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Episode 15: Assess the Test Part I

Don’t miss part 2 of “Assess The Test”: Our conversation about testing was so robust that we decided to continue it to a second episode. Listen to the 2nd part of here.

Change is coming to Florida’s system of standardized testing. Parents, students and educators alike are wondering if we will see the significant changes that are needed to create a system that actually works towards improving teaching and learning or if this will be just the same old testing regime with a new name.  

Join us for part one of a two part series where we Assess the Test.

Guests

Anthony Colucci, President Brevard Federation of Teachers

Vicki Kidwell, President Clay County Education Association 

Bethany Koch, High school English teacher from Clay County

Matt Yount, Teacher from Brevard County

Transcript

Andrew Spar, FEA President: Hi, this is FEA President, Andrew Spar. To stay on top of all the latest news and issues impacting our public schools, be sure to follow FEA on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. For more information on this podcast, visit FEAweb.org/podcast.

Sharon Nesvig: You’re listening to Educating from the Heart. Thank you for joining our lively conversations with teachers, support professionals, parents and students, as they share issues that matter most in our public schools. Here are your hosts, Tina Dunbar and Luke Flynt.

Tina Dunbar, Host Welcome to another episode of Educating from the Heart. I’m Tina Dunbar with my cohost, Luke Flynt. So Luke, can you name your favorite educator, one who had a really big impact on you?

Luke Flynt, Host: Oh, absolutely. Mr. Powell was my fifth grade teacher at Glendale Elementary, and he’s actually the reason I became a teacher. I wanted to be just like him when I grew up. How about you?

Tina: Well, several come to mind, but Señor Milliones, he was my Spanish teacher. He really stands out. He was the best, no matter what was going on with the students, he was always there to inspire you and push you forward. So, can you remember your favorite class?

Luke: Favorite class? That’s a little tougher, you know, I’m a bit of a nerd. I enjoyed almost all of my classes. If I had to choose one, I would probably be History of the English language. I actually loved it so much, I took it as an undergrad and then again at the graduate level.

Tina: Wow, that sounds interesting. I might have to get a lesson from you on that. So, one more question: Can you remember your favorite standardized test? I’m sure you’ve got a few to choose from.

Luke: No, no, absolutely not. “Favorite” and “standardized tests” don’t really belong in the same sentence. You know, Tina, I was really fortunate that I graduated from public school in Florida before the current testing craze. The FCAT didn’t come around until the year I graduated, and seniors didn’t have to take it. As a teacher though, I did administer the FCAT, the FCAT 2.0 and the Florida Standards Assessment. And I can tell you, even though the test had three different names, nothing else really changed about them.

Tina: I hear what you’re saying. And once again, Florida is preparing to administer a revamped assessment system. That includes progress monitoring and a new end of the year tests called F.A.S.T. Or the Florida Assessment of Student Thinking. And while Governor DeSantis has made some really big promises about these new tests, the current proposed legislation doesn’t seem to really make those changes. So, Luke, we’re hearing from educators that they’re worried that this new assessment will essentially be FCAT 4.0 .

Luke: And, you know, Tina, I think those fears are probably well-founded. To delve a little bit deeper into this issue, we sat down with four educators. First, you’re going to hear from Anthony Colucci, from Brevard, along with Vicki Kidwell and Bethany Koch from Clay County, and Matt Yount, also a Brevard County teacher.

We talked with them about the current system of standardized tests, what they hope to see with a new testing routine, and what they fear will happen if educator’s voices are ignored. We begin by talking about progress monitoring,  since that seems to be a big focus of the proposed legislation.

Tina: What is the goal of progress monitoring for educators?

Anthony Colucci, BTF President: When you’re teaching in the classroom, it’s important that you make sure the students are learning and you’re not just teaching, right? So, you want to constantly be aware of where your students are at and that they are growing from where they’re currently at. And that is our primary job as educators is to see growth. Progress monitoring is a system to ensure that you are tracking students’ growth, or sometimes lack of growth, and tailoring your instruction to get that growth from students.

