Florida Republican Senator Rips Bush Foundation With “I’m Over You”

While Lutz republican senator John Legg is justifiably being complemented by many teachers this morning for the improvements to Florida’s test-based accountability system he managed in SB 616, he subtly revealed that Jeb Bush still holds far too much sway over state republican legislators. In his closing remarks he uttered the name of Bush’s PAC in saying “children have the right to rise. ”

Brandon republican senator Tom Lee obviously doesn’t share Legg’s feelings. From Brandon Larrabee for The News Service of Florida:

….the proposal does not include language that would have allowed students who do well on the SAT, ACT or tests in high-level classes like Advanced Placement courses to skip the corresponding statewide standardized tests. Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, withdrew that amendment after a blistering speech aimed at education accountability advocates like the Foundation for Florida’s Future, founded by former Gov. Jeb Bush.

“I’m done with the testing program in the state of Florida,” said Lee, a former Senate president and chairman of the budget-writing Appropriations Committee. “I’m done with the accountability system. Whoever those people are out there from whatever foundation they may be from, whatever testing groups they may be supporting: I’m over you. You’ve lost my confidence. And the reason you’ve lost my confidence is because I’ve got emails from you last night that said that you’re so married to this system that you don’t have a shred of common sense left.”‘

And Umatilla republican senator Alan Hays, a vocal and active critic during the entire session, stayed that way yesterday:

“It is sad that today, many of our teachers and even administrators are simply waiting to earn their retirement checks because our well-intentioned but misguided policies have taken the joy out of teaching,” Hays said.

While the Bush Foundation is calling this a victory and is patting itself on the back, the reality is that this is a roll-back of their reforms – and it was orchestrated by republicans.

The Senate proposal would put on hold the use of student test data for school grades, teacher evaluations and student promotion to fourth grade until the new Florida Standards Assessments can be independently validated. The testing platform used for the assessments has come under heavy criticism from lawmakers and the public after a rollout last month that featured log-in problems and a cyber attack.

The Senate would also scrap a law requiring school districts to come up with end-of-course tests in classes where the state doesn’t administer such exams; cap at 5 percent the share of students’ time that can be spent on testing; and reduce from 50 percent to a third the portion of a teacher’s evaluation tied to student performance.

Niceville republican senator Don Gaetz said “I think we’ve lost our way and we need to find it again.” And he wants to spend his final year in the Senate on a mission “to bring some order out of chaos.” It became clear on Wednesday that Gaetz meant what he said when he alligned with both Legg and democrat senator Bill Montford to solidify protections against FSA’s current problems.

The mantra Floridians first heard at Bush’s Tallahassee pep rally in February from House Speaker Steve Crisafulli (R-Merritt Island) that “we will not retreat from accountability,” obviously made a lot of republican senators cringe. There are sure to be more than one who agreed with Tom Lee when he said, “I’m over you.”

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The Breaking Republican Senate Coalition on Testing

Nobody really knew that Tampa republican senator Tom Lee felt as he did on Florida’s high-stakes testing regime until yesterday when he took to the senate floors made these comments during debate on SB 616:

Senator Lee: We’ve gotten an A on conceptual aspects of believing in accountability and high standards, but we’re getting an F on execution.”

Senator Lee: “I don’t like this bill. I don’t think it goes far enough.”

Senator Lee: “I would like this Chamber to send the strongest possible message to the Department of Education and our colleagues in the House that we think there’s too damn much testin’ going on in this state.”

Senator Lee: “There is too damn much testing… Just lining the pockets of the testing companies.”

Senator Lee: “The die is cast. We have lost the public relations war in our communities over testing, and all the theory and all the concept is great, but the parents aren’t buying it anymore.” (taken)

Umatilla Senator Alan Hays showed his colleagues that he wasn’t going away yesterday either:

Senator Hays: “Help me understand how you can make that connection when you have a test that has not been validated yet”.

Senator Hays: “How can we use a test that has not been validated?”

Senator Hays: I hope that we can make it very clear that no student will be inappropriately retained, no school grade will be inappropriately assigned, and no administrative or teaching personnel will be inappropriately evaluated by an invalid test.”

Senator Hays: “Don’t we owe it to the students, the parents, and the teachers of this state to do it right instead of doing it in a hurry?”

