McKay Coalition: Florida private schools don’t want mandated testing for students with disabilities

Editor’s note: This post was submitted by the Coalition of McKay Scholarship Schools.

no FCATIn a recent “Florida Roundup” post, redefinED reported that a new study from the Fordham Institute “finds that mandated testing – and even public reporting of test results – isn’t that big a concern for private schools worried about government regs tied to vouchers and tax credit scholarships.”

The Coalition of McKay Scholarship Schools, a volunteer organization of private schools participating in the McKay Scholarship Program, decided to take a survey and determine whether this research finding held true for Florida private schools. The findings in Florida were polar opposite from the Fordham Institute, which did not survey schools in Florida but concentrated on schools in Indiana, Ohio, and Wisconsin.

The Coalition sent a survey to the 1,155 participating McKay Scholarship schools in February. It received 474 responses, representing approximately 40 percent of the McKay schools. Results indicate that 1) nearly all of the schools are conducting norm-referenced assessments of their students; 2) these education professionals do not believe the FCAT is an appropriate measure for their students with disabilities; and 3) 61 percent of the schools responding reported they would no longer participate in the McKay Scholarship Program (a type of school voucher program) if required to give the FCAT to their students.

The McKay Scholarship Program was designed so parents of children with disabilities would be able to identify and participate in programs that would meet the needs of their children. Many parents choose to participate in the McKay program because they do not believe the FCAT and a one-size-fits-all approach to education are in the best interest of their children who have disabilities and do not fit the “norms.” The McKay Scholarship Program has been very successful and popular with parents because it provides them with the ability to choose a school that best meets the unique needs of their children.

Contrary to the findings of the Fordham survey, Florida private schools participating in the McKay Scholarship Program are very concerned with mandated testing and will leave the program if required to do so, thus limiting the access to educational options that parents of children with disabilities now have.

The survey questions and statistics may be found at www.mckaycoalition.com. The following is a summary of the findings:

* 90.5 percent of respondents administer one of the norm-referenced tests already recognized by the Florida Department of Education for use with students in other choice programs. 97.5 percent currently administer one of these tests or another educationally appropriate measure to their McKay Scholarship students. Assessment results are shared directly with parents. Schools currently must provide to the parent a written explanation of the student’s progress and cooperate if parents choose to participate in statewide assessments pursuant to Florida Statute 1008.22

* 98 percent of survey respondents do not believe the FCAT would be an appropriate assessment for their McKay Scholarship students. Because of the diversity of their students’ disabilities and types of accommodations, and because of the subsequent diversity of developmentally and educationally appropriate assessment measures, aggregate analysis of such test data would not provide a valid comparison of student progress at such widely varying educational settings.

* Furthermore, 37 percent of survey respondents have 10 or fewer McKay Scholarship students in their schools, and 67 percent have 25 or fewer students. As is the standard with public school assessment data, test results are not reported for such low numbers of students because of significant concerns regarding student confidentiality and the validity of scores from such small sample sizes.

If the DOE required schools to administer the FCAT to students utilizing the McKay Scholarship, 61 percent of respondents (289 schools) indicated they would no longer accept students using the McKay Scholarship. This represents approximately 6,000 students. Extrapolated to the 1,155 participating schools, as many as 700 schools (14,000 students) might decline to participate in the program, greatly diminishing parents’ educational options for their children with disabilities.

Schools would choose not to participate for a wide range of reasons, including cost, poor alignment with the school’s curriculum, not allowing the school to meet the diverse needs of students with disabilities, and not allowing the school to provide the assessment and instructional accommodations they and the parents deem necessary.

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3 Responses to McKay Coalition: Florida private schools don’t want mandated testing for students with disabilities

  1. chris guerrieri March 22, 2013 at 7:49 am #

    This is one (of many) of the problems with the school choice movement, they like to get the money but they don’t like accountability and friends that should concern us all.

  2. Allison Hertog March 22, 2013 at 4:25 pm #

    As a former special ed teacher and an attorney advocating for disabled students, I find this blog post misleading. Of course, a majority of private schools in Florida would be opposed to the FCAT. It is a highly controversial test failure of which mandates third grade retention in Florida. In addition, as we all know it will replaced by the Common Core tests in a matter of years.

    Thus, asking Florida private schools if they would withdraw from the McKay program if the FCAT were mandated is futile. The real issue, as the Fordham Institute well knows, is accountability to parents in voucher schools. As I stated in my post to this blog last Spring (http://www.redefinedonline.org/2012/06/testing-makes-mckay-scholarships-accountable-to-parents):

    . . . “standardized testing is a [not] a “one size fits all” accountability measure. In reality, there are dozens, even hundreds, of standardized assessments that are designed for every segment of the student population – whether children are learning self-care or calculus. The choice of test can be left to the private school, not the state.

    More importantly, standardized testing is perhaps the only way to provide parents with the data they need to make informed choices about schools, and it is emerging as the overwhelming accountability trend for school voucher programs nationwide. Without standardized testing data, the McKay program cannot prove that it’s effective for students – the vast majority of whom are not intellectually disabled and spend most of their time in classrooms alongside typical students. According to the most recent state Department of Education report, only 7.5 percent of all McKay students are labeled Intellectually Disabled, though there are clearly some others with cognitive deficits who are labeled with other disabilities, such as Autism Spectrum Disorder.

    Every voucher program enacted or expanded in 2011 and 2012 (in Indiana, Ohio, Louisiana, Wisconsin, Colorado and Washington, D.C.) – except for the McKay Scholarship in 2011 – included standardized testing measures. . . .’

    So, accountability to parents is not only good educational practice for all children, but it’s the wave of the present and future in the school choice movement. Ride the wave or be left behind.

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  1. Florida Private Schools Do Not Want FCAT Requirement For McKay Scholars | StateImpact Florida - March 22, 2013

    [...] a letter posted on the redefinED blog, the Coalition of McKay Scholarship Schools says their member survey results conflict with the [...]

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