Vicki Kidwell, CEA, President: Progress monitoring, from my primary experiences, is very targeted to standards or a skill or a concept that you’re trying to get your students to understand. And it’s the growth of the students towards your goals, against where they were to where you want them to be. It’s not Billy against Bobby; it’s Billy advancing more and more and more on the continuum to where he is competent in the skills and the concepts and the standards that he needs to be competent in. We wouldn’t sit down and compare two kids. Progress monitoring is one student’s growth. And I think student growth is, is the whole picture right there. That student’s growth.

Bethany Koch, HS English teacher: Progress monitoring is not something that you do once a year, right? Progress monitoring in a teacher world is something that we do every day. Sometimes multiple times during the lesson, you know, I teach high school, so I’ve got 50 minutes to teach my kids. And in high school, often in my classes it often looks like an exit ticket, right? So, at the end of the day, we’ll have three short questions, and sometimes that’s taken on a computer, sometimes it’s raising paddles so that we can see who knows what, and then I can understand myself both, you know, how my students are doing, but also how is my teaching time coming across, like is my lesson effective? Do I need to clarify something? And in that way, progress monitoring, I think the most important part of it is that it’s a tool to help us be more effective educators. And that can’t be done with one big, scary, standardized test at the end of the year.

Matt Yount, Brevard Teacher: I would add to that, that progress monitoring should be formative, not punitive. And I think a lot of times what we do with that data is really the kind of thing that gets lost in the shuffle is, are we using that data to assign grades? Are we using that data to assign district grades and assign money? Are we using that data to punish students or teachers? Or are we using that to inform our instruction and to better our instruction?

And I think, another key point is that progress monitoring might look different across different subjects and grades and even student groups. Obviously, my kindergarten counterparts, their progress monitoring is going to look a little different than what I might do in a sixth-grade classroom.

Tina: So, are you saying that the previous testing system did not give you that kind of information?

Matt Yount: Absolutely not. I’ve been I’ve likened it to an autopsy when the checkup was needed. At least in Brevard County, we would sit in meetings at pre-planning of a school year dissecting data from April or May of the previous school year. I was always frustrated, and still remain frustrated, that I could not celebrate the wins with my students, and I couldn’t affect any change in what those things were now, because they were often off to another grade level with another teacher. And I just got handed a bunch of new names, and they were just names and numbers on a page to me, but I’m supposed to do something with that data. So I always found it very frustrating to have to deal with that, you know, from a data desegregation point of view,

Tina: The students have already left, yes. That was one of the things as a parent that I never understood in terms of how that would help a child getting the information afterwards. Go ahead, Bethany.

Bethany Koch: In addition to that, the FSA’s data is kind of masked it’s hard to tell. We don’t get to look at the test, so we don’t get to say like, “oh, this is what, where this question went wrong.” We don’t get to look at the standards that were affected. We don’t know how the scores are calculated; it’s kind of a mystery. In Clay County,  and in my school, we prepare our…we do quarterly checkpoints, and we perform a pair of tests as a cohort with our PLC, according to the standards that are aligned with our curriculum map, put out by the county. And we check on our students’ progress, and then when the test is over, we strategize on how we can, you know, move our kids forward and you know, where we need to improve any weak spots.

Everything that we prepare for never lines up with the FSA, because we don’t have the resources. We don’t know what’s on the FSA exactly. We don’t know what the inside looks like. We don’t have any feedback. So it really is kind of is, it’s like preparing to do a long distance run and then being told you’re going to actually have to swim.

Luke: What I’ve heard already is that during this transition, we need to be sure that results come back in much more quickly, that transparency is essential. What else? If there were no framework, if we were starting from scratch and building an assessment system, what would it look like in your ideal world?

Anthony Colucci: We shouldn’t just be testing the things that are easiest to test. Right? There’s a lot of important skills that don’t find their way onto standardized assessments. I mean, you know, sometimes people refer to them as soft skills, but there’s also standards that tend to be left off because they’re, harder to test. And you know, there once was a student, and you know, this student was told, “Hey, you know, you talk too much, you’ve got too much energy, and you question authority too much. You’re, you’re never going to amount to anything.”

Well, let me just tell you those skills are serving me so well as union president. I mean, it is just, so I think it’s always important to remember the value that each child that has, the unique skills.  Every child has something unique or special about them that they excel in, and it’s important to look for those things too, and not get caught up in the whole system. But we are going to have an accountability system. So, going back to your question, Luke, I think it’s important to not just test the low hanging fruit as well.

