Leon County Superintendent, Others Call for Investigation of FCAT Grade Changes

The Tallahassee Democrat‘s Travis Pillow reports:

Leon County’s schools superintendent is demanding the state provide the districts with details of state testing data at the center of this month’s miscalculation of school grades.

Superintendent Jackie Pons on Thursday sent state Education Commissioner Gerard Robinson a letter requesting the data on the learning gains made by students who had been struggling on the state’s reading exam.

One part of the new grading formula that took effect this year gave extra weight to gains made by students who scored a 1 or 2 on the previous year’s Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test reading exams. The state revised grades for more than 200 schools statewide after finding out schools had not been credited for that part of the formula.

Pons said the district needs the data to decide whether or not to appeal the grades given to local schools, and also to develop its plans to prepare students for next year. The district is in the process of putting together school-improvement plans based on this year’s test results.

“We need all of this data,” Pons said. “Decisions are made for students based on this data.”

Pons was not alone yesterday is calls for accountability from Rick Scott’s Department of Education. Leslie Postal in the Orlando Sentinel writes:

The Democratic Progressive Caucus of Florida today called for an “immediate independent forensic study of the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test.”

“Floridians have lost faith in the current accountability system,” said Susan Smith, the group’s president.

The caucus cited the much-lower-than-expected FCAT writing scores and the incorrect release of 213 school grades as evidence Florida’s school accountability system needs review.

“Children and teachers are expected to be accountable, but where’s the accountability for Commissioner Robinson and the Board of Education?” Smith said. “They arbitrarily raise, and then lower test standards; report and then change school grades. It’s time for the governor and the Florida legislature to demand an investigation into these tests. We need a full accounting, including disclosure of who is benefiting financially from Florida’s high-stakes testing regime.”

Smith said her group is also starting to campaign against another version of the “parent trigger” bill, which was defeated earlier this year but is expected to be introduced again in the Florida Legislature. Advocates say such bills give parents some say in the fate of a failing school while critics argue it’s a way to turn public schools over to for-profit charter school management companies.

“We cannot put our public schools at risk of being turned over to for-profit management corporations based on a faulty grading system,” Smith said. “Given the recent FCAT controversies, it’s hard to believe these tests can be trusted to give a reliable or valid assessment of student progress or of our public schools.”

The first practical, the second political; Both are significant and together, quite powerful. Pons frustration illustrates the helplessness educators feel as a result of what’s become such a sliding, unpredictable system. On first glance, partisan republicans will dismiss Smith’s statement as, well, partisan. But the words from the president of the Democratic Progressive Caucus of Florida are representative of bipartisan opposition to the current test-based systems. There are lots of republicans within the ranks of local school boards and superintendents who have been speaking out.


About Bob Sikes

A long time ago and a planet far, far away I was an athletic trainer for the New York Mets. I was blessed to be part of the now legendary 1986 World Series Championship. My late father told me that I'd one day be thankful I had that degree in teaching from Florida State University. He was right and I became twice blesses to become a teacher in the late 1990's. After dabbling with writing about the Mets and then politics, I settled on education.
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