Senator Hays: We have made a mess of education.

The comments of Lee and Hays were delivered in the face of a compromise amendment filed by Tallahassee democrat Bill Montfrord, Niceville republican Don Gaetz and SB 616’s republican sponsor John Legg from Trinity. From Sunshine State News reporter Allison Nielsen:

…sponsored by Sens. Legg, Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, and Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee, which would require a validity test to be conducted by a third party before schools are given grades or students are penalized for poor performance.

Gaetz admitted the state should have looked into the test before moving forward, but said there wasn’t much that could be done at this point.

“The fact is, we’re in real time now,” he said. “We have two choices … we can either have an independent evaluation or we cannot have one. I’d rather have one than not have one.”

Montford said he would be hard-pressed to support the bill if the grading issue wasn’t confronted head-on.

“We’re in a mess,” he explained. “Quite frankly, to me, I couldn’t support a bill if we didn’t have something to address school grades.”

Gaetz attempted to sooth colleagues fears with “there is a way to do concordant scores and to cross walk those into a school grades so those students are not beleaguered by duplicative testing.” Any “third-party’ would be under the purview of the Florida Department of Education.

Yes, Gaetz went there. Senators and Floridians should be reminded that concordant scores (cut scores) – some sort of sliding scale to compare FSA and FCAT – would be created by an untrustworthy FDOE whom have been calling invalid FSA tests valid for the past six weeks. Scathing Purple Musings remembers the last time that the FDOE needed to do concordant score or cut scores here. in 2013. And how even Legg complained about the slow pace.

In 2013, then commissioner Tony Bennett was tasked with establishing a concordant score between FCAT, the ACT and the SAT. All of these had years of results and a reasonable data pool. How on Earth Gaetz believes that one year of FSA results compares with any other assessment is far more of a stretch. Especially with a conflicted FDOE and Rick Scott’s hand-picked Florida Board of Education in charge.

The republican-controlled Senate took several steps backward yesterday as they realized enough of their own caucus hadn’t been convinced yet. A combination of arm-twisting by Jeb Bush’s power-brokers may not be enough to overcome organized and motivated constituents.

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Republican Exec Committee From Don Gaetz’ Hometown Calls for Support of Dem Amendments to SB 616

In late filings to SB 616, sponsor Senator John Legg added a provision which brought the bill closer to the House version and Senator Alan Hays – along with a Democrat co-sponsor, Senator Bill Montford – resubmitted his clear language to end third grade retention and to hold stakeholders harmless. In a remarkable email blast last night, the Okaloosa County Republican Executive Committees (OREC) urged passage of Hays-Montford along with one  of Miami Democrat Dwight Bullard which would allow districts flexibility to give paper exams and also allow them to choose a nationally norm referenced test in lieu of the FSA.

Tomorrow the floor of the Florida Senate will be taking up SB 616 and it will most likely come up for a final vote on Thursday. We have sent out many alerts and summaries on SB 616 as it has gone through the process and we can all agree it does not go far enough to protect our children from the negative effects of the Florida Standards Assessments.

Many amendments have been filed at this time that would make this bill much better for our children and teachers.

Senator Hayes and Senator Montford have put together amendments that would greatly strengthen the legislation making this year a baseline year for all students, teachers and schools. It would end the retention of 3rd graders for the FSA test scores for this year and would be a vital protection to teachers and school districts.

These are strong amendments that are needed to make this legislation help our children after the disaster of the FSA rollout.

Let your senator know that you will not accept them playing political games with our children. Call your senator and demand they support the Hayes/Montford Amendments and the Bullard Amendments. Make sure they do NOT support the Legg Amendment.

Bullard will be looking forward to pointing out to his republican colleague that they are allowing voucher schools to take “nationally norm-referenced tests” and skip all the accountability standards that they mandate on public schools. Can’t wait to hear some back-and-forth on that.

Influential public school advocacy group Fund Education Now agrees with the OREC:

Sen. Legg also filed a significant change to bring his bill closer to the House language.  Despite this, Sen. Legg was unable to add the words that would keep our children from being harmed by the pending FSA disaster.

Sen. Montford and Sen. Hayes realize it’s time to stop third grade retention, stop denying diplomas and end school grades until Florida’s testing system has been thoroughly vetted and determined to be valid.

