K12 Test Secrecy in Florida

From Diane Ravitch

A high-level official in the Florida Department of Education sent the following message; she was concerned about the secrecy surrounding the tests and their lack of alignment to what teachers are teaching. Needless to say, she requested anonymity.

Here are a few of the facts about the test that parents may not know:

The Florida Department of Education is days away from releasing students test results in grades 3-10 and weeks away from grading schools based upon a battery of tests that lack transparency and alignment to the resources available to teachers in Florida schools.

1. The Florida Department of Education refuses to provide the reading level for the reading test. The Florida Legislature requires the 300 lowest performing schools on the ELA reading test to provide an additional hour of reading instruction each day. Secrecy means schools and students will continue to fail. Florida has a reading retention policy for 3rd graders and graduation requirement for 10th graders but it refuses to provide the actual level of the test to anyone.

2. 50 % of the content on the state science test in grades 5 and 8 changes each year. Teachers never know what will be 100% assessed on the test. Teachers are told “teach everything!” To look at a sample of benchmarks that are annually assessed and those that may be assessed go tohttp://www.fldoe.org/core/fileparse.php/5682/urlt/0077913-fl09g5sci.pdfpage B-1

3. The Florida Department of Education adopted textbooks before they adopted and developed the state test. The Florida Department of Education acknowledges that the state textbooks are not aligned to the Florida Test Specification.Florida has test item specification limits that are above the stated level of the written standards.

4, Do the parents in Florida know that ” Approximately 6-10 items within the Reading, Language, and Listening components listed above are experimental (field test) items and are included in the ranges above but are not included in students’ scores. The Grade 10 FSA ELA Retake follows the test design in this blueprint and is administered each spring and fall.” For this information go to http://www.fsassessments.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/ELA-Test-Design-Summary-Updated-11-20-15.pdf. Read the note on the bottom of page 15. How can schools be held accountable when “experimental items” may have caused students to have a lower score because they were part of the test which may have reduced motivation or completion rates.

The email below reveals that the Florida Department of Education will not publish the reading level of a test used to retain 3rd grade students, a must pass test for 10th grade students and an accountable measures for all schools in Florida. Florida requires that the lowest scoring 300 schools in reading at the elementary level add one hour of reading instruction to the of the day yet, the level of the test remains a secret. Based upon this email we must also question if Florida’s textbook adoption process provides teachers, students and parents with resources that are aligned to the complexity of the state test. As you can see textbooks in Florida were adopted before the test was developed. The Florida Department of Education should be held accountable for a lack of transparency developing tests with no alignment to state adopted textbooks, for not sharing basic test development information and student results to inform instruction before they are allowed to grade schools.

Sent: Friday, February 19, 2016 1:31:57 PM
To: mikediazparent@outlook.com
Subject: Email to Senator Gaetz

Dear Mr. Diaz,

Thanks very much for writing Senator Gaetz. He received your email and asked me to respond.

After receiving your email, I reached out to the Florida Department of Education for assistance.
According to DOE staff, Florida’s instructional materials adoption process ensures that textbooks are aligned to the standards and course descriptions taught in Florida’s classrooms. Textbooks are not reviewed against test item specifications. The instructional materials adoption year for grades K-5 was 2012-13 and grades 6-12 was 2013-14, so the materials chosen by the district from the state-reviewed list would be aligned to the standards on which test items are based.

In response to your inquiries regarding the readability, please click herehttp://www.fsassessments.org/about-the-fsas/ to find the following information that DOE includes in the Florida Standards Assessments (FSA) English Language Arts (ELA) Test Item Specifications on this topic. The information provided below refers to the reading passages as “stimuli.” Stimuli refers to the texts and any accompanying graphics that make up the content to which students respond.

Stimulus Attributes

The complexity of the texts used as stimuli should be accessible for the applicable grade. Text complexity analysis incorporates a variety of factors. Quantitative measures are one element of text complexity evaluation, but they are not the sole determinant of grade-level appropriateness. Other factors, such as purpose, structure, and language complexity, are also considered. In choosing the text(s), qualitative and quantitative dimensions of text complexity must be balanced by the task considerations required of the reader. Graphics such as infographics, photographs, tables, and diagrams may be included with the stimuli. The graphics used, however, must be purposeful and should supplement the student’s understanding of the topic.

During the text review process, Florida educators use professional judgment and experience to determine whether the reading level of each selection is suitable for the grade level. Texts used as stimuli should be interesting and appealing to students at the grades for which the selections are intended. They should be conceptually appropriate and relevant and should reflect literary or real-world settings and events that are interesting to students and not limited to classroom or school-related situations.

Additionally, it should be noted that qualitative and quantitative analyses are always used in conjunction with the professional judgment of panels of Florida educators during passage review meetings. Passage selections for a given grade represent a range of reading levels, and educators along with the department’s content specialists evaluate each passage to determine its acceptability for use on the Florida Standards Assessments in English Language Arts. Passages that are deemed unsuitable are rejected for future use. Those that are accepted will be field tested with approximately 6-10 test items that are not included in students’ test scores. Once the statistical data are analyzed, the passages and associated items may then be used and scored on future FSA ELA tests.
I hope this information is helpful.

Again, thanks for writing the Senator.

Wishing you a great weekend,

Melissa Ullery
Legislative Assistant
Senator Don Gaetz
District 1


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