Putting Education Reform To The Test

John O'Connor


John O'Connor is the Miami-based education reporter for StateImpact Florida. John previously covered politics, the budget and taxes for The (Columbia, S.C) State. He is a graduate of Allegheny College and the University of Maryland.

Despite Problems With Florida’s New Test, Lawmaker Opposes Cancelling Contract

Senate Education Chairman John Legg.

The Florida Senate

Senate Education Chairman John Legg.

The chairman of the Senate Education committee says lawmakers aren’t interested in cancelling the six-year, $220 million contract with Florida new statewide test provider despite multiple problems with the new exams already.

Twice this year contractor American Institutes for Research made changes to their system which prevented students and administrators from accessing the exam. Some students were even booted in the middle of completing the test.

One senator, Alan Hays, even filed amendments which would have canceled the contract. Critics of the new exam, Florida’s Common Core-based standards and judging student and school performance based on exam results supported the idea.

But Sen. John Legg, a Pasco County Republican, says there’s little support for that.

“Quite frankly the Legislature is not heading in that direction,” Legg says, “nor are senators and House members even talking about that. To cancel a contract in the middle would be very costly.”

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It Takes A “Forest” To Feed An Elementary School

The young crops in Kelsey Pharr Elementary school's new "food forest."

John O'Connor / StateImpact Florida

The young crops in Kelsey Pharr Elementary school's new "food forest."

Rain is terrible when you’re trying to give tours of your new garden.

But it’s great for the spinach, sweet potato and purple passion fruit rapidly taking root.

On a very rainy day, Kelsey Pharr Elementary third graders Ronnield Luna and Jeffrey Arroyo are showing grownups around what used to be a grass field.

Now the school in Miami’s Brownsville neighborhood has several thousand square feet of all kinds of fruit and vegetables.

Some you can find at your supermarket.

“And here we have lemongrass,” Arroyo says. “When you rip a little piece and you smell it, it smells like lemon.”

Other produce is more exotic.

“And here we have the Moringa, the Moringa tree,” Arrroyo says. “It’s the healthiest plant ever and it has protein.”

“It makes you live longer,” Luna adds

Students at ten other Miami-Dade elementary schools also will soon be eating kale, tomatoes and guava they grow themselves.

In a couple of years, the banana and jackfruit trees will be ready too.

The gardens — dubbed “food forests” — are part of a program to teach kids to eat more healthy and to teach them the science of farming and nutrition.

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Students Show Little Progress On History, Civics and Geography Tests

The latest batch of scores from the National Assessment of Educational Progress are out, and U.S. 8th grade students have made no gains in Social Studies subjects since 2010. Scores on the NAEP history, civics and geography exams were flat. Some educators say more emphasis is being put on other subjects.

Terry Mazany, the chairman of the National Assessment Governing Board, which sets policy for NAEP, called the results “unacceptable.”

“Geography, U.S. history and civics are core academic subjects that must be a priority,” Mazany said in a statement. “They represent knowledge and skills that are fundamental to a healthy democracy. The lack of knowledge on the part of America’s students is unacceptable, and the lack of growth must be addressed.”

Read more at: blogs.edweek.org

Lawmakers Approve Just One Education Bill

The Florida House of Representatives abruptly adjourned Tuesday, which means a handful of education bills in the pipeline are likely dead, the Tampa Bay Times reports. The only bill signed into law limits public school testing, ends the local end-of-course exam requirement and changes the teacher evaluation formula.

As for the rest of the dozens of education bills, Legg said almost without exception they’re dead until the next regular session. That includes a proposed rewrite of high school athletics oversight rules, expanded school choice options, revised charter school governance, provisions to allow some teachers to carry concealed weapons and incentives for districts to adopt student uniforms. Manyof these ideas had been written into a single bill (SB 948) as an effort to carry them forward in the waning days of the session.

The only possibilities for revival, he added, come with issues tied to the budget, which lawmakers must adopt by July 1. He mentioned in particular the digital classrooms initiatives that he and Sen. Jeremy Ring have been pursuing (SB 1264), to put more money and purchasing rules toward getting needed technology into schools.

Read more at: www.tampabay.com

Explaining Florida’s For-Profit College Industry

Corinthian Colleges, the parent company of Everest University, has agreed to sell or close all its campuses. This campus is Boston will close. Florida campuses will be sold.

Kirk Carapezza / WGBH

Corinthian Colleges, the parent company of Everest University, agreed to sell or close all its campuses. This campus in Boston has closed. Florida campuses were sold.