Take action and please ask these key Senators SimmonsSen. HuckillSen. Detert, Sen. Garcia, Sen. Diaz de la Portilla, Sen. Evers and Sen. Dean to put Florida’s children first and embrace the adoption of the Hays/Montford Hold Harmless amendment to SB 616.

Our children must not be hurt based on the flawed FSA.

The OREC summarizes thus:

SB 616 is not the end of our fight on Common Core but it does show that the pressure you are putting on is making the Florida Legislature take notice. While many of the aspects of this legislation leaves important issues untouched in the statutes, it is important to understand that it does not worsen the situation in any manner and does make some small improvements to the overall subject.

This legislation is already much stronger than the house version and without it, Common Core and the FSA testing would remain the same as it was this year. 3rd grade students would still be retained automatically and without any recourse if SB 616 does not pass. Teachers will still have 50% of their teacher evaluations held to one test (either the FSA or other end of course exam).

I think we call can agree that what has happened this year with the roll out of the FSA, retaining 3rd graders for the results of one test and teachers having 50% of their evaluations relying on one test is not acceptable. While SB 616 is not the end of our fight, without it the consequences for our students, teachers and schools would be much worse.

Looks like there’s going to be drama on the senate floor after all.

The OREC position is stunning in that it demonstrates that state republicans see the link between common core standards and Florida’s burdensome accountability system. They don’t like it either. There are bound to be others.

Sadly it’s clear that Legg chose not to shepherd through real changes to SB 616 after all.

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Will SB 616 Sponsor John Legg Be the One to Shepherd Through a Temporary Hold Harmless on Testing?

As the week begins, the republican-dominated Florida Senate is still characterized as having a “willingness” to go slowly on accountability provisions in Senator John Legg’s SB 616 testing reform bill. They are recognizing that the state’s new FSA tests are off to a rocky start and are anticipating future problems.  Orlando republican senator David Simmons has consistently been drawing the narrative out of Florida Department of Education officials during hearings and has gotten his colleagues to use the v-word in public.

Despite what the FDOE is saying, FSA tests should never have beeen considered “valid” on arrival for the simple reason they’d never been field tested by the population whom were to take the tests. Pam Stewart are her spokespersons have been acting irresponsibly by saying otherwise, especially with so may individual kids’ tests being rendered invalid after losing them.

Despite the clumsy transition during last week’s Senate Appropriations hearing from Senator Alan Hays’ hold harmless amendment to one belonging to Simmons, Legg remained gracious and accommodating. Though the some of the teeth of Hays’ language on 3rd grade retention is out, Simmons’ is clear that FSA must be found to be valid before they can be a part of Florida’s multi-level accountability apparatus.

Maybe it’s something Legg was looking for from the start.

There were enough big guns under the control of Jeb Bush in Senate Appropriations that day  to squash Hays-Simmons and deliver the “we will not retreat from accountabilty” meme. But they remained silent and quietly allowed Simmons amendment to be adopted, signalling that they may know there are already enough republican votes to pass it in a floor vote.

Hays gave the spirit of his hold-harmless amendment quite a send-off during the hearing and may have been speaking on behalf of many of his colleagues. Leadership tries to avoid drama on the floor if they can and probably doesn’t want to hear from Hays again. Nor from Senator Nancy Detert who remains one of the Senate’s most persuasive floor speakers.

Legg deserved credit for SB 616 even before Hays-Simmons was apparently adopted. His bill includes a sober draw down on the amount of testing and a much-needed reduction in the percentage that test data will matter in a teacher’s evaluation.  If he is able to include FSA hold harmless in the bill that reaches Governor Rick Scott’s desk, it will become clear he’s become Tallahassee’s most important figure on education policy.

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Uncertainty Remains in Senate on Hays-Simmons Hold Harmless Amendment to SB 616

Chatter from the Florida Senate was unusually quite over the weekend for a bill which would take in the most oxygen on the floor this week. Perhaps it’s because even senators aren’t sure what’s going on. From Lynn Hatter for WFSU on amendments proposed by Senator’s Alan Hays which appeared to have been replaced by one from David Simmons:

Hays had a broader proposal that would have stopped testing all together. But it was replaced with the graduation and retention language by Republican Senator David Simmons. Teachers would still be evaluated and paid based upon results of the Florida Standards Assessment. But low performing third and tenth graders could use an alternative assessment to determine whether they are held back or graduate. House Speaker Steve Crisafulli told reporters Friday he isn’t keen on the idea of giving those students a pass:

“We feel like we shouldn’t be taking that approach but there will be conversations between the House and Senate moving forward.”

