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Worrisome Study in Hand, Lawmakers Question Tying Teacher Salaries to Test Scores

| September 20, 2015

Not much light in the Florida Standards Assessment. (woodleywonderworks )

Not much light in the Florida Standards Assessment. (woodleywonderworks
)

Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle raised sharp questions Thursday about a study that Florida Department of Education officials say validated the state’s controversial new standardized test for public-school students.

Members of the Senate Education Pre-K-12 Committee reviewed the study of the Florida Standards Assessment, as the new test is called, and suggested that the department had portrayed the report’s conclusions in an overly optimistic light and wondered whether teacher evaluations and school grades should be tied to the exam.

The Legislature ordered the study last year after the troubled rollout of the Florida Standards Assessment, which included delays for students who tried to log on to take the test online and a cyberattack that slowed down the system for at least some test-takers.

The study supported the use of the Florida Standards Assessment for school grades and teacher evaluations but said that “the FSA scores for some students will be suspect” because of the computer glitches.

Under questioning during Thursday’s committee hearing, an employee of one of the companies involved in drafting the report seemed to indicate that reasonable people could disagree with the study’s conclusions.

“I think there is room for professional disagreement here,” said Andrew Wiley, director of education services for Alpine Testing Solutions. “I think there is data, and there’s data in the report, that could be looked at and pointed to that says, maybe the use of these test scores would not be appropriate. And, quite frankly, there was rigorous debate within our group — some people feeling differently and things like that.”

Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Education Commissioner Pam Stewart tried to downplay Wiley’s statement.

“I do think that what he was referencing was in general, philosophically, how people feel about using a test,” Stewart said.

But it was clear that senators had concerns about even using the test for teacher evaluations and school grades. Sen. Don Gaetz, a Niceville Republican who chairs a Senate education budget panel, read critical excerpts of the report and pressed Wiley on whether the results of the exam should be used.

“Would you bet your career on an evaluation that was based on an assessment such as this if you were a teacher?” Gaetz asked.

“I continue to think that using these test scores at that level would be appropriate,” Wiley responded.

Lawmakers also quizzed Wiley on when the Florida Department of Education received the report. The consultant said that the agency saw two early drafts of the study, but said that the department only suggested changes to a table and did not have input on the final conclusions.

Stewart said the department didn’t see the final draft of the report until the day before it was released to the public and reiterated Wiley’s comments about the agency’s input when talking to reporters after the meeting.

“You heard him say what kind of input we had, and I suggest you ask him about that,” she responded when questioned about it.

“We did not do any sort of work with them to suggest that they needed to change a conclusion or a finding,” she said later, after a follow-up question.

But the future for any changes to the Florida Standards Assessment seems murky at best. Many lawmakers appear ready to move on after a tedious debate over testing legislation in the 2015 legislative session, and the head of the Senate Education Pre-K-12 Committee suggested Thursday’s hearing would be the last.

“My intent is, after today we have other legislation that we’re going to be reviewing in our committee,” said Chairman John Legg, R-Lutz. “So my time will be limited.”

He suggested Gaetz’s budget committee might address testing issues. And Sen. Bill Montford, a Tallahassee Democrat who doubles as CEO of the Florida Association of District School Superintendents, said the debate about the issue isn’t over.

“This meeting today gave me no more comfort. In fact, it even raised more questions about the process that was used, the conclusions that they came to. I am not satisfied,” he said. ” … I don’t think this is just going to go off into the sunset.”

–Brandon Larrabee, News Service of Florida

End

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9 Responses for “Worrisome Study in Hand, Lawmakers Question Tying Teacher Salaries to Test Scores”

  1. Patriot76 says:

    The problem I have always had with “standards” is that they provide no motivation for achievement beyond.

    The American public/private education system is a testament to this theory. We may fault a teacher that deviates from this course, but we do not fault a system that derivates from flawed logic

    • Lancer says:

      I completely agree!

      Who is the greatest culprit to continue a flawed education system? Teachers Unions.

      • Samuel L. Bronkowitz says:

        No, the greatest culprit is the litany of idiocy proposed by conservative politicians and codified as legislation, all in an attempt to garner the votes of sad, lonely, and angry retirement home residents such as yourself. Add to that the ridiculousness of no child left behind (thanks GW), tie school funding to local taxes instead of state taxes and federal funds which guarantees impoverished areas never get the funds to compete with richer areas, and then add in a heaping helping of career administrators in k-12 and you get what you have today. Not to mention the structure of the actual teaching degree, which is stacked with so many useless education classes and too few classes in the actual area that a teacher chooses to teach in, curriculum once again set by the state by people that have never taught a class in their entire life.

  2. Layla says:

    What shouldn’t be allowed to ride off into the sunset is that our children are frustrated, stressed out and ready to give up after the almost CONSTANT testing of this failed curriculum. Who is responsible for this? It is not the teachers.

    We have some fabulous teachers who are not being allowed to teach. To penalize them is wrong. It should be our legislators.

  3. Educator says:

    As an educator, I find no good solution to this issue. The question is based on a desire to know how well our education system is performing. If we have no consistency in assessment, then we can derive no meaningful conclusions. This indicates that common assessment is best. Common assessment allows for standardization so that results in one geographic region, under one set of teachers, can be compared to results from other regions and other teachers. Unfortunately, “common assessment” and “standardized assessment” is frequently confused with “high stakes testing.”

