“That which we want to improve we measure.”

Earlier this afternoon, I was delighted to welcome approximately 75 teachers, district curriculum specialists, and content experts from across the state to the start of a four-day standard-setting meeting for Biology I and Geometry EOC assessments and FCAT 2.0 Science.

Guided by experienced psychometricians, participants will spend their days reviewing statewide content requirements to help define what students should know and be able to do in each of these subject areas. They will identify expectations for teachers, students, and parents.  And they will focus on improving teaching and learning for Florida students that will help them develop the skills necessary to compete in a global society.

Standard-setting is integral to how we measure what we are doing within our education system. Having content experts from around the state who work with their students and their geographic area helps us make decisions that can be consistent statewide.

Next week, we will have a reactor panel that will do exactly as the name suggests. The panel will include people from the community, businesses, and education who will spend two days considering the impact of the recommendations from the content experts and then make their own recommendations. The public will be invited to provide their input at rule workshops across the state and on our department website. Eventually, all of the recommendations go to the State Board of Education for action.

Commissioner Robinson’s Response to the Tampa Bay Times July 30 Politifact article

I was disappointed in the Tampa Bay Times July 30 PolitiFact article regarding a recent statement I made that the FCAT accounts for “less than one percent of the instructional time.”  The context of my statement related to the minutes spent to take the exam in relation to the minimum required minutes of annual instruction in our public schools.  My statement was made in direct response to a claim that our students are wasting too much time “taking required tests.”

In this article, PolitiFact agreed that evidence provided to them by the Department of Education verified the accuracy of my statement when taken in this context.  However, PolitiFact claims my statement was made to deflect criticism that too much time is spent “teaching to the test.”  If this were true, I would agree with PolitiFact’s conclusion.  However, since PolitiFact misrepresents the context of my statement, I rate their finding as False.

Before I leave this subject, I understand there are concerns that there is too much testing, too much time spent practicing for tests, and not enough time spent teaching to required standards.  I want to assure your readers that the Florida Department of Education will continue to look for opportunities to improve the way we use testing to inform instruction and ensure accountability for students, parents, teachers, and taxpayers in Florida.

Statement Regarding the Florida School Boards Association’s (FSBA) Anti-High-Stakes-Testing Resolution

Public pronouncements by any governing institution remain one of the best ways to measure its tenacity of purpose. Embodied inside the words adults choose to convey an important message are their hopes and fears about the future. That is particularly true when schoolchildren are the topic of conversation.

 Yesterday’s vote by the Florida School Boards Association (FSBA) in favor of an anti-high-stakes-testing resolution is a perfect example of adults expressing concern about the future. Unfortunately, the resolution is short on providing hope to schoolchildren who are Florida’s future. Similar to the national resolution that calls into question the need for educational assessments, the FSBA’s resolution claims the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT) is too expensive, narrows the curriculum and is a detriment to student success. Let us separate rhetoric from reality.

Florida invests $16.5 billion in state and local funds to support public schools. Our assessment investment is $59 million. Ensuring that our parents, educators and taxpayers are aware of our students’ educational achievement equates to less than one half of one percent of our investment in public education.

Florida’s Next Generation Sunshine State Standards are the foundation for what we expect our students to learn. Subjects covered by Florida standards include English language arts, math, science, social studies, physical and health education, world languages, and fine arts along with other content areas specific to colleges and careers. Contrary to the claim of the FSBA resolution, the FCAT neither drives the curriculum nor narrows the educational experience of Florida students. In fact, at the middle school level, student enrollment in courses such as dance, drama, and world languages has increased more than student enrollment in the subject areas assessed on the FCAT. At the high school level, enrollment in dance, world languages and the humanities has outpaced the growth in student enrollment.

Florida statutes require students take the FCAT in grades 3-10. These assessments average two to three per student per school year and account for less than one percent of the instructional time provided during the year.