Miami Herald reporter Michael Vasquez has spent a year digging into Florida’s for-profit college industry for a series called Higher Ed Hustle.

About 300,000 Florida students attend a for-profit college, which often specialize in training low-skill workers for a new career.

But students often find their degree doesn’t qualify for the career they were seeking, and they graduate withe tens of thousands of dollars in debt.

Vasquez spoke with StateImpact Florida about what he discovered:

Q: Michael, you have spent a year looking at how for-profit colleges, career colleges, operate in Florida. Why don’t you kind of sum up what you’ve found?

A: Sometimes career colleges, which are mostly for-profit, sometimes they do a good job with students. They take students who are typically non-traditional older students. Maybe, if they’re younger, they probably weren’t the best students in high school.

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Miami-Dade Eliminates Most Local Final Exams

Miami-Dade Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said the district is eliminating more than 300 end-of-course exams this year, thanks to a new state law.

John O'Connor / StateImpact Florida

Miami-Dade Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said the district is eliminating more than 300 end-of-course exams this year, thanks to a new state law.

The Miami-Dade School District is taking advantage of a new state law and eliminating more than 300 final tests — also known as end-of-course exams.

The law rescinds a requirement that districts give students a final exam in all subjects that don’t already have a required state exam.

“Today’s announcement should come as welcomed news to everyone who recognizes that too much testing deprives our students of valuable instruction time,” district superintendent Alberto M. Carvalho said in a statement. “In making these decisions, we’ve taken a logical and responsible approach to address the concerns of students, teachers and parents.”

Miami-Dade will give no end-of-course exams to elementary school students this year.

The district will field test 10 middle and high school end-of-course exams, but the results will not have any consequences. Those 10 subjects include five science courses, three history courses and two Spanish courses.

The district will field test new exams each year.

UPDATE: As the Tampa Bay TimesGradebook blog notes, Charlotte and Walton County school districts have also suspended required use of local end-of-course exams.

Florida Not The Only State Having Problems With New Tests

The Hechinger Report details the issues other states have had with new Common Core tests. Florida has had two separate technical issues disrupt testing, while a cyber attack also caused minor problems.

After technology issues stopped the new online tests in Montana, that state’s superintendent told districts that they no longer had to give a test this year. Nevada and North Dakota – which used the same testing company, Measured Progress, to administer the tests – had similar issues.

Meanwhile in New York, over 150,000 students opted not to take that state’s Common Core-aligned tests. And across the country in Portland, Oregon, just about five percent of students opted out of the tests. Federal funding is at risk when more than five percent of students don’t take mandated annual tests, though it is unclear whether or how states or districts will be punished.

Read more at: hechingerreport.org

Orlando-Area District Seeking Permission To Opt Out Of New State Test

The Seminole County school district near Orlando is asking the state for permission to give a test other than the Florida Standards Assessments. The district would like to use the SAT, PSAT and Stanford-10 tests instead, existing tests not created to measure Florida’s Common Core-based standards.

The board’s attorney, Serita Beamon, said just skipping FSA wasn’t a legal option since state law makes testing mandatory.

Bold move, but futile. The house of cards tumbles if Rick and the DOE allow anything remotely like this, and too many companies are making too much money to allow such a defection.
at 6:06 AM April 22, 2015

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But Superintendent Walt Griffin suggested finding out if the district can opt out of FSA and give other tests, such as the Stanford-10 for elementary students and the PSAT and SAT for middle and high school students. Those exams, Griffin said, have been around for years, are considered reliable and are paper-and-pencil exams that take less time to administer than online exams.

Monday, he added, “was one of the most frustrating days” since many students ended up sitting in computer labs waiting to take FSA reading and math exams only to find they could not log in to the state’s testing system. They eventually went back to class, Griffin said, but that created school-wide disruptions. Seminole High School in Sanford had to reschedule online tests for about 740 students.

Read more at: www.orlandosentinel.com

A New Round Of Technical Problems With Florida’s Online Test

Florida students again had problems taking Florida’s new online exam on Monday. State education officials say the problem was created by test contractor American Institutes for Research.

Testing on Monday was canceled in some of the state’s largest counties, including Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach. Some counties reportedly resumed in the afternoon after the problems, which prevented students from logging on, were fixed.

A company spokesman said in an email that AIR installed new servers for grading tests over the weekend, causing the Monday meltdown. Additionally, the company didn’t follow its own protocol to implement and test the installation.

In a statement, AIR took “full responsibility” for the glitches and apologized.

Read more at: www.miamiherald.com

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