How should we measure student learning?

Note: This is the fourth installment in our guest series on testing and choice. See previous contributions here. Coming Monday: Former Florida Education Commissioner Tony Bennett.

As chairman of the board of Marco Island Academy in Collier County, Fla., I have had an opportunity to witness firsthand how standardized testing requirements affect students, teachers and administration at a public charter school.

testing and choiceAs a parent of three children in the public school system, I have personal experience with how testing has affected my own kids.  In both cases, I have seen an unnecessary amount of stress caused by an abundance of standardized testing.

At the state and federal level, legislators have expressed a greater desire to measure student learning through assessments. In an effort to ensure that all students succeed, the U.S. has inadvertently created test-taking factories in the public school system.

Schools must have high expectations and an effective way to measure student learning.  But at what point do we determine that additional testing is not the solution to a much more complex problem? Are the standardized tests aligned with the standards that are taught in class? Do the test results give teachers useful data to guide instruction? Based on my experience, the answer to these questions too often is no.

Last year, students at MIA spent approximately half their instructional days during second semester taking tests of some kind. Between the Florida Standards Assessments, mandatory end of course exams, and the advanced-curriculum AICE and Cambrige International exams, students in every class were tested, sometimes multiple times in the same course. In the pre-Cambridge Biology class, for example, students took a state-mandated Biology end-of-course exam and the pre-AICE test.

Administrators had to coordinate logistics. They had to establish seating charts prior to each test and submit them to our local district. Our small community charter school cannot afford a full-time IT team. Instead, we spent thousands of dollars to have an IT representative visit the school and set up all the computers prior to each test. Our guidance counselor doubled as a full-time test administrator. Teachers were pulled from their classrooms to proctor exams. We had to hire substitute teachers to take their place. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Teacher evaluations, top high schools and more

IMG_0001.JPGTeacher evaluations: A report by the National Council on Teacher Quality finds that most states now require objective measures of student achievement in teacher evaluations, but that almost all teachers are being rated effective or highly effective. The report singles out Florida as a leader in tying teacher evaluations to policies and to pay. THE Journal.

Top U.S. high schools: Ten Florida high schools are on the annual top 100 list compiled by U.S. News & World Report. Miami’s International Studies Charter High School is rated the best high school in Florida and the 13th best in the United States. Here are the top schools in Florida, and here are the national rankings. Miami New Times. Gradebook.

Charter school payback: Newpoint Education Partners is repaying $75,000 in federal grant money that went to the East Windsor Middle Academy in St. Petersburg rather than account for how the money was spent. The company, which owns and operates five charter schools in Pinellas County, sent the check to the school district. It said its former accounting firm had not followed the necessary documentation procedures allowing it to be eligible for the grant. Gradebook.

Reading study: A report from Morgridge International Reading Center at the University of Central Florida shows Florida elementary students who received instruction in the Istation reading program had growth in all areas. Istation is an online program that evaluates students and puts them on individualized learning paths. Continue Reading →


On payday lending and parental choice

Note: This is the third installment in our guest series on testing and parental choice. See the first contribution here and the second here. Coming Friday: Parent and charter school leader Jane Watt.

If every school in America was pretty good — if not better — our education policy debates would largely evaporate. Politicians would feel comfortable leaving educators alone to do their thing. And they would empower parents with the ability to choose the good (or great) school that best fit their values and their children’s needs.

testing and choiceAnd in fact, that’s how we should treat the vast majority of schools today — district, charter, and private. Do they keep kids safe? Check. Can they demonstrate reasonable evidence that they are putting young people on a pathway to success in what comes next (postsecondary education, the workplace, and citizenship, especially)? Check. Fantastic! Parents, take your pick, and send the taxpayers the bill.

All the talk of backlash, opt-outs, and teachers quitting in despair would simply melt away, because both parents and educators would feel in charge again. No more micromanagement from Tallahassee or Washington. No more second-guessing decisions made on the ground. No more desperation at feeling pressured to narrow the curriculum, teach to the test, or follow bureaucratic dictates. Free at last, free at last! Thank God Almighty, we’d be free at last!

If I were king, that’s exactly how our system would work for the vast majority of schools. Every five or ten years, I’d ask them for reasonable evidence that they are one, safe and two, putting their students on a pathway to success. Meanwhile, I’d publish comparable information for parents to help them make good decisions for their children, including test-score data but other indicators too. Otherwise, I’d leave schools alone. I’d throw out the rule book — no class-size mandates, no teacher evaluation requirements, nothing.

Sound good?

Here’s the one problem: not all our schools are good or great. Some are downright God-awful. They might be safe, but they aren’t putting their students on a pathway to success. Their students hardly know more in June than they knew in September. Their teachers are ill-trained, ill-equipped, and outmatched. And yet they live on, zombie-like, in the district, charter, and private school sectors. They are the payday lenders of the education system, preying mostly on low-income parents who either don’t have a choice, or, for a variety of reasons, are making bad decisions with the choices they’ve got. These schools are serving neither parents’ interests nor the public good. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Reading and voucher bills, charter schools and more

IMG_0001.JPGReading bill: State lawmakers say a prolonged focus on reading has not worked, and they want to sharpen the approach. A bill has been filed that would require more intense training for teachers, earlier intervention for struggling students and regular updates for parents. Tampa Bay Times.

