Florida

Putting Education Reform To The Test

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Testing, School Choice, PE: A Town Hall Conversation About Florida Education

This week, PBS is launching a new documentary series “180 Days.”

One of the films focuses on Hartsville, South Carolina, a rural and poor district which has managed to become one of the highest rating school districts according to South Carolina’s ranking.

Tampa public media station WUSF hosted a town hall meeting at Artz 4 Life Academy in Clearwater last week to screen a portion of the movie and to discuss education issues. Artz 4 Life is an after-school arts and life coaching program.

Big on the mind of those who attended was Florida’s new test, the Florida Standards Assessments. The test is linked to Florida’s new Common Core-based math and language arts standards, which outline what students should know by the end of each grade.

But parents were worried the new test is expected to be tougher, and must be taken on a computer.

“We went from FCAT to FSA and that’s worse than what we were already at,” said mom of three Lisa Hewitt. “We set our students up to fail…If they weren’t doing so well in FCAT why would we develop another test that’s worse?

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Five Questions About Florida’s Testing Problems

Florida students had trouble connecting to the state's new online writing test on Monday and Tuesday. The problems seemed to be fixed by Wednesday afternoon.

stanfordedtech / Flickr

Florida students had trouble connecting to the state's new online writing test on Monday and Tuesday. The problems seemed to be fixed by Wednesday afternoon.

Last week, dozens of Florida school districts had to postpone state testing because of problems with the new Florida Standards Assessments.

Students couldn’t log in to the online writing exam — and some who did were booted out and temporarily lost their answers.

The problems seem to have been resolved Thursday. By Friday, more than half of students scheduled to take the online writing exam had finished.

Here’s five questions about what happened and what’s next.

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Is Typing A Test A Big Deal For Students?

This year, some students will have to type their responses on the state writing test.

jypsygen / Flickr

This year, some students will have to type their responses on the state writing test.

This week Florida students are taking the new Florida Standards Assessments writing test for the first time.

The test is online for students in 8th through 10th grade, which has led some to wonder whether it’s fair to ask students to type the exam rather than write by hand?

Lawmakers asked Education Commissioner Pam Stewart that question in November.

“Are we actually testing their writing,” Stewart said, “or are we then testing their computer skills? I would suggest to you the answer to that really is we need to be doing both.”

Typing was a big enough question about the FSA that the Florida Department of Education decided to let students through 7th grade take a paper and pencil version of the writing test.

But should it be? Florida has used online exams for several years. The state is requiring schools deliver half of classroom instruction digitally, starting this fall. And kids can be pretty adept with computers, tablets and other devices.

As we talked to students this week about what they were expecting on the new test, we asked about typing.

Samantha Arroyo is an 8th grader at Allapattah Middle School in Miami. She says the change is a big deal for her.

“One thing that puts a lot of pressure on me is that we have to type it out, and there’s only one hour,” she said of practice exams.

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Ready Or Not, Students, New Florida Exam Is Here

The new Florida Standards Assessments begin today. Most students will take the exam online, though some students will take a paper and pencil version of the writing exam.

Extra Ketchup / Flickr

The new Florida Standards Assessments begin today. Most students will take the exam online, though some students will take a paper and pencil version of the writing exam.

At Miami’s iPrep Academy, getting ready for the state’s new standardized test includes rapping.

Two students are recording the daily announcements, telling classmates when and where they need to be starting today.

“Monday is ninth graders, with last name A to G,” one student raps, in a rhyme that’s no threat to Miami’s Rick Ross.

“On Tuesday, it’s ninth graders with last name H through Z,” his partner continues.

“All testing is in room 2 – 0 – 4!” they conclude together, Beastie Boys-style.

Today marks the start of testing season for Florida schools. Students have state exams scheduled every few weeks from now until the end of the school year.

It’s the first time students will take a new test called the Florida Standards Assessments, or FSA, which replaces most FCAT exams.

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How A Private Middle School Is Preparing Students For High School Success

Academy Prep in St. Petersburg is a private middle school that only enrolls low-income students.

AcademyPrep.org

Academy Prep in St. Petersburg is a private middle school that only enrolls low-income students.

It’s 7:30 a.m. and the fifth through eight graders at Academy Prep in midtown St. Petersburg are lined up outside to recite the school pledge. It’s a cool February morning and they’re a little fidgety until Head of School Gina Burkett raises two fingers above her head and all goes quiet.

The pledge starts with “ Standing in this room are the greatest, most committed, most responsible people this world has ever known.”

That may sound slightly immodest but getting these kids to believe they are capable of great things is a big part of the curriculum here.