Bethany Koch: I think it’s crucial that teachers have an input. We, in my course of my study, we do a planning called “planning with the end in mind.” Right. And it’s crucial that you know your goal and then you can plan backwards from that so that your students are able to achieve that goal.

If we don’t know what that goal looks like, if it’s this shrouded test, it’s very difficult to make sure that students are meeting all their benchmarks, especially with standards that are just very vague, very large. And you’re right, like some of the standards, like research is one of my key standards, but that’s not on the test, so none of us focus on it, right? Because if it’s not going to show up on the test, it’s not something that we can utilize our time for. So, I think teachers need to have input, whether the tests are developed in PLC Cohorts or developed by the district that are then implemented by the cohorts.

I think that we need to have the tests back as soon as they’re done with, you know, direct data about this question, you know, who tripped your kids up, or this question was successful. I think teachers need to be more involved in the process.

Tina: Is that a concern that you have that you won’t have a voice in this process? Because we really don’t know what the progress monitoring tests will look like that are coming from the state. We don’t know if the district will have input, we don’t know if teachers will have input. But what is your biggest concern?

Matt Yount: You know, I think I might speak for a lot of people, I think we’re concerned that it’s just going to be a different flavor of the same thing, that we’re just going to have a different name that might have a new acronym. And we’ll shine up the same old thing and put the same old thing back in front of kids, and that in the interest of change, it won’t actually change. I think that’s my biggest fear, and I know that’s a lot of my colleagues’ biggest fear is that we’ve, taken the brand name and just stuck it on the same old product.

Bethany Koch: And not just that it won’t change, but maybe it’s going to be worse now.

Tina: How could it get worse?

Vicki Kidwell: Because it’s more often. Because now it’s three, three tests. And so progress monitoring, I think the fear for me is that progress monitoring in my mind is something continuous, it’s something teacher created, it’s something you get timely feedback on, it’s something that informs your instruction so students can grow.

FSA and standardized testing is something completely different. So, how do those two things align? If truly we’re going to pivot away from standardized testing and move toward student growth models, that could be a great, great thing, but the fear is it’s going to be created in some hall in Tallahassee, by some testing company that computerizes everything, makes billions of dollars, and handed and shrouded to us, not once at the end of the year, but three times. And the bill saying that pre-K, primary kids starting at pre-K will be doing computer-based tests as a primary teacher, that’s criminal. That’s not growth monitoring or progress monitoring at all, you’re not testing skills or what you really want to test.

What it’s testing is computer skills, listening, attention. I mean it’s not gonna do what we want it to do, and so districts then are gonna know it’s not doing it, so they’re gonna implement, again, still their own progress monitoring. And now we have three times as much state tests, plus all the things the district needs to do so we really know where the kids are. That’s a step backwards, not forwards. And that’s the fear.  

Bethany Koch: Progress moderating in our classrooms is organic. Right? It happens. All the time ADT happened during lessons multiplying during lessons mostly every day. We’re at least at certain checkpoints in your unit or your instruction. And FSA style testing, standardized testing is inorganic, right? We have to shut down schools. We take kids out of their subject and out of their regular learning for hours at a time, if a student misses that test and they are having to be called again and pulled into a cafeteria or pulled into an auditorium and tested again. And if they fail, this is what is the hardest in high school, right? I teach 10th grade English, so if they fail 10th grade, then they’re going to be in the fall, set up in their 11th grade year, doing the same thing. And then in the spring of their 11th grade year, and then in this fall of their senior year. And we pull them again and again and again out of those organic learning experiences they’re having in, in favor of the standardized tests, which is inorganic and doesn’t impact their instruction.

It can’t be utilized by teachers as a tool. It’s just, it’s punitive. It’s, you’ve got to do this to graduate. It’s punitive to the students. We’re going to stick you in another intensive reading class again. And ultimately, it’s punitive to teachers, right? We’re going to base your performance, and not just pay, right?  Performance pay isn’t just about pay it’s a role. It’s a read of how you’re doing in your job. And teachers are not doing this for pay. You know, they’re doing it because we love the kids. So, to be turned around and told, you know, like you’re not doing a good enough job, but it’s demoralizing and it’s hurtful to our profession.

