March 30, 2015
Thank you to so many people that came to Tallahassee to testify, and who called and emailed members of the Senate Appropriations Committee urging them to pass Senator Alan Hays extremely important amendment to SB 616 requiring independent validity studies for the new Florida Standards Assessment (FSA) and technological load testing before making high stakes decisions.The amendment was withdrawn and replaced by another from Senator Simmons. The discussion of the reading amendment discussed in our last alert was ultimately postponed. Senator Hays is still reviewing options and will work with Senator Simmons who is significantly concerned with validity issues due to their legal consequences. The bill will go to the floor on Wednesday. New information will be out shortly.
For those that want more information and documentation, here is a detailed report to understand the context.
The video of the hearing is available HERE with discussion of the bill in general starting at about 4:39:00. The discussion of the Hays validity amendment starts at 4:58:55 and the discussion of Senator Simmons' validity amendment starts at 5:43:09.
Senator Hays offered that amendment due to grave concerns with lack of validity of the FSA based on the failure of Commissioner Pam Stewart to properly answer excellent questions from Senator David Simmons in hearings regarding the validity of the FSA. There is legal precedent showing that people may not have their lives changed with high stakes educational decisions like third grade retention or teacher evaluations based on an invalid test.
The language of the amendment that Senator Hays offered was written out in our last alert and is also available HERE. It required independent verification of psychometric validation of the test and load testing of the technology infrastructure to give the test before any high stakes decision can be made for students, teachers or districts.
Here are the key portions of testimony from Stewart (begins at 56:00) that led to this amendment:
Senator Simmons: Since Thursday, as I understand, the requirement that the test be psychometrically valid, has the testing already occurred of this test to determine that it is psychometrically valid?
Commissioner: Yes it has
Senator Simmons: Who did the psychometric testing?
Commissioner Stewart: AIR
Senator Simmons: And has anyone reviewed AIRs psychometric testing... it being the same entity that has admitted that it is made errors and taking full accountability for those errors.
Commissioner Stewart: Yes they are absolutely has been reviewed we have our own team that is the test development team that has reviewed that and we are certain that the content of the test is absolutely psychometrically valid and reliable.
Then a few questions later:
Senator Simmons: Were they Florida students?
Commissioner Stewart: That I can answer, no they were not.
Senator Simmons: They were not Florida students?
Commissioner Stewart: That's correct.
Senator Simmons: Are these the Utah students?
Commissioner Stewart: Yes Utah students did to experience these some of these questions and it was field-tested there.
Due to leadership pressure
as described by Bob Sikes and a threat on procedural issues
as discussed by our friends at Liberty First, as well as a desire to keep the process moving to the larger arena of the Senate floor, Senator Hays made the decision to withdraw his very good amendment , but not before testimony was presented showing overwhelming support:
Marie-Clare Leman, one of the Opt-Out Orlando mothers spoke briefly but eloquently about the need to not use our children as "crash test dummies" with a test that is not "road ready." (5:01:13)
Dr. Effrem testified and presented documentation showing that the FSA and the Utah SAGE test from which the FSA is derived have not been validated in Utah or anywhere else. This includes statements in emails to parents from the DOE show that their intent was to validate the FSA AFTER it was administered this fall not that it had already been validated; that requests to the Utah State Office of Education (USOE) by school board members for evidence of the validity of Utah's SAGE test from which the FSA was derived were not answered with a letter to Senator Simmons documenting the same; and an article discussing the offer by psychologist Dr. Gary Thompson of $100,000 for evidence of validity was unanswered. (5:02:11)
Beth Overholt, also of Opt Out Orlando graciously presented the excellent work of teacher with significant experience in psychometrics Darcy Addo. That statement is available HERE. (5:07:22)
Randy Osborne of our partner organization Florida Eagle Forum, testified on how important it is for the government and public to have accurate information on which to make decisions. (5:14:08)
Three school administrators from Duval and Lake Counties also spoke about the importance of the amendment and fifteen others, including Catherine Baer of our wonderful partner organization The Tea Party Network, "waived in support" meaning they indicated agreement with amendment, but did not testify.
