious schools. The
measure was defeated 58-42, despite Jeb Bush’s efforts to pass it.
An earlier voucher program was struck down as unconstitutional by
the state courts. The only current voucher program is for students
with disabilities, called the McKay Scholarship Program. A journalistic
exposé called it a “cottage industry” of fraud.
writer won a major national award for this story from his
colleagues. Yet legislators want more.

The good news–for the moment–is that parents and teachers recently beat back the latest attempt to give away public money to religious schools. But be vigilant. Jeb & Co. will be back.

Kevin Strang, a high school music teacher in Orange County, Florida, won an $810.87 bonus for teaching in an A-rated school. He is donating his bonus to the Network for Public Education to fight high-stakes testing, school grading, merit pay, and the other corporate reforms that treat teachers as donkeys in need of carrots and sticks.

Kevin is a professional, and he expects to be treated as a professional.

“Strang, who has taught in Florida schools for 15 years, sent out a press release Wednesday stating that “the $810.87 received for his school’s ‘A’ rating will instead be sent to the Network for Public Education, an organization dedicated to ending the practice of linking high-stakes testing to teacher evaluations and pay….”

“Strang’s own teaching evaluation was tied to math and reading exams of ninth-graders, though he teaches music.

“I don’t feel right taking the money when there are teacher teaching at schools with different populations not receiving the money,” he said Wednesday. “It’s like I’m being rewarded for parenting skills.”

Thank you, Kevin!

You inspire all of us at NPE to fight harder for you!

Andrea Rediske, the mother of Ethan Rediske, worked tirelessly to persuade the State Legislature in Florida to pass an act that would have eliminated the state’s relentless demand to test Ethan as he lay dying in hospice.

Ethan was born with profound disabilities; he was blind and suffered from cerebral palsy, yet the state tormented him to take its standardized tests. Read Andrea Rediske’s testimony to the state legislature here. 

The act, which was to be called the Ethan Rediske Act, would have allowed local officials to make the decision not to test students like Ethan, rather than going through an elaborate process that required a waiver from the state, one that must be signed by the Florida Secretary of Education, who must review and personally sign every single waiver.

You see, in Florida, standardized testing has become the Holy Grail. It is the Golden Calf. It is the one idea that has permeated the thinking of almost every legislator. If they cannot measure children’s ability to pick the right box or bubble on a test purchased from a major vendor, then education ceases to exist in the state of Florida. This might be thought of as Jeb Bush’s theology, and he has a large number in his testing cult.

Andrea Rediske thought that it was madness to try to test Ethan. She “knew it made no sense for her son, who couldn’t speak and was fed through a tube, to be asked about how a peach tastes.

Or to ask a blind child to point to a picture of a monkey. (That’s another real-life example for another student in Orange County.)

Or to then professionally evaluate those kids’ teachers based on how the kids score on tests they could never really take.”

After Ethan’s death, his mother pushed hard for passage of “The Ethan Rediske Act,” to protect children like him from being harassed by the state. Pam Stewart, the State Commissioner of Education, then wrote a letter to every educator in the state, implying  that Andrea Rediske’s valiant fight to protect other children with severe disabilities was “a political effort to attack assessments by using the tragic situations of children with special needs.” In other words, the state commissioner chastised Andrea Rediske for “politicizing” her son’s death. There are times when you do wonder whether  public officials have any sense of shame. This is one of them. The appropriate response from Stewart would have been to offer her sincere condolences to the Rediske family and to offer to help change the law so that children like Ethan were never again harassed by state officials. Conservatives claim to be against “big government,” but it appears from this example that “big government” is just fine so long as they are in charge and can invade other people’s privacy, their confidential student data, their hospital rooms, their hospices, and their bedrooms.

Andrea Rediske wrote to tell me that the Ethan Rediske Act will not be passed, but language protecting children in his condition will be inserted into another bill. The state bureaucracy–especially the highly politicized and intellectually vacuous Florida Department of Education, could not bear the thought of the act passing. But Andrea Rediske wins anyway because the heart of Ethan’s Act survives.


Andrea Rediske wrote:

Ethan’s Act is indeed dead, but it’s been incorporated into a larger bill on school accountability.

Here is the link to the bill:

Page 38 has the verbiage on children with medical complexity. It states that a child with a medical complexity determined by their physician and IEP team will not be required to take standardized testing.


Assuming this bill passes, we may conclude that in the future, children like Ethan will not be tortured by the state of Florida to take meaningless tests. Nor will their parents be tortured by insensitive, heartless bureaucrats in the Florida Department of Education.

Ethan has won a victory for other children.

God rest his soul.









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