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Florida Standards Assessment (FSA) and technological load testing before making high stakes decisions.The amendment was withdrawn and replaced by another from Senator Simmons.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!