Senator David Simmons offered his amendment with discussions starting at 5:43:09 and his statement that the language was written by bill author Senator John Legg's education committee staff coming at 5:46:56 and his very good explanation of the legal case showing why this is needed at 5:52:38. Here is the language of the amendment:
3 Delete lines 525 - 529
4 and insert:
5 (c) Until such time as an independent verification of the
6 psychometric validity of the statewide, standardized assessments
7 first implemented in 2014-2015 is provided, for purposes of
determining grade 3 English Language Arts student performance
retention pursuant to s. 1008.25(5) and high school graduation
10 requirements pursuant to s. 1003.4282, student performance on
11 the 2014-2015 statewide, standardized assessments shall be
12 linked to 2013-2014 student performance expectations. Students
13 who score in the bottom quintile on the 2014-2015 grade 3
14 English Language Arts assessment shall be identified as at-risk
15 students. School districts must notify parents of such students,
16 provide evidence as outlined in s. 1008.25(6)(b), and provide
17 the appropriate intervention and support services for student
18 success in fourth grade.
While appreciative of Senator Simmons' efforts and only having a few minutes to review the new amendment before discussions began, FSCCC opposed the amendment because it raised the following very significant concerns discussed in Dr. Effrem's testimony starting at 6:09:23:
The amendment strikes the statutory reference to the third grade retention statute so it is not at all clear that third graders are actually protected from being retained until the tests are validated. Hopefully this is a drafting issue.
They removed the statutory references and therefore protection for teachers in evaluations and schools on grading. If Florida is going to stop the flood of lawsuits that will surely come due to the legal situation so well described by Senator Simmons, the legislature needs to pass protections for ALL of the stakeholders. Brandon Larabee of the Florid a News Service quoted Dr. Effrem as follows:
"This just deals with the students, which is critically important, but it doesn't deal with those other issues which have great bearing on our districts and our teachers as well," said Karen Effrem of the Florida Stop Common Core Coalition."
By tying the third grade performance on the 2013-2014 performance standards, they are not realizing that even the FL DOE has admitted that the FCAT wasn't particularly great for use in making high stakes decisions either (p. 137 of this document sent to Senator Simmons in answer to completely unrelated questions regarding FSA reliability):
Less strong is the empirical evidence for extrapolation and implication. This is due in part to the absence of criterion studies. Because an ideal criterion for the FCAT 2.0 or EOC assessments probably cannot be found, empirical evidence for the extrapolation argument may need to come from several studies showing convergent validity evidence. Further studies are also needed to verify some implication arguments. This is especially true for the inference that the state's accountability program is making a positive impact on student proficiency and school accountability without causing unintended negative consequences. (Emphasis added)
Please so not lose the significance of especially the emphasized language: THEY ARE ADMITTING THAT THE FCAT SHOULDN'T HAVE BEEN USED FOR HIGH STAKES "ACCOUNTABILITY" DECISIONS EITHER. So how in the world can they not pass hopefully a stronger Simmons/Hayes amendment?
The language requiring independent verification of load testing was removed.
Randy Osborne also testified on the Simmons amendment and said, as also quoted by Larabee
"It is critically important that we know, after tens of millions of dollars have been spent on these new, high-stakes testing, that these tests actually match what our students are taught."
Multiple others opposed the amendment or supported it with a plea to strengthen it before the bill goes to the floor.
Senator Hays' speech at the end of the amendment process called the current testing process a "train wreck" (6:25) and he is right. He also rightly called for canceling the AIR contract both for giving us an invalid and terribly implemented test. Senator Arthenia Joyner (D-Tampa) called the whole situation a "quandary and a quagmire." Senator Gaetz should be commended for honestly calling the test roll-out "a vote of no confidence in the Department of Education."
The amendment was supported by the committee and the bill was passed out by a vote of 14-1 (Joyner being the only "no" vote) despite pretty overwhelming opposition to the entire bill from those present at the hearing.
Sadly, some of the legislators supporting the testing at all costs concept, as well as the media, are promoting the idea that this amendment dismantles "accountability" and that third graders will be improperly promoted. They apparently didn't listen to Senator Montford, the school administrators that testified, and Dr. Effrem about how portfolios and already available and validated nationally norm referenced tests can be used instead while the validation process is happening for third grade.
