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Miami-Dade superintendent rebuts FLDOE's position on school grades, testing



Miami-Dade school superintendent Alberto Carvalho says he doesn't want to get into an endless he said-she said with Florida education commissioner Pam Stewart and her staff over school grading and state testing.

But a couple of assertions made last week by Stewart's spokeswoman, Meghan Collins, demand a response, Carvalho wrote in an email to the Gradebook. He sent his remarks as the debate over Florida school accountability grows more heated, in the days leading to a State Board of Education meeting where the issue appears as an agenda item.

Collins had reacted to Carvalho's speech before his School Board, in which he summarized the concerns that superintendents and other groups have voiced over the controversial system.

For one, Collins said that Stewart asked districts more than once for information about students or schools that were adversely affected by computerized testing problems in the spring. Alpine Testing Solutions wrote in its review of the test and its administration that such an impact study would be advisable.

Carvalho repeated his assertion that the department did not ask for such a list: 

"Yes, there is a process for a district to provide lists of students to the department for INVALIDATION. There are established procedure for this and that is what the Alpine study is referring to when they state 'the impact of a small number of students whose scores were influenced by administration issues should not cause the mean score to increase or decrease significantly.' These were, in fact, minimal as we did not want to penalize students due to the faulty testing platform that they were interfacing with. So...instead, districts across the state gave students ample opportunities to go back; to save their work; to re-sit for a session that had been interrupted.

"These countless students were not on any list routed to the FLDOE. Had they been, they would have lost the opportunity to have their results matter; albeit for baseline purposes - certainly not for accountability. Had massive amounts of students who HAD had technical problems been invalidated, this in and of itself would have seriously compromised proposed cut scores statewide. AIR established a help desk in the event that schools needed assistance with technical issues. At one point the help desk became so bombarded by M-DCPS, that the FLDOE responded by creating a dedicated phone line for M-DCPS only."

Collins also rebuffed superintendents' proposal that all schools be graded "Incomplete" because learning gains cannot be calculated with the new tests. She said state law contemplated such a situation with the provision, "If a school does not have at least 10 students with complete data for one or more of the components listed in subparagraphs (b)1. and 2., those components may not be used in calculating the school's grade."

Carvalho contended that the department offered a complete misread of statute. "It should be noted that this language was added to the statute in 2013-14, and for an entirely different purpose," he wrote.

"It was not added in the event of missing data, rather to adjust for small student sample sizes. In fact, originally it called for a minimum of 30 students (NOT COMPONENTS) for a subset of the grading formula to be null. The law was changed to 10 because the department was trying to ensure that they had a means of grading as many schools as possible. Before that, many alternative and charter schools were excluded from school grades due to low n counts in certain components.

"The law does not consider incomplete data. The law considers the exclusion of certain components of the school grade when there are insignificant numbers of students that contribute to that component. The law does not consider the negation of a component indiscriminately; simply because the department is unable to calculate said component (due to the fact that they do not have 2 years-worth of data - which is needed in order to calculate learning gains)."

Superintendents have argued for a couple of years that the grades without gains are not fair. Lawmakers, Gov. Rick Scott and department leaders have resisted the push to cancel grades for even one year. Watch for the discussion to continue at the State Board meeting on Wednesday in Orlando.

[Last modified: Thursday, October 22, 2015 10:45am]


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