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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

How can an opt-out student be counted as participating in Florida state testing?



Answer at least one question.

That's what Florida deputy education commissioner Juan Copa told the court Monday during a lengthy hearing on the state's third-grade retention rules.

"A student would have had to answer at least one question," Copa said, when discussing whether a student would be counted in a school's participation rate.

It's the first time we've heard such a clear statement on participation from the Florida Department of Education, despite several requests for one. And it's a big deal for for families in the growing opt-out movement, which has opposed high stakes testing where the results are used for major decisions like promotion.

Parents involved in the retention lawsuit, including Melinda Hohman of Hernando County, told the court their children "minimally participated" in the Florida Standards Assessment.

"She showed up for school and wrote in her name," Hohman explained, adding that her daughter then pushed away the test without answering a single question.

Hernando County schools held back Hohman's daughter, despite "excellent" grades, because the girl had no test score, the mom said in her testimony. She's challenging that action in this suit. (Not all districts interpreted the law the same way.)

Hohman and others contended that, lacking a statutory definition of "participation," breaking the seal and signing in should be good enough to be considered as participating, and then be eligible for a good cause exemption defined in law. The Gradebook repeatedly over time has asked the Department of Education to weigh in on that view, but couldn't get a set definition.

Until now. Copa stated that through 2015-16, the state has considered tests with no answered questions to count against a school's participation rate, which could cost a school money if it falls below 95 percent. A test with at least one question answered counted positively, he continued.

But even in his answers in court, Copa made clear that the definition could change from year to year. That's what Victoria Ash, chief of the department's assessment bureau, told district testing coordinators in a June 10 memo (notably, after all testing was done and classes ended):

"Some of you asked this year about the rule for attemptedness that generates the score code of NR2. How data codes are determined is subject to review and revision each year. For this year's tests, students answering at least one but fewer than six items in a test session had the code of NR2 assigned. For the purposes of School Grades, students assigned a code of NR2 count as 'participants' in the calculation of the percent of students tested. This policy, too, is subject to review and revision each year."

A spokeswoman told the Gradebook that the department was acting through policy, and not state rule or law.

Some angry parents took to social media to criticize the department's lack of transparency. Some school district officials, meanwhile, called upon lawmakers to clarify the statute to avoid another battle like the one that's occurring now over opting out and promotion decisions.

Judge Karen Gievers ended her hearing Monday without issuing a ruling on either venue, the districts' concern, or an emergency injunction against holding back the students, the parents' issue.

[Last modified: Tuesday, August 23, 2016 9:55am]


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