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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Superintendents' Association: What's the rush on school grades?



TAMPA -- Hold everything.

That's the message from the Florida Association of District School Superintendents, which is raising strong objections to Friday's planned release of school grades by the state Department of Education.

In a statement issued late Thursday, the association said Commissioner of Education Eric J. Smith failed to respond to districts' concerns in auditing this year's elementary reading results on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test.

Here are their full comments, as released by the Hillsborough County school district's communications office:

"Concerns Regarding the 2010 FCAT Results

"The Board of Directors of the Florida Association of District School Superintendents, an association of 67 School Superintendents, is deeply concerned that Florida’s Commissioner of Education chose to move ahead with the release of schools grades while there still exist well-grounded questions and concerns.  Superintendents have an obligation to question any data that affect the success of our students and to ensure the accuracy of such data.

"Commissioner Smith claims that independent reviews were conducted primarily based on the feedback and concerns that were raised by School Superintendents and school districts. Unfortunately, we found no evidence of such in the report. The following concerns, which were raised by district assessment experts, WERE NOT addressed in the independent audits:

    * While the Commissioner contracted with two organizations to review the results, neither of the hastily prepared analyses focused on the biggest area of concern, which were the learning gains, especially the gains in 4th and 5th grade reading.
    * Both analyses report that the 2010 results are more closely aligned to 2008.  If the test is equated to 2008, learning gains cannot be accurately measured from 2009 to 2010.
    * Pearson, the company that the State paid $254 million dollars to score the test and report results back to the Florida Department of Education (FLDOE) admitted that the delay in scores were due to problems in matching student scores with student demographic profiles. The reports presented do not address one of the main requests from the assessment directors, which was to examine a random sample of students and verify the matching of the students to the assessment results. This is vital in regards to measuring individual student learning gains. Learning gains are determined by comparing each student’s scores from one year to the next.
    * FLDOE should determine if the fluctuation in Reading gains is due to the fluctuation in content focus of the assessment. Example – In 2008 and 2010, 55% of the 4th grade test focused on Main Idea and Purpose, while in 2009 it was 45%. This is an area where students usually do not perform as well, thus making the 2008 and 2010 test was substantially different than the 2009 test. 
    * FLDOE should determine if the historical improvements have resulted in students being less likely to register gains, as stated by the Commissioner in the conference call on August 4, 2010. This seems contrary to how learning gains are structured.

"FCAT results are used for many high-stakes purposes including:

    * Principal evaluations and performance pay are, in part, based on learning gains.

"Teacher evaluation and compensation are based on learning gains through the Merit Award Program (MAP) process.
Schools receive recognition dollars based on their school grades.

    * Schools are labeled according to the performance of their students on the FCAT, half of which comes from learning gains. 

"The imposition of sanctions as mandated by the requirements of the State’s Differentiated Accountability system. The most critical of which is the reassignment of teachers and principals from school to school.

"As stated in one of the audit reports, there will be more than 300 elementary schools that will move from a grade of “A” to a lower grade in 2010. This would be the greatest decrease in the number of “A’’ elementary schools since the beginning of the Florida Accountability system. 

"The audit report concedes that district assessment coordinators raised more questions than a person “without inside knowledge” could expect to answer and, therefore, the FLDOE would have to address those points in a report of their own. Is that a transparent, independent process? Why hasten the release of the report without addressing all issues? After all, our communities have waited more than two months for data that the state purportedly analyzed, through its auditors, in a matter of days.

"We urge the Florida Department of Education to reconsider the release of school grades until all concerns have been addressed and to proceed with caution as it labels districts, schools, teachers and most importantly, students, with a grading scale which is, at best, controversial and unpredictable.

"School Superintendents support high level accountability, but insist on accuracy of assessment results. 
Simply put, we all need to have confidence in an assessment system that has so many consequences, and at this point WE DO NOT."

[Last modified: Thursday, August 5, 2010 8:07pm]


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