Friday, January 9, 2015

Give credit where credit is due

In my last blog post, I wrote about the Collier County School District’s 2013–14 high school report card.

I wrote that post in response to the anger about high stakes/high frequency testing that was directed at the School Board by members of the public at several recent School Board meetings. See, for example, “School board gets an earful on mandated testing,” Naplesnews.com, 12/16/14.

I don’t know if there’s too much testing or not. I do know that it’s the state Legislature and state Board of Education, not the School Board and the Superintendent, that are responsible for the testing mandates, and that our District’s teachers, principals and Superintendent are doing a great job educating Collier’s kids, as measured by the state standards, despite what some say is an onerous amount of testing.

In response to a request by the newly-elected School Board members at the November 18, 2014, School Board Organizational meeting, a Board workshop about the 2014–15 assessment process was held last month. A similar presentation had been made to the Board at its April 8, 2014 meeting.

Bottom line: the testing program is required by state law (F.S. 1008.22), which says:
The Commissioner of Education shall design and implement a statewide, standardized assessment program aligned to the core curricular content established in the Next Generation Sunshine State Standards…. Participation in the assessment program is mandatory for all school districts and all students attending public schools….
As I learned from the School Board workshop and further research, Florida’s system of school improvement and accountability was first introduced in 1991 as a result of the Florida Legislature’s School Improvement and Accountability Act of 1991. That law ultimately resulted in the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT) and the Sunshine State Standards.

I was stunned to learn from the workshop how much the state mandates have changed over a relatively short period of time. I can only imagine how difficult it has been for school administrators and teachers to keep up, which makes me even more impressed with our District’s high school grades.

These are just some of the changes to state law, as presented at the workshop by Luis Solano, Collier Schools’ Associate Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction:
  • 1995 - Identification of critically low-performing schools began, based on reading, math and writing performance for two years.
  • 1999 - Florida’s A - F school grading system began, based on grades 4, 8 and 10 reading, math and writing FCAT results, plus additional criteria, including dropout rates, attendance and discipline data. Results of students with disabilities and English language learners were not included.
  • 2002 - In addition to FCAT performance (50%), learning gains in reading and math (50%) were included in the grade.
  • 2005 - Results of students with disabilities and English language learners were added to the learning gains calculation.
  • 2007 - Science results and bonus points for high school retakes were added.
  • 2010 - New metrics (acceleration, graduation rate and college readiness) as measured by SAT, ACT and PERT tests) were added to account for 50% of a high school’s grade.
  • 2012 - The FCAT was replaced by FCAT 2.0; end-of-course (EOC) assessments were added.
  • 2013 - New science FCAT 2.0 and geometry and biology EOC assessments were added.
  • 2014 - High school grading scale was adjusted with higher grade floors.

Too much testing or not, it’s out of their hands
Following Mr. Solano’s presentation and public comments, the School Board members discussed what they had heard. Board member Roy Terry said, “It’s obvious that what we’re doing now is too much.”

But as Mr. Terry, other Board members and Dr. Patton said, if change is to be made, it has to come from Tallahassee. Board Chair Kathy Curatolo said, “Testing has really gone overboard, but the way to make change is … [to] work together through our system of governing in Florida. Talk to legislators…”

My reason for writing this post is to point out the difference between the things the School Board and superintendent can control, and those that have been imposed on them by the people we voters elected: the state senators and representatives who wrote and passed the bills, and the Governor who signed the bills into law.

If parents, teachers and community members think there’s too much testing, they should direct their anger and frustration at the people who can make changes: their elected representatives. These are their names; they can be contacted through their websites or by phone.

At the same time, let's not lose sight of the fact that our teachers, principals and Superintendent are doing a great job meeting an onerous set of state requirements. Let's give credit where credit is due.

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