    To address Patriot76’s comment, tying salary and job retention to test results gives the teacher strong motivation to have students who perform well on the test. This is different from having students who truly know the material of the subject, since only specific topics are covered on a standardized test.

    To address Layla’s comment, having “standardized tests” means that some company must provide that test. As a result, $$$ is spent for constructing and for administering the tests. Likewise, each vested organization wants their own “standards” measured. This leads to testing in every grade for every subject.

    How do we resolve the need to have meaningful measures of our student’s performance? Fewer tests, less frequently? Maybe, but that would mean companies lose $$$. Please help our government listen to reason, instead of listening to lobbyists.

    How do we evaluate teacher performance without common assessment? Maybe we should let their supervisors do their job, as they did for several decades? This would mean that there is less incentive to administer a standardize test for every teacher/course. Again, that would mean companies lose $$$. Please help our government listen to reason, instead of listening to lobbyists.

    I said I find no good solution to this issue, but there are certainly better options than what is implemented currently.

    • Patriot76 says:

      Educator,

      I am glad you responded as a member of your field and I do understand your approach to the questions. I do want to offer some new thoughts however- you implied that testing consistency is really our best and sometimes only current form of fair assessment of curriculum and performance. I don’t disagree.

      You stated tying salary and job retention to test results gives teachers motivation to help those students achieve and perform well on tests. I don’t disagree.

      What I disagree with is any assertion that these options are our BEST options – kind of like one of those terribly worded “best choice” multiple choice questions often found in these standardized assessments. Ironic?

      The solution is quite simple – fewer, anonymous, common curriculum assessments that help identify key focuses each school needs to address to help performance in categories where their instruction falls behind the curb. We will learn how to adjust and the kids won’t have to deal with heart attack epidemics by age 20.

      All of these “standardized” tests where pass or fail means the difference between whether a student moves on or not aren’t exactly indicative of that child’s capacity to learn, but rather our inability to adapt to their learning needs. Instead, we assume all children (except those with special needs) have a specific learning capacity and learning type and expect them to fall into line. Don’t we all have “special” learning needs that by college we have hopefully individually identified? Perhaps we would best serve the students by helping them to identify their strengths rather than callously identify their weaknesses?

      The reality is that there is no true “standard” to which all humans may adapt. It’s a myth, an illusion we hide behind because it’s a simpler solution than what our children truly deserve – what we deserved. And now we are failing them even more by hiding behind a system that corrals kids into a buffet of bullet points and goes lean and light on substance – the stuff future leaders are made out of.

      There is a reason the paper clip study illustrated that the 5 year olds have more creative thought than teenagers – the public education system actively destroys this human thinking process in an attempt to simplify ideas for buffet lectures – go look up the study if you aren’t familiar.

      So in short – do away with standardized testing except for consensus and curriculum adjustment purposes; bring back teachers prerogative to delve into more substantial material like causality or other abstract, qualitative teachings; and let’s adapt ourselves to the kids in the class and not the other way around.

      Then again, a solution like that would require the fortitude and tenacity of a people who weren’t educated in such a backwards thinking system – you know, the same “movers and shakers” who throw up their arms today in defeat with the belief we are doing the best we can.

      In the words of Aerosmith – Dream On

    • Layla says:

      Good points all, except that our students are failing and NONE of this is about THEM. You have correctly pointed out all the special interests involved.

      Who is fighting for the kids? In this case, the problem seems to be the highly controlled curriculum. Cursive writing is no longer taught to those entering school.

      If you can’t WRITE cursive, then you CAN’T READ cursive. Clearly, this new program seems to favor the vendor organizations and profits more than it favors the children.

      Small wonder so many are seeking other alternatives to public schooling. It “ain’t what it used to be.”

  4. Samuel L. Bronkowitz says:

    The question that isn’t being addressed is how a standardized test demonstrates that the actions of a specific teacher are responsible for any gains or losses seen. When I adjuncted at a local state college, the administration was all abuzz regarding metrics, metrics, metrics for students – show us that the students are improving! Show us that every semester students show gains from your instruction! The method used to show the gains was left to the instructor, and when we looked long and hard at assessment techniques to specifically measure gains due to instruction it became apparent that it’s impossible to determine if gains are due to student diligence, instructor skill, inherent student knowledge that came in with the student, and so on. Not only that, different subjects may need to be assessed differently, e.g. a math class builds distinctly different skills than a history class or an english one. This didn’t stop administration from insisting on data, even though that data was useless, and was easily skewed via assessment technique. At the end of the day it looked like universal improvement across the board to an administration that didn’t understand the problem, at a school that now sits solidly at the bottom of the totem pole in terms of retention, completion, and placement at other 4-year schools.

    One consequence of this is that morale became nonexistent and instruction has suffered because of it. Since the state of Florida has decided to enact the same nonsense except at the state level through almost continuous testing, the same thing is happening to k-12 teachers. No morale means subpar instruction, and continual testing means instead of getting a diverse education that is inspiring and turns out students excited about learning you get students that are good at taking standardized tests.

    • Layla says:

      BRAVO, Mr. Bronkowitz! Children should be excited about learning, look forward to going to school. Instead, we have a scenario where everybody seems to be miserable and under stress. The system is quite obviously failing.

      We are allowing politicians and special interests to profit from our children, right down to each lesson plan which must be newly purchased, each computer, each ID bracelet. Track your child from cradle to grave and what have we got to show for it?

      FAILURE.

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