Throughout session the Senate has insisted on “safety provisions” in case districts experience big problems with the new Florida Standards Assessment. The Senate bill includes a provision that allows districts to apply for a school grade waiver from the state. So far—technical glitches plagued the online writing version of the exam—and teachers, parents, and district administrators are skeptical whether the rest of the tests will be any better. Andy Ford, President of the state teacher’s union the Florida Education Association—says even with the changes in the bill, problems remain:

“This is not an easy situation everyone finds themselves in, and Testing season has already begun and what you’re talking about, trying to put the breaks on  may not be possible at this point,” he said.

Most members of the Senate Appropriations Committee doesn’t deal with education, and Wednesday marked the first time many of them had seen the proposal. The issue is complicated, and even after two hours of discussion, Democratic Arthenia Joyner expressed her exasperation with the issue, calling it a “quagmire” and a quandary”.

“I must confess, after 15 years this is the most confused I’ve been at the end of a long day about a bill,” she said.

No news reports were filed over the weekend. The Florida Senate website makes no mention of either Hays or Simmons amendmentScathing Purple Musings made these observations last week.

In Gradebook, Jefferey Solochek provides a text of the Simmons amendment:

So what exactly did the Senate panel adopt? Its language refers to how test results will be used in the transition to new Florida Standards Assessments (see the TRANSITION section of the main bill, starting at line 493). The amendment reads:

(c) Until such time as an independent verification of the psychometric validity of the statewide, standardized assessments first implemented in 2014-2015 is provided, for purposes of determining grade 3 English Language Arts student performance retention pursuant to s. 1008.25(5) and high school graduation requirements pursuant to s. 1003.4282, student performance on the 2014-2015 statewide, standardized assessments shall be linked to 2013-2014 student performance expectations. Students who score in the bottom quintile on the 2014-2015 grade 3 English Language Arts assessment shall be identified as at-risk students. School districts must notify parents of such students, provide evidence as outlined in s. 1008.25(6)(b), and provide the appropriate intervention and support services for student success in fourth grade.

This wording does not end or put off the retention of third graders.

Rather, it gives schools the responsibility to prove that children scoring in the lowest 20 percent (“bottom quintile”) on the state reading test deserve promotion according to existing law. That law sets forth seven acceptable good cause exemptions for promotion, such as a portfolio demonstrating the student’s abilities.

“If they can’t prove promotion, they won’t be promoted,” bill sponsor Sen. John Legg explained.

Did, Legg,  SB 616’s sponsor, just agree to add Simmons’ amendment without reservation? Will the senate still face some sort of vote on Hays-Simmons?

Joyner is sure not to be the only senator who isn’t quite sure what happened during last week’s Appropriations hearing when Hays-Simmons was up. The Senate’s republican leadership often keeps things quite. The confusion in a public forum leads one to believe there are a lot of balls in the air right now on SB 616. The only clue as to what’s about to happen comes from the calendar which reads this from a March 27 update:

• Pending reference review -under Rule 4.7(2) – (Committee Substitute)
• Placed on Calendar, on 2nd reading
• Placed on Special Order Calendar, 04/01/15

Stay tuned.


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How Two Wealthy Floridians Spent $2 Million During the 2014 Cycle to Control Education Legislation

On Friday Step Up for Students blog, redefinED, published a story about this year’s bill from the Florida House which SUFS writer Travis Pillow describes as a “funding” and  “accountability’ bill:

Florida charter schools could face more scrutiny from school districts, and also get more support and predictable facilities funding under a bill approved by the state House.

The chamber approved HB 7037 on a 75-35 without debate in a vote that fell along party lines.

It was the first bill passed by Rep. Bob Cortes, a freshman Republican from Central Florida.

