Latest Update & Analysis on House and Senate Testing Bills

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:

New research suggests repeating elementary school grades -- even kindergarten -- is harmful
This says that likelihood of high school graduation decreases by 60% in kids retained even in kindergarten.
Grade Retention by Abigail Marshall -  "In another recent study, children indicated that they believed grade retention was the worst thing that could happen to them, even worse than losing a parent or going blind."
The Effects of Early Grade Retention on Student Outcomes over Time: Regression Discontinuity Evidence from Florida. Program on Education Policy and Governance Working Papers Series. PEPG 12-09 "The achievement gains from retention fade out gradually over time, however, and are statistically insignificant after six years. Despite this fade out, our results suggest that previous evidence that early retention leads to adverse academic outcomes is misleading due to unobserved differences between retained and promoted students. They also imply that the educational and opportunity costs associated with retaining a student in the early grades are substantially less than a full year of per pupil spending and foregone earnings."

Overall, it appears that the positive effects of retention if at all present, fade in a few years.

SB 616 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 and many other related Facebook opt out groups as well as

Posted in Testing. Tagged as FSA, FSBA, Gary Chartrand, HB 7069, reading, Rep. Debbie Mayfield, Rep. Evan Jenne, Rep. John Tobia, Rep. Marlene O'Toole, Rep. Mia Jones, Rep. Tom Goodson, SB 616, SEnator Don Gaetz., Senator Dwight Bullard, Senator Greg Evers, third grade retention.

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