What we learned from the October Board of Education meeting: The latest on FSA cut scores and school grades
The State Board of Education met on October 28 to discuss the newly proposed “cut scores” for the 2014-2015 Florida Standards Assessment (FSA) as well as hear updates from the Department of Education on what the changes would mean for the overall school accountability system (school grades).
Below is a brief recap and some of the key takeaways from today’s meeting on each issue:
- As a reminder, “cut scores” are the achievement score levels that students need to reach on the new tests to be considered “on or above grade level” in a subject area.
- FLDOE conducted a multi-stage process that included input from panels of educators and other experts around the state to create and evaluate proposed cut scores for each grade level on the new tests.
- These proposed cut scores were recommended to the Florida Commissioner of Education, Pam Stewart by the panels, who then had an opportunity to add her own input.
- Commissioner Stewart presented her final recommendations for new cut scores, which were closely aligned with the recommendations by the panels, to the State Board of Education today.
- Although the cut scores proposed by the Commissioner were considered more stringent and rigorous than those for the previous FCAT 2.0, some on the State Board and in the audience felt these proposed cut scores were far less rigorous than those found in more nationally-focused assessments such as the NAEP.
- There was some confusion surrounding the appropriateness of directly comparing Florida’s “on grade level or above” criteria and NAEP’s “Proficient and Above” criteria as the cut scores are not aligned on the same 5-level system.
- The Board’s conclusion was to request additional data from the state prior to making a decision to see how closely the cut scores of other high performing states align with the NAEP criteria, and to then consider by January the potential to make the new FSA cut scores more closely aligned to the NAEP.
- Despite the postponed decision on assessment cut scores, the Board made clear that they are bound by legislative statute to produce school grades based on 2014-15 test results by early 2016.
- The updated school grades formula will be composed on Achievement, Learning Gains, Graduation, and Earning College Credits and/or Industry Certifications (with heavy emphasis on learning gains, see here)
- Likely by sometime in January, school grades are to be released to the public, but the school grade will NOT include heavily-weighted learning gains due to only one year of FSA testing, which would make school grades appear low
- Although school grades will be released, these scores are intended to be baseline scores with none of the consequences that are usually associated with underperforming schools
- Though the Board and DOE made clear that there would be no policy sanctions associated with low school grades this year because they are supposed to be used for “baseline” information only, there was public concern with the stigma that would still be associated with low grades given – as well as the financial consequences for next year - based on partial information and requested the option of receiving grades of “Incomplete” until next year when learning gains can be assessed
- The Board’s reiterated that, as of now, they are bound by law and any decision to change how school grades are released would have to be made by the legislature.
It appears it at this point that it would take an act of intervention by the governor or (depending on timeline) legislature to change the current plans for the upcoming release of school grades based predominantly on the first year of FSA results only, but the question of defining the cut scores for what those results are is still open for some discussion at the state board level between now and January.
Make your voice heard by writing to your legislators — go here to get started with this easy tool!
In weighing this, it is important to consider how the students who have to take these tests year after year, with so much at stake, will be affected by these decisions.
The State Board plans to meet again in December. Stay tuned! We will continue to cover the latest developments. Click here to see the DOE's complete slideshow presentation.