Key provisions would ease the expansion of charter schools that open in areas served by academically struggling district schools, and create a funding backstop for charter schools, which drew questions on Thursday from Democrats who worried about its impact on school district budgets.  The House also approved measures allowing traditional school principals to receive charter-like autonomy, and giving traditional public schools the same flexibility under state class-size penalties that charter schools enjoy.

Observers of the republican-dominated legislature know the drill.  Any reform bill is intended to benefit the state’s big charter school corporations first. Floridians know there won’t be anything in a House bill which Charter Schools USA doesn’t.

It is true that the House sponsor of HB 7037 surprised some as it didn’t come from the for-profit charter school industries go-to legislators. Cortes is a new representative, but one who has an impressive resume of public service. A quick glimpse at campaign finance data shows no direct contributions from either of the big charter schools or their bosses, but they easily do it indirectly. Let’s explore how.

Starting after the 2012 election, Charter Schools USA boss, Jonathan Hage authorized over $275,000 in campaign contributions to influence Florida elections.

Within this amount are four contributions totaling $115,000 made to the Republican Party of Florida. The Republican Party of Florida (RPOF) made 18 in-kind rollover donations totaling  $100,000 to Cortes within an 8 month period. This is one way Hage can legally make a larger donation go further. There is a $1000 limit per donation to individual campaigns.

Charter Schools USA made one whopping payment of $100,000 during this same campaign cycle to  John Kirtley’s, Florida Federation for Children. Kirtley is the founder of Step Up for Students and still serves as their board chairman.  Along with wife, Kirtley made three donations to the RPOF totally approximately $35,000.  The Kirtley’s contributed four times to Florida Federation of Children (FFC) for a total of $357,000. In all the Kirtley’s contributed almost $525,000 to influence Florida elections.

The website for Florida Federation for Children has been inactive since 2010. Along with Step Up for Students, it is identified and linked as a state ally of the American Federation for Children. Kirtley is the vice chairman of its board.  During the 2014 election cycle it made 10 payments to FFC totally close to $600,000. During the entire cycle FFC took in almost $1.2 million in cash.

On its inactive website, FFC describes what they do as follows:

We identify election circumstances in which there is a discernible difference between the candidates on the issues of parental choice and education reform, regardless of any other factor, especially party affiliation. We then engage in electioneering communications to voters throughout Florida, making them aware of candidates and their positions on issues of the day.

It’s obvious that Hage and Kirtley know each other and recognize that they have common self-interests.  Scathing Purple Musings wrote more about their connection earlier this month. Hage’s $100,000 coupled with the massive amount of funds that Kirtley moved to Florida Federation for Children accounted for over $900,000 of the almost $1.3 million total the EOC took in during the 2014 cycle. Both financially benefit from the massive movement of taxpayers dollars from public schools to private, unaccountable entities.

Lets look at the totals another way. Between Jonathan  and Sherrie Hage, Charter Schools USA and their project developmental arm, Red Apple Development, approximately $345,000 was spent between November 2012 and November 2014 to influence Florida politics.

As for Kirtley during the same time, he and his wife wrote checks totaling close to $525,000. Kirtley also controls the $1.2 million of Florida Federation for Children making the two-year total about $1.725 million.

Over a two-year period, two Floridians – Charter Schools USA boss Jonathan Hage and hedge funder John Kirtley spent over $2 million to influence Florida education policy. Well less than 5 percent goes to Florida Democrats. It’s no small wonder that charter school and school voucher legislation move so smoothly through the state’s republican-dominated legislature.





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The Well-Financed Effort to Marginalize and Intimidate Opt-Out Parents

Though she resigned as chair late last year, last week’s Tweet from Students First was pure Michelle Rhee:

Will the movement realize it’s fighting a losing cause?

In its Tweet, Students First links to an opinion piece from one of its Gates-funded allies, Teach Plus CEO Celine Coggins which appeared in Real Clear Education. Coggins naturally had a study commissioned by her group handy:

It is ironic that the opt-out movement has focused on the new assessments, designed to be more rigorous and of higher quality than prior tests, and to align with higher standards taught across the nation. Earlier this school year, we invited over 1,000 teachers from across five cities to an intensive day of studying the PARCC assessment.

A report we published earlier this month on their feedback reveals that overall, the teachers found PARCC to be a better assessment than their prior state tests, with 79 percent of teachers finding it to be a higher-quality assessment. Teachers also found clear alignment between PARCC and the standards they teach. The majority of teachers, 69 percent, believed that PARCC measures the critical thinking skills students need to be college and career ready.

