Education

Education board pushes for higher standards

September 22, 2015

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By BRANDON LARRABEE
THE NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA

State Board of Education members are pushing for Florida officials to use the transition to a new standardized test as an opportunity to boost how well public school students have to do on the exam to be judged “proficient.”

Several members used their comments at a board meeting on Monday to urge Education Commissioner Pam Stewart to recommend more stringent “cut scores” to the board in the coming weeks. The new scores will be set as part of the state’s move to the Florida Standards Assessment, or FSA.

“The FSA test score is the only objective piece of information the state provides to parents about how their individual child is doing,” said Gary Chartrand, a member of the board and a recent chairman. “Some states, like Massachusetts, New York or Wisconsin have little or no gap between their state results and their national test results. Florida should move in this direction.”

The cut scores are the latest controversy to emerge over the FSA, which was dogged by a botched rollout earlier this year. Technical problems, including a cyberattack, caused widespread delays on an online portion of the test in March.

An independent report commissioned by the Legislature recently said the test was valid for use to evaluate teachers and grade schools, but cautioned against weighing it too heavily in making decisions about whether students can graduate or be promoted from grade to grade.

While Florida has often been viewed as a laboratory for school reform, some groups have taken aim at how the state’s standards on test scores compare to national exams like the National Assessment of Educational Progress. In a report issued last year and based on 2011 data, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation gave the state a “C” in what the group called “truth in advertising.”

A more recent report by Achieve, a national nonpartisan group that calls for higher standards, found that there was a 16- to 20-point gap between how many Florida students were found proficient on the national tests in 2013 and the state’s former standardized test that year.

Michael Olenick, another member of the Florida education board, tied the push for higher scores to Gov. Rick Scott’s focus on the economy.

“But the reality is, without great education reform, we’ll never have great economic reform,” he said.

The board will ultimately decide what to do with the cut scores after receiving Stewart’s recommendations, which will also be reviewed by the Legislature. But John Padget, vice chairman of the board, indicated there was “a huge gap” between what board members wanted and what technical committees advising Stewart on cut scores were recommending.

“I’m just expressing my frustration that the process has left us and left you in an awkward position,” Padget said.

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