After many long discussions throughout the state about school accountability, Gov. Rick Scott signed HB 7069 into law this week, a sweeping measure that tackles some of the thorny issues that have arisen from this year's transition to the new Florida Standards.
But there is still a lot we don't know for sure about the transition and how it will play out over the next year. Here are five questions we've been hearing from community members about the impact of the new law -- and three more questions we think should be asked.
Long story short - it's not entirely clear. Right now, the law calls for an independent psychometric validation of the Florida Standards Assessment before it can be used for the purposes of school grades, teacher evaluations and retaining third grade or tenth grade students.
While it seems inevitable that school grades and teacher score reports will eventually come out, there's a more urgent question for third graders, who would need to be notified before the end of the school year.
The Florida Department of Education says that it's analyzing the bill and will be providing some guidance to districts soon - as students are in the process of taking the exams right now.
As for school grades, those weren't anticipated to come out until December at the earliest - more on that later.
The department has already said it would suspend any accountability sanctions - although not school recognition funds - based on school grades for the 2014-15 school year.
You can read some additional comments from Commissioner Pam Stewart here: http://www.tampabay.com/news/education/testing/new-florida-law-will-delay-school-test-results-for-months/2225645
The law calls for reports to be given to parents and schools in early June. This would include an initial score report for students who took the FSAs. Instead of the traditional report which shows a score, student reports will include a percentile rank (from 1-99) showing how students performed in comparison with students state-wide (for those who are familiar with norm-referenced tests, this will be similar).
However, because the law also calls for the test to be validated before these results are used, it's not certain whether this score release will, in fact, take place in June.
And finally, throughout the summer and fall, the department will be going through a cut score setting process called benchmarking, which will culminate in a recommendation to the Florida Board of Education about what score on this test should constitute proficiency - i.e., a Level 3 at each grade level.
Following that - sometime in December at the very earliest - the state will release school grades - assuming the test is deemed valid by the independent audit.
The law eliminates duplicative End-of-Course exams (EOCs) as well as the 11th Grade FSA. It also caps the total amount of time students can spend on testing to 5 percent and places transparency requirements on districts to share more information about the testing calendar. You can learn more about this topic and see where each district rates when it comes to total testing time here.
Although the timeline and process requirements for selecting an independent entity to validate the assessment are detailed in the bill - they must choose a firm by June 1 and the validation must be complete by September 1 - there is a lack of clarity of what components of validity will be reviewed. The bill requires "an independent verification of the psychometric validity of the statewide, standardized assessments first implemented in 2014-2015 be completed before the 2014-2015 school grades results may be published and before the student performance data resulting from such assessments may be used for purposes of instructional personnel and school administrator evaluations."
Overall, the independent validation will consider if the test accurately measures what it is intended to measure. There are several types of validity which may be investigated during the review, including:
We believe that all of these validity measures should be a part of the audit, to make sure that valid comparisons can be made between years and for the things that the test is used to measure.
So those are the accountability-related questions we are hearing most often, but here are three more that we think are worth asking:
Will the validity audit look at the use of learning gains? Will it evaluate this year's test and next year's test?
This year's test is rented from the state of Utah, with our own Florida test to be implemented next year. Will the validity audit look at both? Also, will the audit look at how learning gains are calculated from the old FCAT 2.0 to the new FSA?
Should the Florida Department of Education reconsider how learning gains are calculated?
Right now, learning gains - meaning the growth that students make from one year to the next - are a big part of the calculation of school grades. You can learn more about growth and proficiency here. But comparing the growth from one year to the next is impossible when you're comparing two different tests. Is it time to go to a more reliable way of looking at student growth?
Once school grades are released, how will local districts decide to use them?
School grades won't come out until December at the earliest, and at this point we're not entirely sure how they will be calculated because of the learning gains issue mentioned above. However, many districts, including Duval, maintain internal accountability systems that are often based on school grades. Will these change?
As always, we'll keep you posted when new developments are shared. What questions do you have about school accountability?
-- Deirdre and Kelly