Archives for category: Florida

Florida has a harsh third grade retention policy. Students who don’t pass the third-grade state test must repeat the grade.

A few days ago, more than a dozen parents filed suit against the state for the arbitrary and capricious way this state was implemented in counties across the state. The parents opted their children out of the testing to protest the law.

“There is no rational governmental interest served by the defendants arbitrary and capricious decision to retain plaintiffs’ children because they opted out of standardized tests, but otherwise earned passing grades on their report cards and had no reading deficiencies,” the lawsuit reads.

The law is interpreted differently in different counties.

One Orange County plaintiff had a daughter who was on the honor roll, the suit said, but “is being retained in the third grade because of no FSA scores and because her teacher was not informed of the criteria for developing a student portfolio during the school year.”

In Sarasota County, one of the parents who is suing kept her child out of the state testing in third grade. The district said he had to repeat the grade, even though his work all year had been satisfactory.

However, the district changed course and decided to let the child go on to fourth grade with his peers, rather than subject him to punishment for opting out of the test.

At last, an article in the mainstream media that tries to understand why teachers are troubled! It’s not the New York Times or the Washington Post, but still…it’s in print.

Roger Williams of the Fort Meyers, Florida, Weekly titled “Troubled Teachers.” He dwells at length on the stresses that have changed the nature of teaching, not for the better.

Williams interviews many teachers, who tell him what is happening in their classrooms.

“At least one disturbing conclusion can be drawn from what they tell us: Teachers now face what is arguably the most difficult and demanding stampede of challenges in the contemporary history of public education. And that’s not good for students who face, in turn, a range of contemporary social challenges they might not have experienced en masse in previous generations.

“For teachers, there is less time than ever before to teach, they say. There is data crunching and lack of trust and constant state-mandated testing of stressed students. Teacher evaluations and one-year contracts are based on the success of students as measured in tests created by people who don’t teach. There is pay that will not cover the costs of education and family life.

“In the face of all this, what makes a great teacher, we asked them — and conversely, what makes it difficult to be a great teacher? Why are so many leaving a profession so essential to our futures?

“Teachers are ill-prepared for the demands of the current system. So it’s not just a matter of how to make better teachers. It’s also how teachers are made to work within their system now,” says Sandy Stenoff, co-founder of The Opt Out Florida Network, a grass-roots organization based in Orlando that advocates a variety of assessments instead of a single, state-mandated test.

“If you look at other professions, the ‘masters’ all have one thing in common,” she adds: “Excellent mentorship — an expert under whom they really trained, learned the best ‘techniques.’ Doctors, lawyers, even craftsmen.

“We don’t do that in education anymore. It would help to reduce attrition, too. But expert teachers are leaving. They can’t teach the way they know teaching works best.”

Never before have state and federal governments imposed their will so forcefully in every public school classroom. Their often I’ll-advised intrusions aim for standardization, making teachers and students alike unhappy.

Williams writes:

“If the system has massive weaknesses right now, it also has very good people, it seems — people who advocate passionately, even when they leave.

“Can all this be changed? Yes,” says Bruce Linser, a musical theater teacher and outgoing dean of dramatic arts at the Alexander W. Dreyfoos School of the Arts in West Palm Beach.

“I think we need fewer administrators and more teachers. We need fewer people telling us how to do our jobs, and more people who know how to do this, and want and love to do this, being allowed to do this. Without all the strings and standardization. I’m not arguing against oversight, I think that’s important. There are things that need to be taught and learned and I totally agree with that.”

“But all the extra duties of teachers — the extra programs and management requirements — inhibit the teaching they’re called to do.”

Low pay and lack of respect are part of the reason for teacher discontent. Florida ranks 39th in the nation in teacher pay, and many teachers must work a second job to make ends meet.

Very likely, one of the reasons that hedge fund managers and billionaires look down on teachers is because they are paid so little. Instead of recognizing that teachers sacrifice financial security for being in a career that makes a difference, the 1% simply don’t understand why people choose to teach and feel justified in trying to redesign education and teachers’ working conditions.

Marion Brady, retired educator, writes here about a mother who is certain that her son–then in third grade–attempted to kill himself after failing the Florida state tests by one point, twice. After he failed the second time, she knew he was morose. She called him for dinner, and he didn’t answer. She knocked on his door: no response
Nose. She pushed in and found him hanging by a belt, blue in the face. A third grader.

