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Friday, March 18, 2011

Testing Troubles

From the Orlando Sentinel

by Dave Weber

Scores on statewide tests for thousands of Florida public school students may be late again this year, with the Department of Education unable to provide test results to many districts in time for teachers to figure grades on year-end report cards.

About 200,000 ninth graders will be taking the newly required algebra 1 test online in May. It will account for 30 percent of their course grade.

But while Florida law requires test results to be available within a week, the state says it won't have them ready until after schools have closed for summer in many districts.

"Here we are with all of this technology and we can't put a grade on a report card," said Walt Griffin, director of Seminole County high schools, which along with many districts plans to give the nearly three-hour-long test May 16-20.

Griffin expected test results by May 27 at the latest so algebra teachers could figure final grades before finishing their work year June 3.

But Seminole, Volusia and Palm Beach counties are among 21 of the state's 67 school districts that will have ended the school year and sent teachers home before June 7, when the Department of Education says the test scores will go to districts.

Others including Orange and Broward, where teachers wrap up work June 10, also will be squeezed to transform state test data into algebra grades before teachers leave. All teachers in the state end the school year by June 14.

Orange school officials say it simply cannot be done.

"It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out this isn't going to work," said Lee Baldwin, testing director for Orange schools.

Orange like Seminole will send out report cards without final algebra grades. Baldwin said it could take 10 days or more to process the state data and transform it into report card grades for individual students.

Baldwin said teachers are complaining that they will be cut out of the process for calculating final grades, which now will be done by a computer and officials in the school district office. He said he anticipates a growing controversy and possible complaints from the teachers union.

The computerized algebra test is the first of five end-of-course exams to be rolled out statewide by 2014. The tests are to be given as near to the end of the school year as possible, and a quick turn-around in scores was promised as a benefit of using computers rather than paper test forms.

But Sharon Koon, director of assessment for the Department of Education, said that while the law passed last year calls for the one-week turn around, the contract with Pearson, which is providing the test and scoring it, does not.

She hopes to alter the contract, but expects the delay in scores to be repeated. "Next year will be late, too, but not as late," she said.

Starting with next year's freshman class, students must pass the state test in order to pass algebra and graduate.

The new snag follows last Spring's nearly six-week delay in release of Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test scores after Pearson could not produce them when promised. Pearson was fined $14.7 million for that error.

Seminole officials, who still are waiting to get the $200,000 reimbursement for costs of last year's debacle, are complaining loudly to the state about the new setback, but so far they have gotten little consolation.

Peg Smith, superintendent of Volusia schools, said she asked the state to provide preliminary algebra scores earlier so teachers could come up with report card grades based on at least initial data.

"We know we are not going to get the final information on algebra until June 7, which is after the teachers have gone," Smith said.

But the state has nixed that plan, saying it must give out polished test results since this is the first administration of the algebra test, which is being given in the unproven and somewhat controversial online format as well.

This year each district must take the state data and determine a grade for the test. The state plans to set passing scores next year.

The state Department of Education is encouraging school districts to have teachers tally all algebra grades except the statewide test before they leave. Later, district administrators or a committee of teachers could fold in the algebra test grade, the department suggests.

In Seminole county, High School Director Griffin agrees that may have to be done. Bringing all teachers back to complete the algebra grading would be too costly, he said.

But teachers know best how their students performed and what grade they should receive, Griffin said.

"I wish teachers could have scores in adequate time to give the final grade," he said. or 407-883-7885,0,2350932.story

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