If the end game is to end “toxic” tests in favor of better quality ones, the opt-out folks may have set their sites on the wrong target.

Coggins’  study was limited to the controversial PARCC exam and it was extremely easy for a professional educator to find it “better than their older assessment” and a “higher-quality assessment” which “measures the critical thinking skills students need to be college and career ready.” Such limited scope hardly represents those same educators’ position on the wisdom and utility of high-stakes tests.

The later “skills”  needed to be “college and career ready” are boilerplate industry common core talking points advanced by the Chamber of Commerce and testing corporations.

Coggins mischaracterizes the point-of view of opt-out parents as wanting to “end ‘toxic” tests in favor of better quality ones” and  falsely asserts that opt-out parents “reject the notion that schools should have any accountability for student learning to grade level standards.” Opt-out parents know that PARCC and all other current high-stakes exam are far more than “standardized assessments that provide data on student knowledge and learning to teachers, students, parents and the public at large.” They disempower them while permanently empower those who control the tests.

Coggins understands opt-out parents position and her professed “puzzlement” is disingenuous at best. Her piece is part of a larger effort to discredit and even intimidate opt-out parents. From Jacksonville Times-Union reporter Denise Smith Amos:

“Since the campaign of intimidation from the (Florida Department of Education) and from certain districts, we have seen our numbers explode,” (Opt-Out Orlando co-founder Sandy) Stenoff said. “We have grown from 1,700 to almost 3,000 in the last two weeks alone. That’s just the Opt Out Orlando group. The other groups are growing steadily by the day as well”

Recent letters from state officials to school districts and parents said opting out was not an option spelled out in state law. But instead of discouraging parents, the letters enticed some parents to join opt out groups, Stenoff said.

“It’s the law, to take the test,” said Claudia Claussen, an education department spokeswoman

The war over high-stakes testing has moved to another, larger stage. It was easy for dollars from billionaires to demean and demonize public school teachers as self-interested union hacks, but now they are having discredit and marginalize parents. It remains to be seen if the combination of characterizing opt-out parents as misguided – as did Coggins,  along with telling parents that they’ll do as their told – as does the FDOE – is a winner. But it is indeed puzzling when the same folks say “parents know best” and want “parental choice” don’t mean it all the time.



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Selective Data and Outrage from the Bush Foundation Discredited By Those “Devious Plans to Undermine Class-Size Amendment”

Writing for Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education, Mike Thomas bemoans Florida’s class size amendment as a “$30 billion mistake.”

What sounded good on a ballot turned chaotic when implemented to the letter of the law. We now have an annual exercise in head counting, body shifting and last-minute scrambling. Districts found in violation are fined, draining funds intended for educating students. Some districts have intentionally violated the class-size requirements because it can be cheaper just paying the fines.

Thirteen years after voters approved the amendment, the state has spent $30 billion implementing it. In 2010, researchers from the Harvard Kennedy School examined test scores between 2004 and 2009 in grades 3-8 and concluded that shrinking classes “had no discernible impact upon student achievement, either positive or negative.’’

The rapid academic gains made by Florida students over the past 15 years track accountability reforms, not class-size reductions.

If you had to summarize the national research, the general consensus is that smaller classes most benefit disadvantaged children in the early grades. Beyond that, any advantage becomes far less clear.

Floridians know that no piece of propaganda comes out of Bush’s foundations without  data being water boarded into submission. Collier county school board, Erika Donalds member easily dispatches this Bush blather with a more honest look at some of the data that Thomas touts in a  substantive memorandum which appeared in the Naples Daily News:

While the citizens of Florida should be proud of the educational gains since the mid-1990’s, several indicators should give pause for reflection as the State and its districts contemplate changes to its assessment and accountability model:

* Florida ranks about average on NAEP relative to other states. However, in recent years it has posted below average gains and lost ground.

 *Improvements in FCAT have also plateaued with modest gains in reading and no gains in math for 5-6 years.

 *Half of Florida’s graduates cannot read at grade-level2.

 *High school graduation rates remain among the lowest in the country (rank: 40th).

 *College going rates remain average relative to other states.