In a personal note, Marion told me that the article garnered many hostile comments when it was published at alternative.com. Readers simply refused to believe the story was true.

Brady writes:

“If failing to reach the pass-fail cut score by just one point wasn’t within every standardized test’s margin of error; if research hadn’t established that for the young, retention in grade is as traumatic as fear of going blind or of a parent dying; if standardized tests provided timely, useful feedback that helped teachers decide what to do next; if billions of dollars that America’s chronically underfunded public schools need weren’t being diverted to the standardized testing industry and charter promotion; if a generation of test-and-punish schooling had moved the performance needle even a little; if today’s sneaky, corporately driven education “reform” effort wasn’t driven by blind faith in market ideology and an attempt to privatize public schooling; if test manufacturers didn’t publish guidelines for dealing with vomiting, pants-wetting and other evidences of test-taker trauma; if the Finns hadn’t demonstrated conclusively that fear-free schools, cooperation rather than competition, free play, a recess every hour in elementary school, and that letting educators alone could produce world-class test-takers—if, if, if—then I might cut business leaders and politicians responsible for the America’s current education train wreck a little slack.

“But all of the above are demonstrably true. And yet we keep subjecting children to the same dangerous nonsense, year after year.”

A few years back, I spoke at the national convention of school psychologists. I listened as the president of the association spoke. He said that the three greatest fears of children are:

1) the death of a parent;

2) going blind;

3) failing a grade and being left behind.

Marion Brady is right. The testing regime is insane. It is child abuse.

The FBI raided a charter school for at-risk youth in Florida, carrying away several boxes of whatever they were seeking.

http://www.nwfdailynews.com/news/20160712/fbi-executes-search-warrant-at-fwb-school-for-at-risk-students

The FBI has raided many charter schools in the Midwest but their investigations have remained secret.

No state is more in need of advocates for children and public schools in its legislature than Florida.

The Florida legislature at present is in the pockets or the hands (or both) of the privatization lobby. It enacts bill after bill to outsource its schools to private companies, many operating for profit. It pours millions into failing charter schools and failing voucher schools. It authorizes crooked operators and funds charters that never open. It enacts legislation that demoralizes and harms its teachers. Hurting teachers hurts children.

It is time for a change.

That is why the NPE Action Fund proudly endorses Rick Roach, a champion for public schools, who is running for a seat in the Florida State Senate.

If you live in District 13, please help Rick get elected. If you don’t, consider sending him a contribution.

Rick is the school board member in Orange County who took the state standardized test and wrote about it.

“I won’t beat around the bush. The math section had 60 questions. I knew the answers to none of them, but managed to guess ten out of the 60 correctly. On the reading test, I got 62% . In our system, that’s a ‘D,’ and would get me a mandatory assignment to a double block of reading instruction.

“It seems to me something is seriously wrong. I have a bachelor of science degree, two masters degrees, and 15 credit hours toward a doctorate. I help oversee an organization with 22,000 employees and a $3 billion operations and capital budget, and am able to make sense of complex data related to those responsibilities….

“It might be argued that I’ve been out of school too long, that if I’d actually been in the 10th grade prior to taking the test, the material would have been fresh. But doesn’t that miss the point? A test that can determine a student’s future life chances should surely relate in some practical way to the requirements of life. I can’t see how that could possibly be true of the test I took.”

Despite the best efforts of the Florida legislature to give every possible financial and regulatory break to charter school operators, the charter industry is having many problems.

Charters in Duval County are not doing well at all. The legislators and former Governor Jeb Bush have promised again and again that the move to private control would unleash a new era of excellence and innovation, but it hasn’t happened.

Duval’s charter schools performed worse than the district’s public schools on state tests.

Recently released results from the annual Florida Standards Assessments and from state end-of-course exams reveal that in 17 out of 22 tests on reading, math, science, history and civics, charter schools averaged fewer students passing the tests than those in district schools.

In some tests and subjects, far fewer. The biggest differences were in science.

Nearly three out of four Duval students taking biology last year passed its end-of-course exam, compared to less than half, 48.4 percent, of charter school students. Fifty-two percent of Duval’s fifth-graders passed that grade’s science test, compared to 41 percent of their charter school peers.

