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Need Evidence that Standardized Testing is Misguided? Look At Florida!

October 26, 2015

In her NYTimes article appearing two days after President Obama decided to abandoned standardized testing, Lizette Alvarez provides the President with some political cover to reinforce the rationale for his decision by looking at what is going on in Florida where Superintendents, with the support of parents and Board members, are rejecting the politically motivated ranking of schools and teachers based on test results. Why?

In speeches, letters to the editor and appeals to state officials, (the Superintendents) are arguing that the tests were flawed — first, because they were developed for Utah schools and based on the curriculum taught there, and second, because of a string of disruptive technical glitches when they were rolled out here.

In a move typical of political bodies across the country, the Florida legislature acting at the behest of its Governor, implemented a system for grading schools based on standardized test results… without determining what the basis of the tests would be and without determining how the test would be administered. Because of the urgency driven by an unrealistic timeline and antipathy for the Common Core because it was forced on them by Washington, the State Board of Education decided to use a computer-based test designed for Utah, another state that abandoned the Common Core. The predictable result of “fast, cheap, and easy” was a test that failed to match FL standards, encountered countless computer problems, and was statistically flawed.

No matter, though… the State intends to proceed with its grading of schools:

State education officials and Republican lawmakers say that even though this year’s scores on the test, formally called the Florida Standards Assessment, will be used to grade schools, those grades will not be used punitively. The grades, they say, are a crucial component of Florida’s efforts to provide information to parents and make schools accountable, and are required by state law.

State officials bolstered their argument by pointing to a recent study by a test development and research group, Alpine Testing Solutions, that Governor Scott and the Legislature ordered after the test’s chaotic rollout. The study found that the state could use the scores to draw general conclusions about groups, such as schools or teachers.

“I personally believe that it is important that we inform schools, principals, parents and teachers how their school is performing,” said Pam Stewart, Florida’s education commissioner. “Absent a school grade, we lose out on that momentum.”

The Superintendents, after reading the same study, drew a different conclusion:

Although the study supported using the scores to draw some conclusions, it also determined that the testing lacked the “normal rigor and standardization” typically expected. It called the rollout “problematic” and said there were issues with “just about every aspect of the administration.”

The Superintendents now have another arrow to add to their quiver. The President of the United States has questioned the validity of test-based accountability. Oh… that’s right… it’s the rejection of the President’s Common Core initiative that led to all of this debacle.

Somewhere in the country I hope that some Governor will seize the opportunity the abandonment of test-based accountability presents and develop and implement a long-term accountability effort that is developed based on input received from teachers and administrators… one that won’t measure what the fast, cheap, and easy system of Florida measures, which was summarized by one FL Superintendent/legislator:

“Rich schools will get A’s, and poor schools will get F’s,” said State Senator Bill Montford, a Democrat who is the head of the Florida Association of District School Superintendents.

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