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Sunday, March 30, 2014

What's really happening with testing in Duval County Public Schools!

From a Reader

1.       Testing seems to be a sensitive point with the Superintendent. He has taken great pains to say that he has reduced the amount of testing and that he is encouraging a culture of instruction and child development. Is this true? Let’s examine the current testing environment in Duval County Public Schools.

2.       It is true that the Superintendent cleared the testing calendar of many tests that various District departments sent to schools. He was correct in perceiving that DCPS wanted many tests given that duplicated one another: PMA, LSA, Benchmark—many tested the same concepts.

Yet, because many of those tests were optional, most classroom teachers stopped giving them. Only the mandated tests were given to maximize instructional time. The clearing of the calendar had little practical impact.

3.       The Florida Department of Education is duplicitous when it says the only tests it requires are FCAT and EOCs. School districts have many mandates for reporting data on student progress which require the districts to choose and administer tests throughout the school year. Dr. Vitti made the decision to discontinue the September and December benchmark tests and to use other tests in their place: this year, the Curriculum Guide Assessments (CGAs).

Florida law requires that a teacher’s personal contribution to student growth be measured by testing. This requires giving a test at the beginning of the school year and a test at the end of the school year. Where Florida does not have a state assessment for the subject, for example, FCAT math, districts have to create and give their own tests. So Florida forces districts to give tests, but claims the tests are not state-required tests.

4.       Notwithstanding FLDOE’s hypocrisy, DCPS practice in administering CGAs have caused problems in themselves.

5.       CGAs are given too soon. DCPS has mandated that certain tests are given three weeks before the end of the nine weeks grading period. This has been a high level—cabinet level—decision. Students have to sit for exams with one-third or more of the content untaught. The CGAs were written to cover the entire quarterly Curriculum Guide. When the tests are given early, the students are left to struggle with concepts they have not been taught.

And then District managers wonder why performance is low.

The Superintendent says in the latest media report that he will direct that these tests take place every ten weeks. Can we trust him given what has happened this year?

We are given to understand the reason for this is that they need data to understand student progress. Really? DCPS cannot anticipate that students will not pass exams that contain material they have not been taught?

The consequence—from the people running DCPS—unintended but nevertheless real—is the corrosive effect this has on student-teacher relationships. When the test is over, the students turn to their teachers and ask, “Why didn’t you teach me what was on this test?!”

Teachers have no answer. How do you tell students it’s not your fault, you are made to do what DCPS demands? But students stop trusting that their teachers are on their side.

6.       CGAs are revised by the Accountability & Assessment department. What schools receive is not what the Curriculum and Assessment Writing Teams turn in; the tests are revised by the side of DCPS that works in testing and data. What the Academic Departments have done is changed.

If you ponder that paragraph, you come to the conclusion that Testing trumps Academics.

For example, the 2nd quarter CGA for Algebra had 37 problems for which the students were given 60 minutes. That’s an average of 1.6 minutes per problem. In comparison, the state End of Course exam gives students 160 minutes to solve 64 problems, or 2.5 minutes per problem.

Yes, DCPS only allows students 64% of the time for a problem that Florida allows for a test written to the level of difficulty of the state exam.

Why 37 problems? I talked to someone who was involved with the team that wrote the exam. It turns out that Accountability and Assessment did not want to wait for the 3rd nine weeks exam to gather student data on content that was scheduled for the 3rd nine weeks. So they moved problems from CGA 3 to CGA 2.

7.       Why does DCPS want to test students before they have the chance to learn?

8.       The Florida Times-Union quoted Dr. Vitti as saying this: “Every district needs district-wide testing for accountability... but the challenge becomes when teachers still want to use their own tests,” he said. “They believe their test questions are the right questions ... A biology student may have as many as 20 tests. That’s been a challenge.”

Is he saying that the reason we test students too much is that teachers give their own tests?

Let’s ask why teachers have to give their own tests beyond the fact that they are the best experts in what their students have been taught and what those students should therefore be held accountable for. Also, let’s ignore the fact that teachers don’t test students on material they have not yet taught.

Teachers are not respected professionals in the educational process. CGAs are like the FCAT: teachers do not see the test beforehand, and they are not allowed to work with students after the administration to go over the problems.

The most teachers are allowed to do is display the test after the test window closes and lecture students about the questions. Students may not rework the problems. All they are allowed to do is listen to the teacher lecture about the problems for 90 minutes.

Who thinks such a scenario holds any educational value?
9.       What do teachers want to do? They would like to copy the problems, cut them into individual sections, and have the students paste them into the Interactive Journals DCPS has demanded of every student in every classroom. Teachers would have students work in their journals to decode the problems, write about them, and work out solutions.

This is what’s known as a FORMATIVE assessment—the students learn from taking the test. DCPS denies them.

10.   This is all the more egregious because we are in a transition year—we move to new standards next year. These CGAs will never be used again. Why does DCPS think they need to preserve the secrecy?

The Superintendent wants to talk about the priority of the student learning experience over the testing environment? Oh, my dear Dr. Vitti, “PHYSICIAN, HEAL THYSELF!”

1 comment:

  1. I agree. As a parent who volunteers almost everyday at my children's elementary school, I see firsthand what teachers and students have to go through (of course I am not present during the actual testing, but I am there for the preparation & aftermath). Teachers are not allowed to teach, and yet are still being held accountable for the MESS district & state administrators have created!