In every tested grade except sixth, Duval students’ English language arts passing rates and math passing rates exceeded charters.’

“You can see that our schools are improving at a faster clip,” said Duval Superintendent Nikolai Vitti.

There were exceptions, where charters decisively outperformed district schools.

In sixth grade, 48 percent of charter school students passed math, compared to nearly 40 percent at district schools.

In algebra 1, charter schools passed 53 percent of students, 5 percentage points more than the district’s 48 percent. In Florida, high school students need to pass algebra 1 to graduate.

Also, in geometry, the difference between charter and district schools was about 19 percentage points; nearly 56 percent of charter school students passed compared to 37 percent of district students.

(The comparisons are estimates, because Florida obscures scores in grades with few students to protect their identities. That affects charter schools more than district school data.)

Charter schools are independently operated schools that compete with the district for students as well as state and federal tax dollars. Charter school students take the same tests as students in traditional public schools.

Charter advocates will leap to celebrate the grades and subjects where charters got higher scores than public schools, but it should be remembered that charters (unlike public schools) are free to choose the students they want and free to throw out the students they don’t want. They should be superior across the board, but they are not.

This is one of the few articles I have read that acknowledges that charters “compete with the district for students as well as state and federal tax dollars.” Many people do not realize that charters–even low-performing charters–drain money from the public schools.

An insider in the Florida Department of Education leaked confidential information to this blog.

She writes:

The Florida Department of Education requires that 3rd grade students be promoted to fourth grade if they score Level 1 on the state reading test score or at least at the 45th percentile on the SAT 10. Or they may present a portfolio showing they meet grade level standards. How did the Florida Department come up with the score at the same 45th percentile as the bar? How did they set the bar? Have they mislead Floridians?

Attached is a study that shows that the Florida Department of Education set a standard above Level 2 to promote students:

“In order to promote a student from grade 3 to grade 4, the student should be at least in FCAT reading achievement level 2 or above. In other words, the student’s FCAT-SSS scale score should be higher than 258. The concordance table provides an equivalent Stanford 10 scale score that is 591, or the 25th national percentile on Stanford 10.”

See the report here.

Last month, a grand jury in Florida indicted employees of Newpoint Education Partners and three other companies for grand theft, money laundering, and other crimes. The company, started by former employees of the White Hat management company in Ohio, lost the charters for several schools that it was running where the alleged crimes occurred.

Now, two more charter schools are cutting their ties with Newport, following an investigation by a local TV news station.

One week after an 8 on Your Side investigation uncovered $235,000 in bogus school loans, two charter schools funded with state tax dollars in Jacksonville have decided to sever ties with a for-profit management company we’ve been investigating for months because of the financial chaos it helped create in Pinellas charter schools.

The Jacksonville charter school loans by Newpoint Education Partners which are cited in a 2015 financial audit do not exist, something that caught even the treasurer of San Jose Preparatory High School and Academy by surprise after 8 on Your Side uncovered and reported it.

Are there any law enforcement officials in Jacksonville, or is it left to the media to investigate criminal activity?

A high-level official in the Florida Department of Education sent the following message; she was concerned about the secrecy surrounding the tests and their lack of alignment to what teachers are teaching. Needless to say, she requested anonymity.

Here are a few of the facts about the test that parents may not know:

The Florida Department of Education is days away from releasing students test results in grades 3-10 and weeks away from grading schools based upon a battery of tests that lack transparency and alignment to the resources available to teachers in Florida schools.

1. The Florida Department of Education refuses to provide the reading level for the reading test. The Florida Legislature requires the 300 lowest performing schools on the ELA reading test to provide an additional hour of reading instruction each day. Secrecy means schools and students will continue to fail. Florida has a reading retention policy for 3rd graders and graduation requirement for 10th graders but it refuses to provide the actual level of the test to anyone.

2. 50 % of the content on the state science test in grades 5 and 8 changes each year. Teachers never know what will be 100% assessed on the test. Teachers are told “teach everything!” To look at a sample of benchmarks that are annually assessed and those that may be assessed go to http://www.fldoe.org/core/fileparse.php/5682/urlt/0077913-fl09g5sci.pdf page B-1

3. The Florida Department of Education adopted textbooks before they adopted and developed the state test. The Florida Department of Education acknowledges that the state textbooks are not aligned to the Florida Test Specification.Florida has test item specification limits that are above the stated level of the written standards.

