Friday, July 20, 2018
Education

Some Hillsborough students pass mid-term exams with fewer than half the correct answers

TAMPA — Should your kid get a C on his Algebra 2 Honors midterm exam with more than half the answers wrong?

Sure, says the Hillsborough County School District.

That's ridiculous, says a math teacher at Wharton High School.

"We all are doing these kids a gross disservice," said Maxine Stark, a veteran teacher who's convinced that some of the grades on the report cards issued Friday were too generous.

"What you're telling them is that they've gotten grades that they haven't earned," she said. "They're leading themselves to a false sense of security and they don't know the material."

High school algebra, advanced topics and honors economics students all received raw scores on their districtwide standardized mid-terms that suggested many struggled with either the tests or the content.

But while teachers such as Stark complain that students are being handed grades that do not reflect their true proficiency, the district's head of assessment, Sam Whitten, said the tests are not just about how hard Johnny studied. A big part of their purpose is to help the schools fine-tune their curriculum and teaching methods.

He cautioned against viewing the scores in percentages. "If we reported the SAT or the FCAT by percentages, people might be appalled," he said.

But when percentages are considered, a 60 percent on the honors economics midterm becomes a B grade. A 53 percent in advanced topics, a math class, earns a C.

So why would the district give exams that are so difficult?

It's not deliberate, Whitten said.

Educators write what they believe are suitable questions based on what students should have learned during a semester.

But until students take the test, they don't really know its fairness.

When the test is new or has been revised, officials compare the results to last year's scores. They also look at grades the teachers have already given students based on their class work, Whitten said.

Then, if those numbers are dramatically different, district officials make adjustments.

The result is that the scores generally match up, more or less, with grades that would be expected. When they are radically different, the teacher is likely an "outlier," Whitten said — an especially gifted teacher, a harsh grader or that one who simply gives everyone an A.

He used the term "scale," which adjusts grades to expected outcomes, rather than "curve" — something teachers commonly construct to compare students' scores to one another.

Districtwide exams did not always exist in Hillsborough. Until the 1980s, teachers were free to give whatever grades they chose and there was little consistency between schools, Whitten said.

That's still the case in many places.

"Most districts do not have any exam to regulate what is being taught in school," he said. "We are ahead of the game, and we're the envy of the state and many districts in the nation."

The high school mid-terms, which count for 25 percent of the report card grade, serve a variety of purposes, Whitten said.

They help curriculum supervisors identify concepts that are not being taught effectively. This information, when shared with schools, gives teachers a road map for improvement.

The exams also contribute data to numerous efforts in the district and state. These include Empowering Effective Teachers, Hillsborough's Gates-funded education reform program, which assesses teachers, in part, on how much progress their students have made.

The tricky part, Whitten said, is to gather data from the tests without punishing students for not knowing information they might not have been taught.

Handled properly, he said, "they provide a common measure at no risk to the students."

That's one way to look at it, said Stark, who has taught at public and private schools since 1970.

But she sees it as a sign that the district is letting students and teachers off the hook.

"I've had kids who have been appalled," she said. "I had a kid last year who was really upset about the grade, because he knows how hard some of these kids studied and he said it's not fair."

This year, she said, one student "Christmas-treed" his test with random answers and passed.

Another, who was barely passing before the exam, studied furiously and earned a 92 percent.

"You've got to provide motivation for these kids," she said. '"These kids have got to know that they have to study."

Experts in testing were reluctant to pass judgment without knowing more about Hillsborough's methods.

"There is always the motivation factor," said Suzanne Lane, a professor of research methodology at the University of Pittsburgh. But, she said, teachers generally can round out the report card grade with other assessments that are within their discretion.

In Hillsborough, teachers' union president Jean Clements acknowledged the dilemma.

If nobody could answer a particular question, she said, the problem likely lies with either the curriculum or the test.

"I do think kids need to be held accountable for learning," Clements said. "But to be fair to the kids, there has got to be an expectation of [others'] accountability for their learning as well."

Marlene Sokol can be reached at (813) 226-3356 or [email protected]

Comments
In the few weeks before school starts, experts offer tips on getting ready mentally and physically

In the few weeks before school starts, experts offer tips on getting ready mentally and physically

By the second week of August, public schools will be back in session across the Tampa Bay area. That may seem far off, but sleep experts say now is when parents need to start easing the kids (and themselves) into those early wakeup routines. The foll...
Published: 07/20/18
Hernando County leaders may help School Board pay for campus security

Hernando County leaders may help School Board pay for campus security

BROOKSVILLE — With an Oct. 1 deadline looming for the Hernando County School Board to find a way to pay for school security once its agreement with the County Commission expires, leaders from both governments will consider extending the partnership.B...
Published: 07/19/18
State to keep close watch on five ‘turnaround’ schools in Hillsborough, Pinellas

State to keep close watch on five ‘turnaround’ schools in Hillsborough, Pinellas

State education officials on Wednesday approved plans in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties to improve struggling schools — but with some conditions.The Pinellas district will have to keep a close watch on Fairmount Park Elementary principal Kristy M...
Published: 07/18/18
Pinellas School Board: First of three big candidate forums on Tuesday

Pinellas School Board: First of three big candidate forums on Tuesday

Candidates for the Pinellas County School Board will appear Tuesday at the first of three forums sponsored by the Pinellas Education Foundation, St. Petersburg College, the Pinellas County Council PTA and the League of Women Voters. The event will be...
Published: 07/18/18
Hernando County teachers union endorses candidates for School Board

Hernando County teachers union endorses candidates for School Board

The Hernando Classroom Teachers Association, the union for the county’s instructional staff, has announced its recommendations for School Board candidates ahead of next month’s election.The group made its decisions via a private forum, where about fi...
Published: 07/18/18
Fired Hernando school superintendent Lori Romano finds a job in the county next door — Pasco

Fired Hernando school superintendent Lori Romano finds a job in the county next door — Pasco

Lori Romano, fired from the Hernando County superintendent post for "ineffective leadership" a month ago, has snagged a job in the neighboring Pasco County school district.She won’t be nearly as high up the administrative ladder in her new role.Subje...
Published: 07/17/18
Artist, advocate, Marine: New Pasco school security director compelled to serve

Artist, advocate, Marine: New Pasco school security director compelled to serve

LAND O’ LAKES — Chris Stowe has a storied past as an explosives technician in the U.S. Marine Corps.The retired master gunnery sergeant has mementos of his service — a field knife mounted to the lid of an explosives box, for instance — hanging promin...
Published: 07/17/18
Members new and old appointed to Pasco-Hernando State College boards

Members new and old appointed to Pasco-Hernando State College boards

Three trustees for Pasco-Hernando State College have been reappointed to their posts by Gov. Rick Scott, and a new member joined the college’s Foundation Board of Directors.The reappointments to the Board of Trustees are Alvaro Hernandez, Lee Maggard...
Published: 07/17/18
Hillsborough training school resource officers during active shooter exercise

Hillsborough training school resource officers during active shooter exercise

DOVER — With the start of classes nearly three weeks away, Hillsborough County school resource officers are receiving extensive active shooter training Tuesday morning to prepare them in the event of another school tragedy.Members of the Hillsborough...
Published: 07/17/18
Teacher on a plane talked about her low-income students. Passengers overheard and gave her more than $500 in cash.

Teacher on a plane talked about her low-income students. Passengers overheard and gave her more than $500 in cash.

Chicago schoolteacher Kimberly Bermudez has always been the chatty type.So when she was on a Southwest Airlines flight to Florida to visit her parents last week, and her seatmate asked her what she did for a living, she told him about her first-grade...
Published: 07/17/18