The original Hays amendment is really the bare minimum that the legislature should do ethically to prevent grave harm to students, teachers, and schools and it is also the minimum that should be done to prevent the state taxpayers from having to defend against what will likely be a sea of lawsuits when people are gravely harmed by enormous decisions based on invalid tests. Does it really dismantle the very dangerous Common Core standards, data collection system and the whole testing madness? No. Will the legislature listen to reason about these concerns and vote down the current bills putting in good language of the other bills that we have supported this session? That is extremely unlikely,
Sadly, SB 616 and HB 7069, even though they do little to nothing to stop the dangerous standards and invasive data collection system and the changes to testing are minor, are pretty much the only vehicles available to accomplish anything this session.
There are those that say or will say FSCCC is not principled enough because we are working through flawed bills to try to get a change that they say is too small. Our view is to try to do the best we can to protect as many of especially our youngest from the gravest harm that we can by working through the legislature. Other things on the legal, opt-out and constitutional fronts will still have to be done as well.
The history of William Wilburforce's 20+ year battle to end the slave trade in Britain is illustrative. Because the interests were so entrenched and had so much to lose, he chipped away at related smaller pieces of the puzzle. We pray it won't take that long with CCSS, but the idea is the same. We have to be "wise as serpents and as innocent as doves." Please be patient, stay involved, stay tuned and please thank Senator Hays and Senator Simmons, but be realistic about the liklihood of legislative progress and continue everything else that is being done! Thank you!
March 20, 2015
Bills to deal with the out of control testing system in Florida advanced in the House and Senate this week. Here is an overview:
HB 7069 Unfortunately the two good amendments by Rep. Mia Jones and Rep. Evan Jenne that we discussed in our last alert were defeated along party lines on the 17th. We do thank Rep. Debbie Mayfield (Indian River) and Rep. Tom Goodson (Orange) for being the only two Republicans courageous enough to join all of the Democrats and vote for Rep. Jenne's very common-sense amendment to allow a paper and pencil option and to affirm the requirement for load testing that Commissioner Stewart so flagrantly ignored. Unfortunately, the rest succumbed to the difficult to swallow concept that paper and pencil tests would be too expensive and "blow up the budget," when the state, according to State Board of Education president Gary Chartrand, admitted during the February 18, 2014 hearing and an FSBA memo have both stated that the switch to online Common Core testing will cost Florida taxpayers $2 billion.
One very important issue that we mentioned in our last alert was about reading and third grade retention. We said that HB 7069, "While attempting to streamline the issues surrounding third grade retention for reading deficiency, it actually appears to decrease flexibility for parents trying to prevent retention by limiting any "Good cause" alternatives until after the child has failed the state reading test." Although the language says that a portfolio may be started any time there is concern about a reading deficiency, parents may not be notified of such and may not be able to start a portfolio until after the child has failed the reading test at near the end of the year. In addition, the bill removes the portfolio and alternative assessment from the "good cause" list of exemptions. Now the new language states:
918 (b) In order to be promoted to grade 4, a student must
919 score a Level 2 or higher on the statewide, standardized English
920 Language Arts assessment required under s. 1008.22 for grade 3.
921 If the student's reading deficiency is not remedied by the end
922 of grade 3, the student must be retained. A student who scores a
923 Level 1 on the statewide, standardized English Language Arts
924 assessment may demonstrate reading skills sufficient for
925 promotion to grade 4 either by:
926 1. Demonstrating an acceptable level of performance on an
927 alternative standardized reading or English Language Arts
928 assessment approved by the State Board of Education; or
929 2. Demonstrating through a student portfolio that he or
930 she is performing at least at Level 2 on the statewide,
931 standardized English Language Arts assessment.
