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.

Education Could Be A Potent Issue For Both Right And Left In 2016 State Races

Florida education policies, including Common Core-based standards, testing and school grades, could be big issues in both Democratic and Republican state legislative races next year. The field could also be expanded, with all 160 up fro grabs depending on how the redistricting process works out.

And a lot more could happen to further enrage parents and teachers before they head to the polls next year.

By late 2016, the state will have released the 2015 test scores, issued school grades and calculated the component of teacher evaluations that’s based on the exams. The state also will have administered the spring 2016 exams and likely released students’ performance on those tests.

The issues are potent on both sides of the aisle. Republicans, particularly conservatives or tea party members, reject the Common Core standards as federal overreach and a threat to local control of schools. On the left, teachers’ unions and parents argue high-stakes exams have created test-centric classrooms.

Heading into next year’s legislative elections, local parent-led groups on both sides of the political spectrum plan to promote and endorse candidates who oppose the standards, tests and the use of scores to evaluate students, teachers and schools.

Read more at: www.capitalnewyork.com

Read: The First Results From Florida’s New Statewide Test

The first results from the Florida Standards Assessments have been sent to school districts.

The first results from the Florida Standards Assessments have been sent to school districts.

Florida school districts received the first round of test results from the Florida Standards Assessments this week.

The results show what percentage of students in each district scored within each quartile of all Florida students taking the exams. Parents can expect more detailed scores for their students next month.

The state is now setting cut scores for the the exams, which will determine what percentage of students are meeting state goals. Eventually, the state plans to issue A-to-F grades for every public school that will include Florida Standards Assessments results.

State superintendents have objected to those grades, arguing problems during spring testing and a recent review of the exam make the test results unreliable.

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Dad Challenging Laws Loosening Class Size Limits

For years, lawmakers have chipped away at a constitutional amendment limiting class sizes. They’ve added exemptions and loopholes. But a Boca Raton dad has filed a lawsuit because his son’s kindergarten class has too many students.

Kunz’s lawsuit may end up being the first test of those exemptions’ legality, education law experts say. Florida’s teachers union said Tuesday that it knows of no other case in which a parent has tried to challenge any of the various class-size loopholes in court.

But Kunz said he is focused less on the broader implications than on his own son’s classroom, where he believes both the teacher and students suffer from the larger class.

“Class sizes are important for instruction at younger ages,” he said. “(Larger classes) are bad for both the teachers and the students. All I want is to have the class size that’s provided for in the constitution.”

Read more at: www.mypalmbeachpost.com

Palm Beach School Board Challenging State Law On Charter Decisions

The Palm Beach County school board is challenging a state law after the State Board of Education overruled a decision to reject a new charter school. The Palm Beach school board argues they have the exclusive right to establish and oversee charter schools in the district.

Currently, state law allows charter schools whose applications are rejected by a local school board to appeal to the state.

In the brief filed this week, the school board argues that that law “invalidly delegates to the State Board of Education the authority to approve charter applications even though the School Board has the exclusive power to establish, ‘operate, control and supervise all free public schools within the school district.’”

In its brief, the school board argues that it has the authority to reject charter schools that are insufficiently “innovative.” As proof, it points to a state law that says that school boards that oversee a charter school “shall ensure that the charter is innovative and consistent with the state education goals.”

Read more at: extracredit.blog.palmbeachpost.com

Florida Teachers Say Deadline To Apply For New Bonuses Is Unfair

Miami teacher Brigette Kinney qualifies for a new state bonus program, but may not be able to compete the paperwork in time.

John O'Connor / StateImpact Florida

Miami teacher Brigette Kinney holds copies of her GRE scores and the state law creating the new teacher bonus program. She qualifies for the bonus -- up to $10,000, depending on how many teachers qualify -- but may not be able to compete the paperwork in time.

Miami teacher Brigette Kinney said she doesn’t always hear about school news when classes are out for the summer.

So Kinney missed the word that lawmakers set aside $44 million for bonuses based on SAT and ACT scores during a special summer budget session. Teachers who scored in the top 20 percent the year they took the exam and earned a “highly effective” teacher evaluation are eligible.

But Kinney said she didn’t learn about the bonuses until she returned to school in August — and that may have been too late.