 *The percent of Florida’s graduates who score at high levels on the ACT or SAT is significantly lower than the national average, even among states with similar percentage of students tested.

 *A larger percent of students attending college in Florida require remediation relative to those in other states (about 54% versus about 40% nationwide.)

Always parroting the Bush foundations rhetoric, the FDOE predictably dismissed Donalds’ memorandum as “it neglects to characterize real gains.” This is code for “pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.”

Worse for Thomas attempt to cite government waste in the state’s class size amendment, Donald’s memorandum cites waste in Florida’s high-stakes testing regime which serves as life’s blood to the FDOE-Bush tag team. Along with co-author, Adam Cota who interestingly has prepared research for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Donalds indicated there is a “financial ‘opportunity cost’ associated with lost instructional time.”

In other words, Donalds-Cota are showing that Florida taxpayers are paying quite a bit for real instruction time that’s understandably lost because of tests –  as much as $1.8 billion. Bush loyalists won’t even hear of such blasphemy.

Thomas screed against costs of the class-size amendment is a demonstration of real chutzpah as it was his boss, Jeb Bush, who said in 2002 that he had “devious plans” to undermine the class-size amendment. It was Bush who put the “$30 billion mistake” in motion.

The growing number of educrats who flow back and forth between Bush-controlled foundations and the FDOE are dependent on maintaining both the state’s high-stakes test regime and the Florida model of faux success. Any contrarian read of their data is a real threat to them, but a service to all Floridians. Donalds and Cota  have done just that.





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Donalds-Cota Dispatches Florida Test-Based System, Discredits Bush-FDOE Data Spin

From Sunshine State News reporter Allison Nielsen:

Overtesting is costing too much and could be causing Florida’s performance to stagnate on the national level, according to a new report released this week from a state school board member and a prominent researcher on national education.

Using data pulled from the Florida Department of Education, Collier County School Board member Erika Donalds and researcher and InfiLaw Academic Affairs team member Adam Cota estimate that schools will spend around 10 percent of class time testing, and each Florida student will spend around a full school year testing before graduating high school

Lost testing time comes with a hefty price tag, too: the new report found districts and the state will spend roughly $2 billion in lost instructional time.

Donalds and Cota believe the biggest source of lost time was the loss of focus at the end of the year after high-stakes assessment tests have already been given. Because assessment scores are nearly 50 percent of teacher evaluations and hence are a primary focus in the classroom, the report says it’s predictable that teachers and students lose steam academically and may kick back and relax after the assessments are complete.

Nielsen reports that the Florida Department of Education is pushing back against Donalds-Cota for it’s read of data as it conflicts with the narrative they and its close allies at Jeb Bush’s foundations have been advancing.

But the department says the report neglects to characterize the “real gains” that have taken place in Florida’s education system. The DOE says districts should be responsible for these types of reports.

“It would be most appropriate for districts to conduct the studies recommended in the paper, and to have them collect data, rather than the anecdotal evidence cited in the report,” read a statement from the FDOE. “For example, the ‘loss of focus metric’ is the largest proportion of the statistics cited for ‘indirect loss of instructional time,’ yet there is no clear basis provided for this estimate.

The FDOE’s current and ongoing gross mischaracterization of FSA validity eliminates what little credibility they had left – particularly when it comes to massaging numbers. They’d surely dismiss data on “indirect loss classroom instructional time” as it “neglects to characterize real gains.”

Donalds-Cota’s findings are easy to read and void of the sort of  statistical academic gas that FDOE and the Bush foundation educrats spew:

…despite the fact that the state is spending this much time on testing, the report found that Florida has still been trailing behind at the back of the pack in many respects, despite making hefty gains in education in the late 1990s.

Take, for instance, Florida’s high school graduation rates. The state had a 60 percent graduation rate several years ago, a number which has climbed to 75 percent. But Florida still ranks 40th in the nation among all states in high school graduation rates, and has for a number of years.

Florida students aren’t posting gains as high on national assessment tests, either. The percentage of Florida students scoring “advanced” on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) test only increased from 5 percent in 2003 to 6 percent in 2013, while the national average jumped from 5 percent to 7 percent.

