'We are very confident in the FCAT'
As we head toward the next meeting of the FCAT advisory panel, the Gradebook had some questions for the DOE about deadlines and time lines, critics' concerns and the federal government's position on all that has happened so far. We tried to get commissioner Jeanine Blomberg, but she wasn't available on short notice. So department spokesman Tom Butler gamely took the call. We started off asking about when school grades really are coming.
Q: I guess we're looking at the end of June?
A: That's what we’re hoping for.
Q: Is that for sure, or are we looking at early July?
A: It's not for sure, but it is our best hope at this point to get them out before the end of June.
Q: The end of June is cutting it very close for the July 1 deadline for meeting the No Child requirements set by the state for choice and other options. ... Has that been discussed in terms of moving back that deadline and giving districts a little leeway in case they miss?
A: We haven't gotten to that level of specifics yet. What we have done is, we've reached out to the federal government. We've had a bunch of communication with them. Initially a letter was sent out just apprising them of the situation. Not too long ago we actually had a phone call with representatives from USDOE. And on that phone call it was more of an initial discussion to bring them up to speed on the issue, which we did. And then to explain to them that at this next meeting coming up on the 13th, we plan to have some options that are going to take several things into account to present to this advisory group.
Our hope is that at that meeting the advisory group will give some feedback on those options, weigh in on them and if possible choose or select the way they want to go. ... The USDOE requested that once that's in, once we have the direction we want to go in, give us a call back, let us know. ... Right now they're just requesting to be kept in the loop. ...
Q: Is there any concern, have you gotten comments from people saying they just don't trust the system anymore?
A: I think it's just the opposite. ... The support they were showing about how open we were being was just a big boost. Florida DOE is standing behind the FCAT. They realize this was just an anomaly in a track record of success with the FCAT and they’re working openly and quickly to correct that. That has gone a long way. ...
Q: I hear them talking about how people need to change their definition of accountability. ... Is there any sort of reaction to all the comments that our direction should shift?
A: I don't think those comments are anything new. ... We might be hearing more of those because of the anomaly that occurred. ... Those are things that the commissioner is certainly listening to. We are definitely listening to all feedback. We've also tried to make it clear we have an issue to get through, that is third grade reading from last year. ... We want to get that addressed and solved. While these issues are important that are being brought up, they're not exactly what we're supposed to be concentrating on at this point. In the future, definitely we might be able to address those. However at this point it’s got to be third grade reading that gets solved.
Q: The commissioner is tackling a big issue. ... It's not going to end real quickly. Is she still planning to step aside? Or is she now planning to take this forward?
A: I don't have any information on what the commissioner's plans are. I just know at this point this is the issue we have at hand and she certainly is working to try to be transparent in the process and have this advisory group come together and give feedback, give solutions to fix this issue.
Q: Is this going to be factored into the commissioner search?
A: I have not heard anything along those lines. There are certain things that are being put in place right now that the commissioner has called for. There's the annual review of FCAT results. ... There's this advisory group. There is no set end to when they might stop meeting at this point. And we don’t really have a time line as to when this is going to be 100 percent corrected. ...
Q: Anything else I should be asking?
A: We are very confident in the FCAT and 100 percent confident in the rest of the results. This was the anomaly. We are moving to correct it and make sure it doesn’t happen again. The FCAT has done its job over the years. We have been able to track performance gains, and we’ve been able to keep schools and educators accountable. That’s a very important piece. And I don’t know if people really look into that.