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Putting Education Reform To The Test

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What Florida’s New Reading Exam Means For Your Third Grader

Third graders who earn the lowest score on Florida's new statewide reading test this school year, are still at risk of repeating third grade.

OSDE / Flickr

Third graders who earn the lowest score on Florida's new statewide reading test this school year, are still at risk of repeating third grade.

We’ve been answering audience questions about Florida’s new statewide test, the Florida Standards Assessments.

A parent asked us on Facebook: “Please find out for us parents of third graders, who face mandatory retention if they fail the new reading assessment this spring, how the state plans to deal with them. Will they return to 3rd grade after the cut scores are determined in Winter 2015?”

The bottom line: third graders can still be held back next year if they score the equivalent of a 1, out of 5, on the reading test. But those students are still eligible to to advance to fourth grade through one of state’s exemptions, including a portfolio or passing an alternative exam.

Florida students will begin taking the Florida Standards Assessments beginning in early March, with testing running on and off through mid-May. But the State Board of Education isn’t expected to set final targets — known as cut scores — until Winter 2015.

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Your Guide To The Florida Standards Assessments

We’re taking this week to help parents and students understand the new Florida Standards Assessments, which students will take for the first time beginning in March.

The math, reading and writing exam (reading and writing are combined as English language arts) is intended to measure how well students in third through eleventh grades understand Florida’s Common Core-based standards. The standards outline what students should know at the end of each grade.

We’ve pulled together the most important things to know about the new exam in this presentation. Click on the right or left side of the slide to advance or go back.

Florida Teachers Consider ‘Civil Disobedience’ To Say No To Testing

Miramar High School teacher David Ross says testing has taken more and more time away from teaching. He refused to administer an FCAT make-up exam in protest.

John O'Connor / StateImpact Florida

Miramar High School teacher David Ross says testing has taken more and more time away from teaching. He refused to administer an FCAT make-up exam in protest.

In September, Alachua County kindergarten teacher Susan Bowles refused to give a state reading test.

She told the parents of her students it was an act of civil disobedience. The Florida Department of Education later suspended the exam for this year.

Florida requires that most students are tested every year. Those results help determine which students graduate, ratings for public schools and teacher pay.

Supporters say Florida schools have improved since pioneering the use of tests. Testing forces schools to pay attention to every student’s progress.

Some teachers say they believe too many tests are bad for students. Around the state, students, parents, teachers, superintendents and school boards are discussing how to voice their opposition to testing.

But is the classroom the right place to raise those questions? Educators disagree about the best way for teachers to speak up.

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Read: School Boards Group Outlines Consequences Of Skipping State Tests

The Florida School Boards Association has outlined the consequences of districts skipping state tests, and most of them have to do with money.

401(k) 2012 / Flickr

The Florida School Boards Association has outlined the consequences of districts skipping state tests, and most of them have to do with money.

Last night, the Lee County school board became the first district to refuse state testing entirely. Other Florida school districts are also considering saying no to state exams.

The Florida School Boards Association is meeting next week and has posted an outline of the consequences for not complying state law.

The first step is an investigation by Education Commissioner Pam Stewart, according to the document posted by FSBA. If Stewart determines the district isn’t complying with state law, the State Board of Education can order the district to comply.

If the district refuses, the State Board of Education can ask the Legislature to take action. The state board can also withhold the transfer of state funds (and a big chunk of operations money goes through the state budget), lottery money or grants.

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Read The Federal Plan To Expand Wireless Internet Access At Schools

The Federal Communications Commission is scheduled to vote tomorrow on a plan to emphasize wireless Internet connections.

Stephen Melkisethian / Flickr

The Federal Communications Commission is scheduled to vote tomorrow on a plan to emphasize wireless Internet connections.

Tomorrow the Federal Communications Commission is scheduled to vote on a plan that would add $2 billion over two years to help schools and libraries purchase high-speed wireless Internet access.

The plan’s full details are not public, but the agency has published a short summary of the proposed changes.

The plan has three broad goals:

  • Expand the amount of grants available to help school purchase and maintain wireless Internet networks.
  • Change eligibility to broaden the number of schools and libraries that can receive grants.
  • Make the program simpler and faster for participating schools and libraries.

A Republican FCC commissioner and two Democratic senators have questioned the proposal this week. FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai said the plan numbers “don’t add up” and that the changes would mean higher charges on phone bills. U.S. Sen. John D. Rockefeller,  of West Virginia, and Edwrd Markey,  of Massachusetts, were concerned emphasizing wireless would come at the expense of funding for other, wired broadband Internet connections.

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New Florida Report Tracks State College And University Graduate Earnings

A new Florida report tracks differences in employment and earnings based on the degrees earned by Florida college and university graduates.

401(k) 2013 / Flickr

A new Florida report tracks differences in employment and earnings based on the degrees earned by Florida college and university graduates.

Science degrees pay. And generally, the higher the degree one earns the more they can expect to be paid — even within their field.

That’s two conclusions from a first-of-its-kind economic study of Florida’s college and university graduates. Lawmakers required the annual reports two years ago, part of a push to tie the state’s education system to job needs.

The median earnings of Florida associate in arts graduates was $26,504 in their first year, while the median bachelor’s graduate (not divided by arts and science) earnings was $33,652. Nursing, accounting and teaching graduates earned the highest median pay among bachelor’s graduates. For bachelor degrees earned at Florida colleges, the median pay was highest for nursing, computer and information technology and dental hygienists.