The deadline to apply for the scholarships is Thursday. Kinney meets the requirements, but she’s not sure if her scores will arrive in time.

“I was told it would take two to four weeks to get my score, which I knew was going to be very tight” said Kinney, who teaches English and design in the International Baccalaureate program at Ada Merritt K-8 center.

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Advocates Say Collier County Schools Denying Immigrant Students

Groups who work with immigrants say they are having a tough time enrolling in Collier County schools. The school district has been accused of denying immigrant students their right to an education guaranteed by state and federal laws.

One Cuban student with an immigrant visa was denied enrollment in August after a Golden Gate High School administrator referred the 16-year-old to English instruction at an adult education program, the boy’s parents said in an interview last week. But Collier school officials told The Naples Daily News on Friday the student was always eligible to enroll, but his father wanted the child in vocational training instead. The child’s father, in an interview, denied that he insisted his son be enrolled in vocational school.

Read more at: www.naplesnews.com

Lawmakers Want To Streamline Testing

Students might not have to take as many exams testing the same material if legislative leaders get their way. The bill wouldn’t eliminate the Florida Standards Assessments, but could let schools substitute other test scores.

The lawmakers say they don’t seek to get rid of the FSA, as some school boards have proposed, but rather to supplement it with local testing flexibility.

The future of Florida’s education accountability program could rest in the balance, said Senate Education Appropriations Chairman Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, who finds it wasteful to require students to take the FSA in a subject area where they have strong scores on Advanced Placement, industry certification and other tests.

“If we can’t pass a bill that says that … that’s the point at which we will lose the debate,” Gaetz said, noting confidence in the system already is precarious.

Read more at: www.tampabay.com

Rock Band Offers Miami Students Financial Lesson Based On Personal Experience

The band GOODING performs at Miami Beach High School. The band visits schools around the country to play their music and teach financial lessons.

John O'Connor / StateImpact Florida

The band GOODING performs at Miami Beach High School. The band visits schools around the country to play their music and teach financial lessons.

You might be forgiven for mistaking Miami Beach High School’s auditorium for the Fillmore Thursday.

Students waved lit cellphones above their heads.

They sang along with “whoa-oh-oh” choruses.

But when the concert ended,  they got a lesson in what some have dubbed nature’s most powerful force.

“It’s called compounding interest,” says Gooding, the guitarist who uses only the one name professionally and is lead singer of a band by the same name (though in all caps). “Raise your hand if you know what compounding interest is? I won’t make you say it. Awesome.”

If you watch shows like CSI or have seen a car commercial, you’ve probably heard GOODING’s music.

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Why Florida Should Make It Harder To Pass State Tests

Florida State University physics professor Paul Cottle thinks the initial goals set for students on Florida’s new test are too low because the teachers setting the goals are judged on student test performance. He says the state should start the whole process over using outside experts with no conflicts of interest.

If the Achievement Level Descriptions are not ambitious enough, then the scoring scale is certain to be too soft. And the FSA Achievement Level Descriptions are written by Florida teachers – who with their colleagues are going to be evaluated by the FSA. It is a classic conflict of interest, with those writing the Achievement Level Descriptions having little reason to make them appropriately ambitious.

Read more at: bridgetotomorrow.wordpress.com

5 Things We Learned From An International Study On Technology In Schools

A new study finds the more students use email and the Internet in school, the lower their scores on international math and reading exams.

stanfordedtech / Flickr

A new study finds the more students use email and the Internet in school, the lower their scores on international math and reading exams.

Last week the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development released the results of a global study looking at the effect of technology on 15-year-olds test scores.

The group oversees one of the most important international exams, so their research matters.

And the research matters even more to Florida because state law requires schools spend half of their instructional budget on digital lessons. School districts have spent the past few years adding Internet bandwidth, improving networks and adding high-tech teaching tools.

Here’s five things we learned from their study:

The more technology, the worse the performance on tests — This was the big conclusion. The students who spent the most time using computers or on the Internet in school did worse than expected on international tests.

The students who ranked in the middle for technology use — what the OECD called moderate use — did the best on international tests.

“That’s pretty sobering for us,” said Andreas Schleicher, who leads the OECD’s education efforts. “We all hope that integrating more and more technology in school is going to help us actually to enhance learning environments. Make learning more interactive…but it doesn’t seem to be working like this.”

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