Vouchers for disabled: A bill in the Florida Legislature would widen eligibility for Personal Learning Scholarship Accounts for special needs students. Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer the accounts. The bill, a priority of Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, also would provide extra money for school districts that require uniforms.  WFSU. AP.

Charter schools: A charter high school is approved by the Alachua County School Board. Resilient Charter School will serve students who don’t “fit” in public schools. Gainesville Sun. WCJB. A charter high school is being considered for the Sunny Isles Beach-Aventura area of Miami-Dade County. Sunny Isles Beach. A group of Boynton Beach neighborhood associations cite traffic concerns for fighting a proposed charter school. Palm Beach Post.

Sales tax hike: The St. Johns County School Board begins discussion on how to use the money it will get from a voter-approved half-cent hike in the sales tax. New construction is the priority. St. Augustine Record. Continue Reading →


Fla. Senate panel approves expansion of special needs scholarship accounts

A measure expanding Florida’s newest educational choice program continued its string of bipartisan support, getting approval this afternoon from a Senate panel.

The bill would boost funding for Personal Learning Scholarship Accounts, which are available to students with significant special needs, and allow 3- and 4-year-olds, as well as more children with autism, to access them.

It would expand uses for the accounts and add accountability provisions for scholarship organizations that help administer the program. One such organization, Step Up For Students, hosts this blog and employs the author of this post. Because the changes were part of a spending plan approved earlier this year during a special budget session, they will expire in the summer if they aren’t made permanent. Continue Reading →


How new schools, tools and policies will bring an end to the big test

Note: This is the second installment in our guest series on testing and educational choice. See the first contribution here.

President Obama joined the too-much-testing bandwagon recently with a late and vapid announcement. He can read opinion polls and probably sees the end of standards-based reform, but he — and other people that care about equity — may be wondering: What’s next?

testing and choiceIt’s clear that measurement has improved student learning and educational options for low income families. It’s also clear that American schools spend a lot of time measuring.

Let’s briefly recall how we got here.

  • Federal commitment to equity. The 2002 reauthorization of federal education policy often referred to as No Child Left Behind incorporated a school accountability framework and requiring testing in grades 3-8 and once in high school.  To predict and improve performance on these tests, districts and schools added their own assessments.
  • Cheap and reliable. Since the introduction of norm-referenced intelligence tests, the US has held an idiosyncratic fixation on affordability and reliability (rather than validity) when it comes to testing. That means long tests, multiple choice questions, testing windows, and security provisions.
  • Development of aligned systems. After standards were introduced in every state, most urban districts tried to get kids out of lower academic achievement levels by creating managed instruction systems including lesson plans, pacing guides, benchmark assessments, and professional development. Start the year with a district diagnostic test and end with a state summative test, add some school adopted tests in between, and that’s a lot of testing.

Why test? Assessment plays five important roles in school systems: Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Language requirements, choice, charters and more

IMG_0001.JPGAu revoir to French?: A bill filed by State Sen. Jeremy Ring, D-Parkland, would alter the requirements for Bright Futures scholarships from two years of a foreign language to two years of computer coding. Tallahassee Democrat.

School choice bills: Several school choice bills have been filed for the next legislative session. One, by State Rep. Chris Sprowls, R-Clearwater, would allow schools with openings to accept students from other counties. Gradebook.

Charter enrollment flattens: Wild growth in charter school enrollment in Duval County is tailing off. After years of double-digit percentage increases, growth is just 1.5 percent this year. Florida Times-Union.

School testing: Maryland is looking into the use of standardized testing and the company that provides most of it, NSC Pearson. It is a leading test company nationwide, though it has lost contracts with Florida and several other states. Maryland Reporter. The highest pass rates in Advanced Placement class exams by black Florida students are in French, art and psychology. Bridge to Tomorrow. Continue Reading →


Statewide testing ensures accountability, transparency for parents

Note: This is the first contribution to our series of guest posts on testing and choice.

testing and choiceWe can’t help our children, especially Black children from low-income and working-class families, if we don’t know how well schools are serving them. This is especially true when it comes to expanding the high-quality options our children need to gain equity and access to great teaching and learning. This is why the Black Alliance for Educational Options and others in the education reform movement are so committed to ensuring all schools are held accountable through annual statewide tests and other measures.

But there are some allies in the movement who are concerned that parental choice programs and public charter schools may be subjected to excessive accountability standards. They contend that data from tests don’t provide information on the benefits that charters and private schools bring to the lives of children outside of academic achievement. They also argue that requiring private schools to conduct annual statewide testing as a condition for participating in voucher or opportunity scholarship programs restricts the number of schools children can attend.

Those concerns have some validity. But for the most part, they don’t have merit.

Researchers such as Raj Chetty and John Friedman of Harvard University, through their research on the impact of teachers using student test score growth data, have demonstrated the strong correlation between achievement on tests and later economic outcomes. If we as parent choice activists don’t believe testing is valid, then why did we just celebrate charter school exam scores in Arizona or the steady progress of all students in Washington, DC on this year’s National Assessment of Educational Progress? Continue Reading →