You see, Academy Prep is a private middle school exclusively for children whose families live below the poverty level and it is paid for entirely with corporate and private donations. It’s in one of the poorest areas of Pinellas County.

The school was started 17 years ago when the owners of a local resort overheard their employees talking about the problems their kids were having in the local public school.

So, using their own money and private donations they, along with some retired educators started this not-for-profit school in the heart of one of St. Petersburg’s most troubled neighborhoods.

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Why Do-It-Yourself Charts Help Students Remember Math Lessons

Frances B. Tucker Elementary School 5th grade math teacher Yaliesperanza Salazar stands in front of an example of a line plot.

John O'Connor / StateImpact Florida

Frances B. Tucker Elementary School 5th grade math teacher Yaliesperanza Salazar stands in front of an example of a line plot.

The 5th grade math lesson at Frances S. Tucker Elementary School asked students to do a lot of things.

They were learning how to use a line plot to organize and visualize data.

They had to add fractions to find a total for the amount of cake or glasses of apple juice students consumed.

Then, they had to divide the total to find the average.

Along the way, the students frequently took a peek at charts hanging around the room. Called anchor charts, these diagrams were drawn by students in the other 5th grade class and laid out each of the steps they used to create a line plot.

As Miami-Dade schools have switched to Florida’s Common Core-based math standards anchor charts are an important addition to classrooms, said Michelle White, who directs math instruction for the school district.

“It tells a learning story,” White said. “When you walk in I can look at anchor charts and see what concepts have been covered.”

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Miami-Dade Classrooms Using Computerized Math Lessons

Frances S. Tucker Elementary students use the i-Ready software during class.

John O'Connor

Frances S. Tucker Elementary students use the i-Ready software during class.

On one side of Yaliesperanza Salazar’s math class at Miami’s Frances S. Tucker Elementary School, students were learning to group data and draw conclusions using a line plot.

But another lesson was happening on the other side of the class, one tailored for each student using i-Ready computerized instruction.

i-Ready tests each student, identifies the concepts which he or she is struggling with and then delivers lessons, games and other activities to help the student master them. And this can all happen without the teacher’s help.

Salazar divided her class in half. While students worked in groups on line plots, the rest of the class worked by themselves on i-Ready lessons.

Working with just a dozen students — instead of 24 — allowed Salazar to spend more time with each on the complicated line plot lesson, which included more math concepts than usual. Salazar planned to switch the two groups the next day.

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How Common Core Brought Attention To The Math Education Debate

As schools switch to the Common Core standards, long-running teaching debates are becoming more public.

wwworks / Flickr

As schools switch to the Common Core standards, long-running teaching debates are becoming more public.

One of the by-products of states around the country adopting Common Core is that the standards have brought attention to long-running education debates that aren’t about money or testing.

This week our story looked at how Miami-Dade schools are changing math lessons to teach Florida’s Common Core-based math standards. The standards outline what students should know at the end of each grade — such as kindergarteners being able to count to 100.

As we noted in the story, many of these “new” techniques schools are adding have been around a while. And math educators have spent years debating the best ways to teach math.

Journalist Elizabeth Green cataloged what some argue are deficiencies in math education in a New York Times Magazine story headlined: “Why Do Americans Stink At Math?”

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Why Elementary Math Lessons Are Changing In Florida Schools

Frances S. Tucker Elementary Schoo fifth grade math teacher Yaliesperanza Salazar leads her class through an exercise to group data on a line graph.

John O'Connor / StateImpact Florida

Frances S. Tucker Elementary Schoo fifth grade math teacher Yaliesperanza Salazar leads her class through an exercise to group data on a line graph.

At dinner tables across Florida, parents and their elementary school children are trying to solve a math problem: What’s going on with my kid’s homework?

Florida is one of dozens of states that has switched to new math standards based on Common Core. The standards outline what students should know in every grade.

Experts say it means big changes to how math is taught. More focus on understanding concepts and solving problems multiple ways. Less memorization of formulas and grinding out worksheets full of similar problems.

Math is a constant conversation for Jessica Knopf and her fifth-grader, Natasha.

They talk about math at the dinner table. They send questions and answers by phone. They sought tutoring in online videos.

“When this Common Core stuff starting coming home,” Knopf says, “it wasn’t something I could just scribble and go ‘Oh, here it is.’ No. I had to stop. I had to think about it. I had to go online to Khan Academy. I had to bring my husband in. It wasn’t logical.”

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Florida FAFSA Completion, By The Numbers

Yesterday we told you about a program in Miami-Dade County schools to help more students complete the federal financial aid application, known as the FAFSA.

Here’s some graphs to

Here’s how Florida compares to California, Texas and the national average for the rate of high school graduates who submit a FAFSA:

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