District Data Leaders

Not everyone’s a “numbers person.” For some, analyzing data is as fear-inducing as public speaking. Lucky for me, today I did both.

Florida’s superintendents are leading the nation in using data and technology to address critical education issues. This afternoon I had the privilege of honoring four superintendents for their outstanding use of resources during our third annual District Data Leaders program.

Superintendents Alberto Carvalho (Miami-Dade), Dr. Alexis Tibbetts (Okaloosa), Richard Shirley (Sumter) and Dr. Joseph Joyner (St. Johns) were selected as District Data Leader of the Year finalists for establishing information systems to make more informed changes on behalf of students, parents and staff.

2012 District Data Leader of the Year Superintendent of Miami-Dade County Public Schools Alberto Carvalho

In the past, district leaders have collected and evaluated data from a variety of areas, including educator effectiveness, parental involvement and community sentiment. This year’s winner, Superintendent Alberto Carvalho, exemplified the innovative spirit shared by many advocates for data quality.

Under Alberto’s leadership, Miami-Dade district leaders put in place a system that monitors student progress over time, giving educators vital information about each individual student’s strengths and weaknesses. Teachers are then able to tailor a plan to put at-risk students back on track. And, in turn, students can reach important milestones at their own pace.

We could not have recognized these valuable leaders without the support of the Florida Education Foundation and program sponsors Microsoft, Kyra InfoTech, MetaMetrics and Hotel Duval.

Using these data-driven tools, we can better assess and meet the needs of Florida greatest resource, our students.

“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.

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.

Florida Schools Measured for Success

The Florida Department of Education today released a numerical ranking of the state’s 3,078 public and charter schools, grouped by elementary, middle, high and combination schools. This ranking coupled with the district rankings, makes it easier for parents and taxpayers to view information about Florida’s education system.

Measuring a school’s ability to boost academic achievement helps ensure that we are providing a high-quality education for our students. Having the data available in an easy-to-use format allows parents, educators, and business and community leaders to view the information and make decisions about how they can be involved in education decisions in their local communities.

For the complete listing of school rankings, visit http://www.fldoe.org/Ranking/Schools/.

Students’ Return on Investment

The Department of Education serves as a data repository for a variety of information allowing us to track student performance across time and in varying education sectors. Starting this month, the Department will embark upon a joint project with the Florida Council of 100 to determine the state’s return on investment for students attending various postsecondary educational institutions. The goal of this project is to track graduates of Florida’s public schools as they transition from colleges and universities into the workforce. The data analysis will examine the various jobs and wages these students obtain and compare them with the state’s costs of providing those same students with the postsecondary training and education they received within our education system. This unique opportunity will pull from existing data sources including the Department’s Education Data Warehouse as well as the Florida Education and Training Placement Information Program (FETPIP).

Comparing apples to apples and oranges to oranges

Guest post by Deputy Chancellor for Curriculum, Instruction, and Student Services Mary Jane Tappen

Finding a way to compare apples to apples and oranges to oranges, Florida, along with more than 40 other states, has adopted the Common Core State Standards for mathematics and language arts. These new standards are a way to increase the rigor of our curriculum standards and accurately compare the academic performance of our students with their peers throughout the nation.

In the past, each state set their own standards, which essentially meant that students throughout the country were being taught different things, with no clear measure of difficulty or expectation of college and career readiness. Adopting the Common Core allows us to equalize the conversation and put all students on a path to success in our competitive global economy.

By 2015, Florida will have these standards implemented in our classrooms, so these next few years will be critical in providing our teachers with the necessary tools to teach the new content to our students.

Along with teachers and other education experts, parents across the nation were also instrumental in creating these standards. In fact, the Parent Teacher Association has devised The Parents’ Guide to Student Success to address Common Core. This guide includes activities that parents can use at home to help their students with their studies and provides tips for building stronger relationships with your child’s teacher.

At the DOE, our Teacher Liaison Kelly Seay is a huge advocate for parental involvement. She recently created a podcast that encourages parents and teachers to work together to nurture learning, and showcases specific groups throughout Florida that are also available to help. Check it out!

How do you work with your child to ensure they are prepared for their classes? From helping Kindergarteners identify upper-and lower-case letters, to talking with your high schooler’s guidance counselor, all of these learning moments are important.

We’d love to hear your tips on how you work with your child to encourage learning at home. Share your ideas here!

Using Data in Education

Last week, the Data Quality Campaign (DQC) released Data for Action 2010, an annual nationwide analysis of states’ ability to collect and use data to improve student achievement. For the 5th year in a row, Florida achieved a perfect score for having the right data policies in place around student and teacher-related data collection and management. The report also noted that we improved our score in how we use the data to increase student achievement, making us one of only six states to be ranked this high. At this point you are probably asking yourself why I happen to be so excited about something like this. For me, the reason is quite simple. By using data, we can better formulate education policies, assist struggling schools, and most importantly, provide educators and administrators with information that can be used to help their students succeed. We’ve spent a long time as a state building up our data systems and working to get as much information as we can out to the public, and I think the impacts of those efforts have really begun to shine lately. In fact, I often hear complaints that maybe we have TOO much data out on the web, inundating people with more than they can handle.

But for me, you can never have too much data as long as you manage and deliver it in streamlined, user-friendly ways. And that’s a big part of what we are going to be doing through Florida’s federal Race to the Top grant and Data Systems grants – taking everything we do now and making it so user-focused and public-friendly that folks will be able to delve right in and become informed about their schools like never before. From this effort I envision a new crop of education advocates, armed with reams of data, all working collectively to make our education system one of the best in the nation and the world.

Now that’s something to get excited about!