Although we are told by the House that this is just a shift in location of the language and that nothing has changed, several parents and teachers in the opt-out movement who have carefully studied the statutes are concerned. Here are the problems perceived by one of them:
The reason that we should not be worried, under the current statute, about retention of a 3rd grader who has no reading deficiency is because the Statute does not mandate retention for such students. The Statute is silent in this regard, and that's a good thing. We don't have to find provisions to back up that students without reading deficiencies shouldn't be retained; the strength of our position is that there is nothing in the Statute currently that mandates their retention. This bill tries to change that: it imposes a positive requirement of a score of 2 or higher by any student (not just those with documented reading deficiencies) to be promoted to 4th grade. It gives students who score a 1 a second chance of demonstrating sufficient reading skills for promotion through the use of an alternative assessment or a student portfolio. These provisions are worded to eliminate the gray area that currently allows us to minimally participate and not worry about a score.
I am not quite sure how such provisions can actually pass without putting the DOE in an impossible position. Given that even without the opt-out movement there are students who obtain NR2s from time to time, how would this bill allow such students to promote to 4th grade? You need a 2 to promote. If you get a 1 you can be promoted by demonstrating reading skills through an alternative assessment or a student portfolio. Otherwise, you can invoke a good cause exemption but they would now be limited to: 1) student with limited English proficiency, 2) students with IEP, 3) + 4) students who were previously retained. But if you have an NR2 and none of the good cause exemptions apply? That is not the kind of silence you cheer for in a Statute.
Here are links to several abstracts, opinions, and studies that attempt to answer the question of whether early grade retention is helpful or harmful:
Overall, it appears that the positive effects of retention if at all present, fade in a few years.
The Senate Education Appropriations Subcommittee passed a new version of that committee bill on March 19th
. It adds in transition to the computerized testing and allows districts to sue the company for damages for costs caused by problems with the testing. See the video HERE
The new Senate substitute also contains new language related to reading but does not deal with the third grade retention issue. This new language now requires two problematic kindergarten screening systems to be used to indicate reading problems and eliminates locally derived and teacher assessments in reading. Here is part of the testimony that was prepared for that issue and ably delivered by Catherine Baer of the Tea Party Network:
One specific concern with the new language, however, is on lines 297-299 that now imposes the highly subjective Pearson Work Sampling System observational screening and the technologically problematic FAIR test that has major validity issues, has significant data mining issues and is developmentally inappropriate because it is online and computer adaptive, takes many weeks of class time to administer and had to be canceled for K-2 this last fall.
The Pearson Work Sampling observational system contains such highly subjective items about reading as:
"Shows an appreciation for books and reading"
"Shows beginning understanding of concepts about print"
"Begins to develop knowledge about letters"
"Comprehends and responds to stories read aloud"
This screening tool also contains highly subjective items on "approaches to Learning" such as:
"Shows eagerness and curiosity as a learner"
"Approaches tasks with flexibility and inventiveness"
Neither of these instruments are adequate to be used to base high stakes decisions and create labels of deficiency so early in their academic careers that will follow them for life.
As in the K-12 policy committee, Senator Dwight Bullard made the attempt to offer amendments to make things better. One was similar to the Jenne amendment offered in the House to require paper and pencil testing
until the technological load testing was complete; one was to hold school grades harmless
as the tests were being implemented; and the final one was to allow students to take a norm referenced test
if they failed the FSA. The latter two amendments are based on serious ongoing concerns with the validity of the tests, which will be detailed shortly. Sadly, as in the K-12 committee, the amendments were defeated.
