Erika Donald’s Game-Changing White Paper on Florida’s Testing Regime

Knocking on the door of state-wide recognition as a leader in state education policy since her election to the Collier county school board member, Erika Donalds may have eclipsed her own expectations with the release of a white paper memorandum of state testing policy. From Kate Rosenberg in the Naples Daily News:

NAPLES, Fla. – Collier County School Board member Erika Donalds has a message for the Florida Legislature and the Department of Education: It is time for reform.

Donalds announced Wednesday she co-wrote a 31-page white paper saying school districts should analyze how much instructional time is lost directly and indirectly due to standardized testing. She said the authors question whether overtesting is responsible for stagnant academic performance.

On Page 1 the paper recommends: “Governor Rick Scott direct Commissioner Pamela Stewart to investigate the indirect loss of instructional time associated with on-the-ground testing realities and revise the Department of Education’s Assessment Investigation Report (“DOE Report”) and make changes to recommendations as needed.”

The link to Donald’s memo is embedded in the story.

Among the findings in the memo which Donald’s prepared along with well-respected education policy expert Adam Cota:

*Florida ranks average or below average on most measures of academic performance and college preparation and is no longer improving faster than other states.

* Florida’s well-documented rise in education performance relative to other states ended abruptly around 2009.

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

* Half of Florida’s graduates cannot read at grade-level

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

* NAEP gains were primarily driven by improvements in 4th grade achievement. However, this progress is not sustained by the time those same students become 8th graders raising questions about the level of learning.

* Florida students may be losing almost 10% of class time to testing in 2014-15 including FSA exams, EOCs, benchmarks, first-time takers and retakes, and other lost instruction time.

Particularly timely is the Donalds-Cota analysis of SB 616, Sen. John Legg’s testing reform bill:

SB616 states “A school district may not schedule more than 5 percent of total school hours to administer statewide, standardized assessments and district-required local assessments.” It is unclear however, what is counted in this 5%. For instance, at a student level, only ~1% of instructional time is lost directly to testing. Capping direct testing time to 5% fails to address the larger indirect costs (~8% of instructional time lost). Including indirect costs in the cap will create an unwieldy bureaucracy required to track and audit lost instructional time. Perhaps more importantly, it would have no impact on the largest indirect cost to the current assessment model – the loss of focus after end-of-course and other high stakes tests are given.

It remains to be seen what impact the Donalds-Capa white paper will have. Donalds, after all,  has taken the unusual move to create a spin-off state school board association, one which is more friendly to school vouchers. Still, she has staked out her own territory.



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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4 Responses to Erika Donald’s Game-Changing White Paper on Florida’s Testing Regime

  1. Jupiter Mom says:

    Where is the link to the White Paper she wrote?

  2. PIERCE TAYLOR says:

    We will be there.I’m sorry I did not RSVP earlier. It slipped through my radar during Spring Break. Pierce

  3. Bill analysis:
    John Legg has presented a new bill February 2, 2015 with much fanfare, SB 616.

    Like most other efforts by those who created the problem, this one creates more questions than answers. His bill attempts to solve the problem of too much testing by simply demanding that schools should limit testing to 5% of the school year while it doesn’t reduce most testing requirements by the State. This limit can be exceeded by parental permission only.

    If schools can only use standardized tests 5% of class time, (9 of 180 days) does that mean just the time they are sitting and filling in the blanks? Who measures this and tracks it? What about the time they are sitting in their classroom with no teacher while she proctors the makeup tests or retests? This is what creates most of the 40% estimated class time lost in testing, not learning. We don’t have a computer for every student and the “musical chairs” problem is a huge and expensive complexity!

    Who will notify parents when the 5% threshold is reached? Is that 5% collectively by school, by class, or individually? If only “permission” is required over 5%, why would parents deny this and under what penalty? This “edict” is no better than just raising the bar and demanding better performance, a strategy they are using for testing overall. And by the way, most have agreed the tests used to measure success are unreliable at best.