NAEP scores have failed to remain consistent over the years as well. Fourth-grade reading scores improved from 32nd to eighth from 2003 and 2013, but the group of 4th-graders which took the NAEP test in 2009 (where they ranked 10th nationally) fell to 33rd as 8th-graders.

The findings are worrying for Donalds, who says although the state might be doing a better job at preparing students for a basic level of thinking, they aren’t quite as prepared for the rigors of college or more advanced subjects.

When students get to college, around 54 percent of Florida’s college freshmen taking placement exams require remedial education, opposed to about 40 percent of college freshmen nationwide.

Senate republicans blew a unique opportunity yesterday to ease the pressure on themselves that the current FSA disaster is creating. They should have embraced Hays’ amendment to SB 616 which ended 3rd grade retention and held stakeholders harmless until FSA results can be validated, but there were too many republican Jeb Bush absolutists seated in the Appropriations committee. Too many republicans march to the “we won’t retreat from accountability” meme.

Donalds-Cota is a new threat as it comes from one on their own. Donalds is part of a spin-off group of local school board members whom embrace vouchers and the republican-driven school choice agenda. Though now a maverick among colleagues, her memorandum finds common cause with Floridians save the “we won’t retreat from accountability” crowd.







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Why Alan Hays Pulled His Amendment Which Protected Florida Students From Invalid FSA Tests

During yesterday’s Senate Appropriations Committee hearing, and quick little sidebar away from the microphones occurred between four senators. The sponsor of the senate version (SB 616) of high-stakes testing reform, Senator John Legg was huddled with Senator’s David Simmons, Bill Galvano, and Alan Hays. The later, Hays, had filed an amendment to Legg’s bill which would have ended 3rd grade retentions and hold harmless all stakeholders from the results of new FSA tests until they were found to be valid.

A few minutes later, Hays pulled his amendment in favor of a watered down amendment by Simmons. Galvano was there to tell his republican colleague that he didn’t have the votes and Simmons made sure that Hays had a way to save face. Legg was there because it was his bill and he had obviously informed Hays that he was going to classify his amendment as an unfriendly one.

During Hays remarks surrounding his amendment and his decision to pull it, it was clear he believed in it. Maybe Simmons did, too. But because there weren’t enough republican votes for it yesterday in Appropriations, that it was best that it not suffer a defeat. Hence, the senate has the spirit of Hays amendment in its place in the form of Simmons’ amendment.

Legg later reportedly refused to meet with a group of parents because they weren’t from his district. They met with Legg’s chief of staff, Jim Browne instead. When addressing the parents concerns about special populations among the bottom 20 percent of a bell curve, Browne curiously replied that “they didn’t care about the bottom 2o percent.”

The words of Legg’s chief of staff indicate that Legg and republican leadership don’t want to be challenged on FSA validity in general and 3rd grade retention in particular even in the face of real test validity issues. While Simmons has done a good job of pointing out to his colleagues that FSA has real validity problems and that Pam Stewart’s FDOE isn’t being entirely candid, he’s not known to bucking leadership. But Hays will.

It’s fair to wonder whether or not Hays thought back yesterday to 2012 when he told Jeb Bush, “No.” Hays had been a sponsor of a controversial parent trigger bill but voted against the bill in a dispute with then senate president Mike Hairodololis.  Bush dispatched an influential member of Hays’ community, Gary Lester, VP of the Villages retirement community  to call on Hays. Hays held firm.

Bush later attributed the defeat – via a 20-20 tie – was due to the senate’s “Byzantine traditions.” Odd for a guy who doesn’t mind being referred to as Veto Corleone. In 2012, Bush Corleone sent Luca Brasi from the Villages to make Hays an offer he couldn’t refuse, but Hays refused. Who could blame Hays if he thought Bush just used other lieutenants yesterday.

Hays has a lot on his plate during this session – he was ripped by the Ocala Star-Banner  today in his role as chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on General Government, so he cannot be blamed for looking to do a little horse trading. But Hays has demonstrated that he will take on the big boys and it was quite clear yesterday that he believed in his amendment.

Somehow, you just know Hays’ amendment will make its way to the senate floor. A vote by Bush’s lieutenants against Hays amendment or even Simmons’ watered down version  will show they aren’t concerned about FSA’s validity and what it might mean for Florida kids.




Posted in EDUCATION, Florida, FLORIDA POLITICS | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments