Critics of Florida's testing culture in schools grow louder
Hagerty High School near Oviedo has a testing coordinator and color-coded testing calendar to keep track of all the exams it administers. This school year, the testing started in September and ran through the end of May, with one test or another given on 77 of 180 school days. For critics of Florida's school-accountability system -- and its linchpin, the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test -- such testing calendars are exhibit A in their argument that things have gone awry. Their simmering discontent with the state using FCAT and other standardized tests to make key education decisions rose to a boil last month when scores on Florida's annual writing test plummeted, thanks to stricter grading. "I don't agree with the system, and I don't think it's working," said Terry Andrews, Osceola County's school superintendent, a day after the much-lower-than-expected scores were released. "I'm not against testing, but when we test kids for 48 days out of the year, there's something wrong," Andrews said, referring to his district's testing calendar. "And when we have five third-graders who are so upset, they throw up on their tests, and we have to put them in plastic bags to grade them, it's time to look at what we're doing." Even before the writing scores were released, however, there were signs of an increasing frustration with Florida's stable of standardized tests and how the state uses test scores to make promotion, class-assignment and graduation decisions for students, grade schools A to F and, starting this year, help judge teacher quality. Four Florida school districts have signed a national "time-out-from-testing" resolution. The Central Florida Public School Boards Coalition has put together a white paper on the negative "ramifications" of testing, which in its view dominates too much of public education. The Florida School Boards Association will take up the paper, and its findings, at a meeting this month. Those upset with the system argue it puts too much stress on students and teachers, costs too much, eats up too much time and limits creativity in classrooms. Apryle Jackson, a veteran Osceola teacher who most recently taught reading at Osceola High in Kissimmee, said many teachers are fed up with the tests and how they are used. "They feel like they're not teaching any longer. All they're doing is preparing the students for the test," said the president of the Osceola County Education Association, the teachers union. "There's too much pressure, test, test, test."
FCAT validity questioned after scoring changes, lowered marks
FCAT scores can determine everything from teacher pay to housing prices, but frequently changing standards are causing some to question how valid the results actually are. This year, state education officials raised the cutoff scores required for reading and math proficiency on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test. As a result, third-grade scores showed big drops from last year. State education officials also toughened the writing standards this year, but when the results were abysmal, they lowered the required proficiency level. "It's a lot easier to hit a target when you know what it is," said Joe Schneider, principal at Galaxy Elementary School in Boynton Beach. Gerard Robinson, commissioner for the state Department of Education, said preliminary data show there will be 108 F-rated schools this year, up from 38 last year. About 1,600 schools received A's last year, and Robinson said that number will drop, although he didn't have exact figures. In addition to the tougher tests, this year the scores of special education students and some students whose native language is not English will also be counted, which could lower school grades. Although the scores are lower, the stakes keep getting higher. Teacher pay will soon be tied to how well students perform on standardized tests. School grades, which are based mostly on FCAT scores, have a big impact on schools and their surrounding neighborhoods. For example, families often consider school grades when deciding where to buy a house, experts say. "Clearly, there has to be a dramatic look at how the FCAT is applied," said John Tarka, an administrator with the Broward Teachers Union. "They keep changing the standards and expectations without proper notice, and it's very, very frustrating."
Statewide algebra test trips 52 percent of 9th graders
More than half of the ninth graders in Florida public schools need to retake an algebra class if they want to graduate from high school. Results released Friday show 52 percent of ninth grade students taking the statewide Algebra 1 end-of-course exam failed to score at a proficient level, a 3 or above on a 5-point scale. The State Board of Education set the proficiency level in December. Students taking Algebra 1 or a similar course in grades six through 11 are required to take the test, which replaces the ninth-grade Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test. End-of-course exams are replacing FCATs in many high-school level classes. Beginning with the 2011-2012 academic year, by the ninth grade, students must score a 3 or above on the Algebra 1 test to qualify for a math credit needed to graduate. Results, released Friday show 59 percent of students in grades 6 to 11 achieved that score. But more than half of those who will be the class of 2015 didn't make the grade. Friday’s results means that more than 55,000 ninth graders across Florida must retake the test if they want to earn a math credit needed to graduate. Those students can sign up for an Algebra 1 class offered in summer school or when they go back to school in fall. Students can also earn the credit in an online class.
Failing on FCAT
The FCAT fulfills its purpose of dwindling hopes of public schools
Haines City clinic opens for Polk school employees (Marianne Capoziello quoted)
Lake School Board, union set to approve $1.2 million in teacher raises (LCEA mentioned)
School officials grapple with testing issues (Elaine Crump quoted)
Bay district's bus trip (BESPA mentioned)
Hernando district faces shortfall
Jeb Bush still influences education
Former Gov. Jeb Bush is six years out of office, but his influence over the state's education policies may be greater than ever. The Foundation for Florida's Future -- a million-dollar educational incubator Bush founded in 1994 that's led by his former deputy chief of staff -- is widely considered the single most influential voice over the state's educational policy, far surpassing either teachers or parents. And the issues that it focuses on -- creating more charter and virtual schools; ending tenure and instituting merit pay for schoolteachers; strengthening the state's FCAT and other standardized "accountability" tests -- have surged to the top of the agenda espoused by the Legislature and Gov. Rick Scott. Opposition from teachers' unions and some parents has been drowned out or ignored. "It's raw politics," said Florida Education Association President Andy Ford, whose teachers union is frequently on the opposite side of the foundation and also battled -- usually unsuccessfully -- over the FCAT, charter schools and vouchers during Bush's two terms as governor.
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Louisiana moves to privatize schools
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Edison State College chooses next president (Marty Ambrose quoted)
California cuts threaten the status of universities
Elections supervisors advised to stop voter purge
Voter purge, election changes concern some
Purge the purge list
Reprieve for voter drives
“Phantom” votes raise doubts for November
Temper tantrums in Tallahassee
Workers: State blocks unemployment benefits
Failure at the top in protecting Florida's wetlands
Dislike labor unions? History shows a variety of benefits
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