Anthony Colucci: I think we definitely have to consider the whole testing spectrum. If the state changes it’s testing, it’s progress, it’s monitoring, there’s no way that the district should be doing the same old thing. You know, I think it’s super important that as they craft this bill and amend it, that they really consider limiting what the district can do. We don’t need repeat efforts. The amount of time on testing can be insane. As somebody who has administered a ton of tests, I remember just standing there, you know, you walk around going, “wow, I’ve spent, you know, 16 days of my entire life, just walking around, monitoring the tests.” Now imagine how that feels for a student who’s taking those tests.

You know, fortunately, most of us didn’t grow up in this system of standardized testing. It’s overwhelming. And we’ve got to make sure that in this bill, it is the state doing the progress monitoring, not the state and the county is doing the progress monitoring.

Matt Yount: Just to expand on Anthony’s point, I was doing a little diving on my own: We’re on day 97, and I’ve given 14 days’ worth of district testing, and that’s not even counting the two school specific tests I had to give, and then the 20 or so curriculum-based assessments that I would give, you know, just on a weekly basis. And that’s not even counting the state testing that will come in April and May.

So, I just think as a teacher who loves to teach, how much of that time could I get back and actually teach the kids something? And one of my old colleagues, she grew up on a farm, and she used to say, “Matt, we spend so much time weighing the pig that we forget to feed it.” And I just thought that was, you know, beautiful in its simplicity. And I think that’s what’s happening in our education system today.

Luke: Yeah. I mean, I’m again, a former ELA teacher, so someone might need to check my math, but my quick mental calculation is that 14 out of 97, you’re talking about 15% of every school day already this year has been some sort of stuff tested. And, like you said, that’s not even you’re teacher-administered tests, and certainly not the state-administered test. So, that is a tremendous amount of time. And if I did, even if I did the math wrong, 14 days is a tremendous amount of time.

Tina: Well, Luke, even if you did the math wrong, I was speaking with a president in another county who said to me, 20% of their teaching time is lost.  

Vicki Kidwell: And I think too there needs to be some thought given to all the preparing for the tests because of the fear of the high-stakes of the tests, but by students, and educators, it doesn’t matter if it’s not informing your instruction. It’s a hammer over your head, and the students know they can graduate without it, and there’s a lot of anxiety in that. As Bethany said, you know, that’s the non-organic way to do it. If you are doing true progress monitoring and student growth modeling, then you are embedding it in your instruction every day. And there’s no fear. It’s just a part of, “okay here’s where I am now, and here’s why I need to go to.”  And there’s no fear from your instructors.

I never looked at, when I was progress monitoring, “well, this student’s fluency is really weak right here. What, you know, I didn’t say, oh, I’m a horrible teacher, blah, blah, blah.” You know, I didn’t question, my teaching, what I said is I went to my colleagues and said, “What’s another strategy that I can use to reach Billy, because something I’m doing,  and he’s, you know, Bobby and all these other children in this group are getting it that are at this level, but he’s not like, have you got any suggestions for me?”

And we put our heads together. It wasn’t a risk to do that. We knew that our goal was to get Billy forward, and there was no nothing punitive about it. It’s just, “Hey, Billy, I’m going to try, we’re gonna try something new, you know? Don’t worry. Mrs. Kidwell is going to figure it out. We’re going to figure it out together.” It’s, it’s completely organic. It’s everybody working together on the team. It’s what teachers want to do. It’s our mission. We’re there for kids, and we want kids to believe in themselves and it shouldn’t be a fear-based system.

Bethany Koch: As a teacher that teaches 10th grade, right? So, I’m at the end, right? Kids have to pass this test to graduate. You see our students who are in those standard classes who have failed or been told they failed anyway year after year after year.  We’ve got kids that go into these tests and put their heads down and they’re done, right? Like they had been so demoralized by this process that they have no incentive to try, even when that incentive is graduating. Walking the line, you know, and you see this over and over and over again, and it’s heartbreaking.