 Grade 3 = FCAT 2.0 reading and math

Grade 4 = FCAT 2.0 reading, math and writing

Grade 5 = FCAT 2.0 reading, math and science

Grade 6 = FCAT 2.0 reading and math

Grade 7 = FCAT 2.0 reading and math

Grade 8 = FCAT 2.0 reading, math, writing and science

Grade 9 = FCAT 2.0 reading

Grade 10 =FCAT 2.0 reading and writing

EOCs = Algebra 1, geometry and biology

 It is worth noting that local school boards require students to take many more assessments than those required by the state. For example, four of the first few districts to adopt the anti-high-stakes testing agreement require significant testing in addition to state requirements. This additional testing ranges from an average of four to nine additional tests each year per student. 

 In closing, the FSBA has a right as a governing body to express its opinion about Florida’s accountability system and the tools used to evaluate student achievement. School boards in Florida also have an obligation to implement the education laws approved by the Florida Legislature and the rules promulgated by the State Board of Education. Raising the benchmark set forth in our Next Generation Sunshine State Standards, and annually assessing progress through the FCAT, is a formula with a proven track record of success over the past decade as evidenced in gains made by students—based on race, ethnicity, disability, language, income and other criteria. Surely we have more gains to make, and are putting in place metrics to accomplish this goal, which I know is shared by FSBA. And as Florida walks toward internationally-benchmarked Common Core State Standards adopted by 45 states and 3 territories, now is not the time to focus on a future tapered by fear of so-called high stakes assessments. Instead, let us focus on using assessments to help Florida students develop the high-level skills they need to be successful in higher education, to earn higher-incomes in the workplace, and to participate at a high level in a nation bubbling with high expectations.


Statement from Commissioner Robinson on FCAT Writing

Yesterday’s vote by the State Board of Education to recalibrate the school grading scale of the FCAT Writing test was done in response to a tougher grading system that appropriately expects our students to understand proper punctuation, spelling and grammar. The Board acted after it became clear that students were posting significantly lower scores under newer, tougher writing standards. 

 We are asking more from our students and teachers than we ever have.  I believe it is appropriate to expect that our students know how to spell and how to properly punctuate a sentence.  Before this year, those basics were not given enough attention, nor did we give enough attention to communicating these basic expectations to our teachers.  I support the Board’s decision to recalibrate the school grading scale while keeping the writing standards high.

Statement By Commissioner of Education Gerard Robinson Regarding Proposed Changes to Florida’s School Grading System

Florida has worked very hard for more than a decade to implement and support ground-breaking education reform and I am extremely proud of our successes. As we move toward a new age of education for Florida’s children, it is important to recognize our triumphs and build upon our hopes for the future of public education.

The proposed changes to our school grading system are not only necessary to continue on the path of intelligent reform, but they will help ensure that Florida is prepared to compete on a global level. Under our current school grading system, it is possible for a school to receive an ‘A’ grade when three out of four students cannot meet Florida’s grade-level standards for reading. This is unacceptable.

We need an education system for Florida that is exceptional, not merely acceptable. It is my goal to ensure that every student has the opportunity to be counted and to experience world-class public education. These proposed changes are the result of important discussion and contributions made by all stakeholder groups including superintendents, educators, and experts across the state. And this is not a week-old discussion. The Florida Department of Education has been discussing school grade changes with stakeholders since May 2011.

There has been a great deal of conversation about the proposed changes and I believe strongly that talking about the future of education in our state is healthy. In this instance, I think it is important to understand that much of the discussion is based on estimates, not concrete projections. We have created many school grade simulations using various scenarios to illustrate the potential impact of proposed changes. One simulation, for example, includes grading all schools that serve students with disabilities; however, we are reviewing alternative options for schools that serve only these students.

 I want to assure the citizens of Florida that I will consider all of the viable options as I review the valuable feedback received regarding the proposed state board rule changes to our school grading system. This feedback will be part of our healthy conversation as the State Board considers these proposals at their meeting on February 28, in Tallahassee.