4, Do the parents in Florida know that ” Approximately 6-10 items within the Reading, Language, and Listening components listed above are experimental (field test) items and are included in the ranges above but are not included in students’ scores. The Grade 10 FSA ELA Retake follows the test design in this blueprint and is administered each spring and fall.” For this information go to http://www.fsassessments.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/ELA-Test-Design-Summary-Updated-11-20-15.pdf. Read the note on the bottom of page 15. How can schools be held accountable when “experimental items” may have caused students to have a lower score because they were part of the test which may have reduced motivation or completion rates.

The email below reveals that the Florida Department of Education will not publish the reading level of a test used to retain 3rd grade students, a must pass test for 10th grade students and an accountable measures for all schools in Florida. Florida requires that the lowest scoring 300 schools in reading at the elementary level add one hour of reading instruction to the of the day yet, the level of the test remains a secret. Based upon this email we must also question if Florida’s textbook adoption process provides teachers, students and parents with resources that are aligned to the complexity of the state test. As you can see textbooks in Florida were adopted before the test was developed. The Florida Department of Education should be held accountable for a lack of transparency developing tests with no alignment to state adopted textbooks, for not sharing basic test development information and student results to inform instruction before they are allowed to grade schools.

From: ULLERY.MELISSA
Sent: Friday, February 19, 2016 1:31:57 PM
To: mikediazparent@outlook.com
Subject: Email to Senator Gaetz

Dear Mr. Diaz,

Thanks very much for writing Senator Gaetz. He received your email and asked me to respond.

After receiving your email, I reached out to the Florida Department of Education for assistance.
According to DOE staff, Florida’s instructional materials adoption process ensures that textbooks are aligned to the standards and course descriptions taught in Florida’s classrooms. Textbooks are not reviewed against test item specifications. The instructional materials adoption year for grades K-5 was 2012-13 and grades 6-12 was 2013-14, so the materials chosen by the district from the state-reviewed list would be aligned to the standards on which test items are based.

In response to your inquiries regarding the readability, please click here http://www.fsassessments.org/about-the-fsas/ to find the following information that DOE includes in the Florida Standards Assessments (FSA) English Language Arts (ELA) Test Item Specifications on this topic. The information provided below refers to the reading passages as “stimuli.” Stimuli refers to the texts and any accompanying graphics that make up the content to which students respond.

Stimulus Attributes

The complexity of the texts used as stimuli should be accessible for the applicable grade. Text complexity analysis incorporates a variety of factors. Quantitative measures are one element of text complexity evaluation, but they are not the sole determinant of grade-level appropriateness. Other factors, such as purpose, structure, and language complexity, are also considered. In choosing the text(s), qualitative and quantitative dimensions of text complexity must be balanced by the task considerations required of the reader. Graphics such as infographics, photographs, tables, and diagrams may be included with the stimuli. The graphics used, however, must be purposeful and should supplement the student’s understanding of the topic.

During the text review process, Florida educators use professional judgment and experience to determine whether the reading level of each selection is suitable for the grade level. Texts used as stimuli should be interesting and appealing to students at the grades for which the selections are intended. They should be conceptually appropriate and relevant and should reflect literary or real-world settings and events that are interesting to students and not limited to classroom or school-related situations.

Additionally, it should be noted that qualitative and quantitative analyses are always used in conjunction with the professional judgment of panels of Florida educators during passage review meetings. Passage selections for a given grade represent a range of reading levels, and educators along with the department’s content specialists evaluate each passage to determine its acceptability for use on the Florida Standards Assessments in English Language Arts. Passages that are deemed unsuitable are rejected for future use. Those that are accepted will be field tested with approximately 6-10 test items that are not included in students’ test scores. Once the statistical data are analyzed, the passages and associated items may then be used and scored on future FSA ELA tests.
I hope this information is helpful.

Again, thanks for writing the Senator.

Wishing you a great weekend,

Melissa Ullery
Legislative Assistant
Senator Don Gaetz
District 1

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