The median associate in science earnings was $45,060, with emergency medical technicians, nursing and physical therapy the most lucrative fields.

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This Week In Education Polling: The Politics Of Common Core

Two new national telephone polls found differing public reaction to Common Core education standards.

Loozrboy / Flickr

Two new national telephone polls draw differing conclusions about the public's opinion on Common Core education standards.

Two new national polls reach differing conclusions about the public’s support for Common Core math and language arts standards adopted by Florida and 43 other states.

But both polls provide evidence for the idea that Common Core is more popular among swing voters in the political middle.

A University of Connecticut polls finds just two in five surveyed say they have heard of Common Core.

More troubling for the new standards? The more people surveyed said they know about the standards, the less likely they were to support Common Core or believe Common Core would improve schools or produce high school graduates who were ready for college.

Sixty-one percent of those who said they knew “a great deal” about Common Core thought the standards were not good policy. For those who said they knew “only a little” about Common Core, 43 percent said Common Core was good policy.

Overall, half of Democrats thought Common Core was good policy. Just one-third of independents and 30 percent of Republicans thought the standards were good policy.

Non-whites were more likely to support the standards, as were those living in the Midwest and West. Opposition to Common Core was strongest in the South — 60 percent said Common Core is not good policy — and Northeast.

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Schools Suspend FCAT Because Of Computer Problems

Some Florida school districts have suspended FCAT testing after having problems connecting to the online exam.

willem velthoven

Some Florida school districts have suspended FCAT testing after having problems connecting to the online exam.

UPDATE: Education Commissioner Pam Stewart has sent a letter to Pearson saying she expects “a resolution and explanation for this immediately.”

“This failure is inexcusable,” Stewart wrote. “Florida’s students and teachers work too hard on learning to be distracted by these needless and avoidable technological issues.”

Read Stewart’s letter below.

Original post:

Schools are suspending today’s FCAT testing because some school districts are having computer issues.

The Florida Department of Education says the problem is with testing firm Pearson. The problem is not statewide, they said, but they’ve advised districts having issues to suspend testing.

The Tampa Bay Times reports Pasco County schools have stopped testing. Pasco County schools’ testing director said Leon, Seminole and Brevard schools are reporting similar issues.

Here’s the note the department sent to school districts this morning:

Good morning,

As some of you already know, Pearson is experiencing difficulty with a hosting provider this morning, which is causing issues with testing (both TestNav and TestHear) and accessing the PearsonAccess website for test management.  The issue does not seem to be statewide, but several districts have reported issues.

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Why Computer-Scored Essays Could Eliminate The Need For Writing Tests

A classroom chart explaining the differences between claims, claim evidence and commentary. Hillsborough County schools are teaching the Three Cs as the building blocks of student writing.

John O'Connor / StateImpact Florida

A classroom chart explaining the differences between claims, claim evidence and commentary. Hillsborough County schools are teaching the Three Cs as the building blocks of student writing.

Florida’s plans to add computerized grading of its new statewide writing test could eventually eliminate the need for a writing test, advocates for the technology said.

Essays on Florida’s new writing test will be scored by a human and a computer, but the computer score will only matter if the score is significantly different from that of the human reviewer. If that happens, bid documents indicate the essay will be scored by another human reviewer.

University of Akron researcher Mark Shermis has studied the accuracy of automated essay scoring  — computer programs which read essays and assign a score –  in three trials. Shermis concluded the programs worked at least as well as human scorers in two of those trials.

An Australian trial of two automated essay scoring programs found machine-scored essays fell short of human grading on closed content driven writing prompts. But that trial used just one prompt and a small sample of essays.

A second trial, sponsored by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, tested eight commercial automated essay scoring programs and one developed by a university lab. the trial gathered more than 22,000 essays from eight writing prompts spread across six states.

The nine automated essay scoring programs performed on par with human scorers. The humans earned an accuracy score of .74, while the best of the automated essay scoring programs earned an accuracy score of .78. The machines scored particularly well on two data sets which included shorter, source-based essays.

“A few of them actually did better than human raters,” Shermis said.

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New Florida Writing Test Will Use Computers To Grade Student Essays

Florida writing tests will be graded by a human and a computer program, according to bid documents for the new test.

jeffrey james pacres / Flickr

Florida writing tests will be graded by a human and a computer program, according to bid documents for the new test. And just 2 percent of students will take a pencil and paper exam in 2015.

A computer program will grade student essays on the writing portion of the standardized test set to replace the FCAT, according to bid documents released by the Florida Department of Education.

The essays will be scored by a human and a computer, but the computer score will only matter if the score is significantly different from that of the human reviewer. If that happens, the documents indicate the essay will be scored by another human reviewer.

Florida writing tests are currently graded by two human scorers and the state has never used computerized grading on the exam.

The Florida Department of Education announced Monday it chose the non-profit American Institutes for Research to produce new tests tied to Florida’s Common Core-based math and language arts standards. Spokesmen for the agency and AIR said they had yet to sign a contract, were still working out the details and declined to comment about the specifics of the new test.

“It’s speculative at this point to think about what is on the assessments,” said Joe Follick, communications director for the Florida Department of Education.

But the bid documents show using computers to grade the state writing test will save $30.5 million over the course of the six-year, $220 million contract with AIR. The change was part of a list which trimmed more than $100 million from AIR’s initial proposal.

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