SB 616 is headed for the Senate Appropriations Committee on 3/25. This will ultimately have to be reconciled to the House bill. Both bills make some improvements but neither deal with the fundamental issues surrounding Florida's out of control testing system. The concern is not, as is mockingly and derisively referred to by potential presidential candidate Jeb Bush and echoed by Senate Education Appropriations Committee Chairman Don Gaetz
, parental over-concern about self-esteem and stress, but rather:
The abrogation of parents' inherent rights to direct the education of their children
Admitted emphasis by AIR, the US DOE and other major national groups on psychological profiling of our students instead of academics
The reduction of a year's worth of learning to a single test score on an invalid test based on untested, academically inferior, developmentally inappropriate, and psychologically manipulative standards
Destruction of the art of teaching by forcing teachers to teach to the test using scripted and computerized curriculum
Inadequate time, curriculum, and professional development
Narrowing of the curriculum to the loss of social studies, science, art, foreign languages, gym and recess
Tremendous cost of technological infrastructure that is problem plagued and inadequately tested
The bill filed on testing by Rep. Debbie Mayfield and Bullard (HB 877/SB1450) as well as the testing language in the bill filed by Rep. Tobia and Senator Evers (HB 1121/SB 1496) deal much better with these issues. Unfortunately, these bills are not favored by the leadership and the corporate establishment and so our children will continue to suffer. It appears that the current situation will only fuel the opt-out movement even more as well as potential legal action. Specific information is available at www.facebook.com/OptOutOrlando
and many other related Facebook opt out groups as well as www.ConversationEd.com
March 10, 2015
The Senate Education Committee met on March 4th to discuss a proposed committee substitute for SB 616. The bill, sponsored by committee chairman John Legg, makes some good attempts to begin to deal with the testing issue, but given the severe extent of problems, needs additional protections for student and parental rights, privacy and other issues. The bill works to have a 5% cap on testing, which is a step in the right direction, but does not explain who is going to and how the time is going to be kept on different students who take different tests especially in high school. It gets rid of the 11th grade Reading/English test and keeps the 10th grade high stakes test. It allows districts to seek a waiver on school grades if they so choose for technological or financial reasons. However, if they choose that option they cannot qualify for any kind of performance bonuses even if the problems are beyond their control. The bill also decreases the percentage for which test scores are used in teacher evaluations.
Several common sense amendments by Senator Bullard that would have enhanced these good first steps were rejected along party lines. One of these amendments allowed a paper/pencil alternative for testing that deals with technology issues and would have also protected students from the manipulative and data mining aspects of computerized testing. This is the same language contained in his bill SB 1450, the Senate companion to Rep. Debbie Mayfield's HB 877, analyzed here.
The DOE is now saying in response to emailed inquiries that the FSA is not nor will be adaptive, meaning that the questions change based on the answers to the previous question. However, that is new news and somewhat difficult to accept and verify given AIR's development of the computer adaptive testing platform for SBAC, the other federal Common Core test; the fact that Utah's test, from which Florida is paying another $16 million dollars to lease questions, is also adaptive; and the very disturbing fact that there is no way to verify what is being said, because no one can see the test.
This is especially important given the geographically widespread reports of sociological survey questions involving smoking habits which were reported by various parents around the state and given at the end of the FSA testing. The DOE is saying that parents must be mixing up the FSA administration with the Florida Youth Substance Abuse Survey. We are trying to verify the accuracy of these statements and will report on this as soon as possible.
The amendments were struck down and the bill passed along party lines which is a sad commentary that political issues are more important than the well-being of our state's school children, as mentioned by the excellent testimony of Catherine Baer (See video at , chairwoman of FSCCC partner organization, The Tea party Network. FSCCC appreciates that the Senate is delaying further action on the bill until the testing window is complete, so that they may understand the full extent of the many issues related to the problematic FSA roll-out.
The House Education Committee began consideration of Proposed Committee Bill (PCB) 15A-4, a 70 page committee bill on testing on March 5th by Rep. Marlene O'Toole, the chairwoman. It is somewhat unclear how all will play out on the House side as this bill is being heard while Rep. O'Toole is undergoing the penalty phase of an ethics investigation for voting to fund an education organization from which she receives financial compensation. The bill attempts to deal with some of the testing issues but took a different approach than the Senate in that it had a heavy emphasis on third grade reading and retention.
Dr. Effrem testified (see video HERE at 1:09:49) on a seeming contradiction that the bill in one section stated that parents were to be notified that retention was not to be based solely on the results of just one test. However, in another section, it states that if a child doesn't receive a certain test on a standardized reading test that they are to be retained. Dr. Effrem also discussed the lack of accountability for the extremely flawed and problematic roll out of the testing this week in Florida. The flagrant violation of the load testing law and this roll out is yet another black mark on the record of AIR. She recommended canceling the AIR contract, offering a paper/pencil alternative, allowing public schools to be able to choose the same nationally normed reference tests that are reliable and used by private and home schools. These second two items are recommended in Rep. Mayfield's excellent focused bill HB 877. This concept of "providing more freedom to traditional public schools" was discussed by former governor Bush during the Tallahassee Education Summit (28:10). Dr. Effrem also recommended prohibiting non-academic questions within assessments that are supposed to be academic and believed by parents to be academic assessments and strengthening student data privacy laws at both the state and national level. The bill was then passed by the full committee during the March 9th meeting without any amendments.