Kids that are just like, “I can’t do this stuff,” even if they’re doing great in class, even if they’re great learners, even if your progress in class shows that yes, you’re growing. I can see that you’re getting this thing that I’m trying to teach you, but by the time I sit down for this test that they’ve failed, gotten a one or a two, on over and over again, then put in intensive reading again and again and again, they don’t see any motivation to try.

Matt Yount: Well, and to that end, Victoria, the big push and the big buzzwords have been SEL and social-emotional learning. And I think it’s funny that we can say that that’s important, and we can all recognize the importance of that. But at the same time, we introduced this stressful and, you know, sometimes fear-inducing behemoth that is accountability/state testing.

And then we really don’t, we don’t equip the kids with the soft skills to be able to work through that testing anxiety, to work through the fear that builds up in the days preceding a large assessment. And so I think it’s very, you know, we need to just at least recognize that those two do go hand in hand, that fear and that anxiety do go hand in hand with large high-stakes testing.

Anthony Colucci: I think one of the most important things that has to happen is our educators and parents need to be able to see the test questions, right. Because if we’re spending all this time on, on prep and we’re buying into this system, and then a student isn’t successful, we want to know why, we want to make sure that the questions that they are asking are valid and reliable questions.

So, I would hope that the state would be transparent in the questions being available to everyone, because I think that is the best way to move the kids forward is by understanding what the assessor is really getting at.  Because there is some interpretation in standards. I think Bethany said that. We try to figure out all year what they’re going to ask, and then, you know, we’re off a little bit, sometimes big time. So, I would love to be able to examine their questions and answers afterwards. As a parent, too, I’d love to see that.

Tina, Host: If the state doesn’t get this right, in terms of their version of progress monitoring, they’re really going to tarnish a really effective teacher tool for monitoring and evaluating individual student growth. And I think after hearing this people will say, “well, if teachers are already doing this for themselves to help students move forward, why does the state that need to do it too? Why can’t we just rely upon the information that the teachers give us?”

Anthony Colucci: We’ll take that. We’ll take that. Of course, I don’t think anybody on this call would be opposed to that. We also know that there are folks who believe that a different accountability system needs to be in place. And that’s the reality of the times we’re in. And I don’t think teachers are afraid of that are going to shy away from that. However, they want it to be fair and they want it to be accurate and they want it to be meeting its intention and not being the reason why you go to school and learn to perform on a standardized test or a progress monitoring assessment.

Matt Yount: Yeah, I think one of the key indicators of whether this bill will be successful will be whether it’s just taking this massive end of the year clump of days that we assigned to testing, and if they can just expand that over the whole year and maybe alleviate some of the district’s redundancy that’s occurring, I think it’ll be a success.

However, if it just duplicates that end of year test and does it in December and then does that again in August or September, it will be a dismal failure. So, I think that’ll be one of the key indicators for whether this achieved its goal or not.

Tina: Well, educators certainly have a lot to say about testing, especially on the way assessments impact all areas of learning. What an important conversation, and it lasted a little bit longer than the 20 minutes we generally share with you. So, we decided to split the conversation into two parts. In our next episode, our educators focus on the overall accountability system and how its current structure prioritizes student comparisons and applies punitive measures when they don’t make the grade.

Luke, I hope the conversation will engage our listeners to continue to part 2 and share the episodes. In the meantime, Luke, share how people can follow this legislation to figure out what’s going on.

Luke: Oh, I would be glad to! If you would like to stay up to date on the testing bill or anything else pertaining to education proposals under consideration by the legislature, the FEA website is the place to go. It contains a wealth of information on all the education bills as they move through the process. You can visit our session page at www.feaweb.org/session. Again, that’s FEA web.org/session.

Tina: That’s it for our episode. Until we meet again, keep educating from the heart!

Aurora Gonzalez: If you enjoy our podcast, ask your friends and colleagues to subscribe on our website@feaweb.org/EducatingFromTheHeart. Send your comments and feedback to heart@floridaea.org. Again, that’s heart, H E A R T at Florida EA dot O R G. Or you can leave a voicemail at 850-201-3384  

Sharon Nesvig: Educating from the Heart is a production of the Florida Education Association. FEA is the statewide educators’ union with more than 150,000 members, including teachers, education staff professionals, higher education faculty, graduate assistants, students preparing to become teachers and retired educators 

 

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