    Schools must test because they are mandated to do so in statutes Senator John Legg helped create. The existing mandated tests fit nicely into the 9 day window if you don’t account for the lack of testing computers, space and proctors, retests and makeup tests, and this would not provide real relief for students, teachers and schools.

    This bill prescribes how teachers and schools must be evaluated in detail, removing all local control from local districts and providing unworkable and formulaic measures with no evidence of successful use. What makes 30% test score weight in teacher evaluation the right number? Why not 70% or 10% or 50% as it was? No one has explained or scientifically justified these arbitrary numbers which have high stakes consequences for students and teachers. The same goes for the 5% number on the amount of time for testing. Why not 1%, or 10%? This guessing game experiment has no empirical data to suggest it will improve education for students.
    This bill does not mention the main issue for many, and that is the content that is being “taught” to our children does not measure up, and is NOT rigorous, but crippling our children’s future. Common sense and empirical data shows the children of Florida are being short changed. Real data shows we have recently dropped to number 28th in the Nation as shown by the ACT scores. Our scores were better in 1995 than they are today, yet we are constantly being fed misleading statistics on “student growth” showing otherwise. The tortured use of made up measures is just unseemly to disguise the fact that Florida’s vaunted education system is a massive failure.
    The underlying question is why the Legislature micromanages the education process at all when nearly all of them have no teaching expertise? We can use “off the shelf” Nationally Normed tests to measure how our students compare and save billions in the process. Using pencil and paper tests equalizes the districts and eliminates the musical chair complexity, costs and fears of computer failures. No explanation has ever been provided as to why pencil and paper tests should be replaced by computer only testing. Why not let certified teachers teach and accredited schools monitor the teachers?

    The answer is simple, POWER AND MONEY. Billions must be spent to purchase, maintain and upgrade computers, software and networks to prepare for computer testing. No estimate has been provided to the taxpayers and voters of Florida, but judging by the pilot project in Orange County reported Feb 18, 2104 at the State Board of Education meeting, this cost was estimated at over $2 Billion by Chair, Gary Chartrand.

    We do know, however, that the companies promoting this, Pearson, Microsoft, Hewlett Packard, GE and others are the selfsame companies which receive this money. They are also making large donations to the politicians who push for computerized testing and Common Core. The Superintendents Association and State School Boards Association both list the same group of supporting corporate cronies who are benefactors in this incestuous scheme. Here are links: Gary Chartrand and the KIPP Schools:
    Florida School Boards Assoc: Superintendents Association:

    GOOD NEWS! HB1121 and SB1496 have solutions with something for everyone to love:
    • Issue 1: What they are learning- The Commissioner will select several of the best standards from pre 2009 for the local districts to select. These standards for English and math are free and not copyrighted, well vetted and highly rated (higher than our existing standards). Districts will have local control to choose from this list based on their varied needs.
    • Issue 2: Accountability- yes, we need to measure, but there are already nationally normed tests that will do a better job comparing us to the rest of the nation and the world. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel or force our kids to be guinea pigs. We propose the districts should have local control to choose from a list of the best of these, such as the Iowa Basics and Stanford Achievement Tests. They would administer ONE test at the end of each year between 3rd and 8th grade and once in high school. These tests are less expensive and pre-common core versions are available. Teachers will not be teaching to the test if it is a nationally normed test and it is NOT used to determine graduation or promotion, but simply to inform us on our students’ progress.
    • Issue 3: These tests can be administered on paper and taken at the student’s own desk, eliminating the “musical chairs” now needed to address the lack of computers for testing. This has, by some reports, absorbed as much as 40% of class time for learning. By going to paper tests, we can reduce costs by BILLIONS of scarce education dollars, AND increase time for learning. It will also allow schools more control of the data to prevent data mining. Student data can be aggregated with individual identifiers removed to prevent data companies from collecting and using individual data. There is much to do and we invite your help to get this passed.
    • There is something for everyone to love in this bill. It saves money, provides more time for learning, and provides high standards and accountability. Let your legislators know we want local control and we need solutions, not posturing in Tallahassee.
    Chris Quackenbush

  4. Pingback: CTA

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