Field Trip to the Sausage Factory
On Wednesday, September 23, 2015, Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Florida’s Future issued an “Action Alert” calling for Floridians to “Speak up for honesty!”Click here to read the press release. Concerned that Florida is setting its “proficiency expectation – also known as cut score – too low.” They are concerned about an “honesty gap” (a term created by education reformers to refer to the difference between the reported proficiency students achieve on state tests vs the proficiencies demonstrated on the N.A.E.P. test, which they refer to as “the Nation’s Report Card”). They warn that it is not too late to narrow this “honesty gap” and they encourage everyone to contact the Florida Department of Education and ask that they “set higher proficiency cut scores so every student is prepared for college, a good job or successful military career”. They celebrate that, just a few weeks ago, Georgia “virtually eliminated its proficiency gap” and warned that without such actions our children will be “left behind”.
There is so much Accountabaloney here it is difficult to know where to start. Before discussing the content of their press release, it is important to fully understand how intimately involved the Foundation for Florida’s Future (and its national organization, The Foundation for Excellence in Education) have been in crafting and implementing virtually every policy that makes up Florida’s Assessment and Accountability system.
If what we have is Accountabaloney, than these Foundations are the sausage factories.
The thinly veiled goals of the Foundation for Florida’s Future and other education reform agencies are clear: privatization or corporate takeover of public schools. Their game plan is simple: misinterpret international test scores in order to convince the nation that public schools are failing, develop accountability systems based on standardized tests that will prove public schools are failing, develop a private, less regulated charter school system which allows education funding to be funneled to private corporations, provide vouchers to students so they can “escape” said failing schools and attend private schools (where no such testing occurs and thus, no accountability exists). You can read detailed reports regarding the Foundation’s involvement in Florida’s education policy here, here, and here.
Contrary to what most parents believe, FSA/FCAT cut scores do not reflect “grade level achievement” and are subject to political manipulation. That is worth repeating: the passing score for 3rd grade reading, which determines whether or not a child is promoted to 4th grade, is set by a politically motivated process. If the bar is set too high, many students will fail and suffer the ramifications of our #accountabaloney system. Why would education reformers want Florida’s students to fail? “Raising the bar” benefits the reformer in several ways. First, high failure rates support the narrative that public schools are failing and allow the blame for these failures directly on the teachers and schools themselves. Also, high failure rates benefit the test developers, who make profits by more test prep, more test retakes, more remediation, etc.
It is enough to make your head spin. Not too long ago, these same education reform advocates were singing the praises of the “Florida Miracle” of increasing achievement. During Jeb Bush’s tenure as governor, under pressures to show continual growth as required by NoChild Left Behind, FCAT cut scores were manipulated downwards to demonstrate required growth. Moving the goalposts allowed Governor Bush and his Foundations to claim their education policies as successful, advancing their “reform” agenda. It is ironic the same people who created this “proficiency gap” now choose to call it an “honesty” gap. Sue Legg, of the League of Women Voters, addresses the conundrum here.
“Now the politicians will have to explain that achievement increases are ones of smoke and mirrors. In Florida, we get what we pay for, and we do not pay much. Until the State shifts the focus to less testing and more instruction, little will change regardless of where proficiency levels are set.”
Or, to summarize, don’t trust the sausage manufacturers to reduce the amount of Accountabaloney.
Rest assured, there is NO evidence that measuring proficiency in math and reading has any impact on college or career readiness. There is certainly no evidence to suggest that cut scores, which can significantly impact a student’s future, are best determined by public opinion. Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, and rather than asking them to raise the bar and fail Florida’s students, suggest this:
“Florida needs to take an HONEST look at the destructive test and punish accountability policies. Cut scores on state tests should reflect grade level achievement and not political ideology. Hold the 2015 FSA scores and re-evaluate the entire system. Florida should consider existing non-test based accountability systems that have be shown to result in better educational outcomes. Our children deserve better.”