The Flawed Assumptions and Intentions of Florida’s Education Accountability System

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February 11, 2013

By: Bob SIkes – Scathing Purple Musings

It’s not certain where the most recent work of the Shanker Institute’s Matt DiCarlo will take the debate on Florida’ education accountability system. DiCarlo weighed in on Florida Senate president Don Gaetz comment (here and here) that Florida’s entire education accountability system was “in danger of imploding.” DiCarlo asserts that Gaetz’ assumptions that a correlation should exist between school grades and teacher evaluation is misguided:

… summary: Florida’s schools grades are heavily driven by students’ absolute performance levels, while its teacher evaluation ratings are designed to be independent of those levels. Again, both are matters of degree, and there are other reasons to expect to find some level of concentration of “lower-performing” teachers in schools with lower absolute performance scores (e.g., recruitment/retention issues).

That said, Florida’s school and teacher rating systems are, by design, measuring different things. If anything, an extremely strong relationship between the grades and evaluation ratings might be seen as a red flag that the latter are biased. At the very least, validating one by assuming it must match up with the other is, to put it gently, inappropriate.

Perhaps we can give Senator Gaetz a pass for not being intimately familiar with the properties of these systems’ measures. But there are certainly people in Florida with a better grasp of these issues, and let’s just hope their voices are being heard.

But DiCarlo is correct and has delivered some useful clarity. While Gaetz won’t be pleased with being dissed by an academic from Shanker, he’ll put DiCarlo’s conclusions to good use.

So why the concern over the perceived disconnect between school grades and teacher evaluations in the first place? For an answer, one must go back to the beginning when these two measures were born.

Jeb Bush’s education legacy was fueled by the “failing schools” narrative that arose afterA Nation at Risk was published during Ronald Reagan’s presidency in 1983.  A Nation at Risk’s  conclusions were based on test data. If only “failing schools could be identified and closed in favor or another choice, say, charter schools. But a funny thing happened along the way after Bush implemented his A-Plus plan. Not that many Florida schools failed , save Bush’s precious charter schools –  15 or 31 F schools in 2011 were charter schools. And virtually all of those were located in impoverished areas or where English was a second language in the home. Oops. Poverty and demographics mattered after all.

So maybe its the teachers. If only “bad teachers” could be identified and fired. After Charlie Crist’s pen vetoed SB 6 in March of 2010, Rick Scott signed SB736 into law which mandated  50 percent of a teachers evaluations comes from test results – the same as what helps determines school grades. But a funny thing happened after Scott implemented his ironically named Student Success Act. The initial roll-out of data found that better than 96 percent of Florida teachers were rated “effective” of “highly effective.” Uh-oh. Maybe Florida’s teachers are pretty good after all.

Gaetz cannot be blamed for recognizing the disconnect between school grades and teacher evaluation data. But he was around when Florida policymakers’  obsession with test data began. It was assumed that test data was  finally identifying ”failing schools” and “bad teachers” and that we finally had a way to get rid of both.

But a funny thing happened on the road to education reform’s Canaan, the Florida model. The tests didn’t get the results they wanted. The intention was to close public schools and fire bad teachers  and it was assumed that their legislation – and their tests – could do just that.  No one should be surprised of recent revelations that Florida’s education accountability system doesn’t make any sense.

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