It was reported at that meeting that meeting that the Department of Education is now blaming the disastrous rollout of the FSA on a cyber-attack on the servers of the testing vendor, the scandal and problem-prone American Institutes for Research (AIR). We analyzed that issue in a separate report.
Much lobbying occurred by citizens and groups opposed to Common Core on March 4th and 5th and continues. Many legislators were briefed on HB743/877 and SB1406/1450 by Rep. Debbie Mayfield and Senator Dwight Bullard, as well as HB 1121 by Rep. John Tobia and SB 1496 by Senator Greg Evers, with the goal of obtaining co-sponsorship and with positive results. House co-sponsors of the Mayfield bill on testing (HB 877) as of March 10th are Rep. Larry Ahern, Rep. Neil Combee, Rep. Brad Drake, Rep. Dane Eagle, Rep. Ray Pilon, Rep. Jennifer Sullivan, and Rep. Charles Van Zant. Sponsors of the Mayfield bill on educational sovereignty (HB 743) are Reps. Ahern, Combee, Pilon, Sullivan, and Van Zant. House co-sponsors of the Tobia education bill on these subjects (HB 1121) are Rep. Halsey Beshears, Rep. Michelle Rehwinkle Vasilinda, Rep. Ray Rodriguez, as well as Reps. Drake, Eagle, and Van Zant. All of these representatives are Republicans and we are extremely grateful to every one of them. None of the Senate versions of these bills currently have any co-sponsors, but we are also extremely grateful to Senators Bullard and Evers.
Please call your representatives and thank them for their sponsorship if that is the case or urge them to sponsor these important bills. Please also thank Senators Bullard and Evers and then your senator and have them do the same. Please stay tuned as this will be a very hot issue all through the legislative session and finally, please remember that your financial support is crucial to fighting this David vs. Goliath battle. Thank you!
March 8, 2015
Karen R. Effrem, MD - Executive Director
Despite lots of money and trying to project the aura of inevitability, Jeb Bush is having a lot of problems in polls and surveys even here in his home state of Florida. A poll by Gravis Marketing
that came out this past week showed that he is in a dead heat with Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker:
Head-to-head, former Florida governor John E. "Jeb" Bush barely beats his acolyte Sen. Marco A. Rubio in the Feb. 24-25 Howie Carr/Gravis poll
of 513 registered Republican voters, but in an open field Bush is in a virtual tie with Wisconsin Gov. Scott K. Walker with Rubio finishing third...
"Pitted against each other, Bush is at 40 percent and Rubio is at 36 percent," said Doug Kaplan, the managing partner of Gravis Insights, the Florida-based firm that conducted the poll. The poll carries a margin of error of 5 percent. The total may not round to 100% because of rounding.
But, when the field is opened up to other candidates, the dynamic changes, he said. "We are seeing the early stages of two-man horse race between Bush and Walker."
In the open field, Bush still leads with 23 percent to Walker's 22 percent, he said.
"But, Bush v. Walker is, again, inside the margin of error," he said.
"Rubio is popular, but in his home state, he is taking a back seat to Bush v. Walker," he said. "Even among Hispanics, Bush takes 24 percent, Walker 23 and Rubio, a Cuban-American, comes in third with 11 percent--roughly, his same level of support across the state's Republicans in an open field."
By law, Rubio cannot run for both president and for reelection to the Senate, but, he does not have to make that decision until May 2016and by then, the primary season will be winding down anyway.
The other GOP hopefuls offered in the survey fared like this:
This poll comes right after the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) where many attendees walked out on Jeb Bush and he had to bus in many people to attend his speech and vote for him to save face during the famous straw poll by finishing 5th after Senator Rand Paul, Governor Scott Walker, Senator Ted Cruz, and Dr. Ben Carson.